They may not be something you think about very often, but your vehicle’s brakes are one feature that should always be in top working condition. There are two ways to check for brake wear on disc brakes: by looking and by listening.
First, check for wear by looking at your brake pads through the spaces between the wheel’s spokes. The outside pad will be pressed against a metal rotor. Generally, there should be at least 1/4 inch of pad. If you see less than 1/4 inch of pad, you may want to have your brake pads inspected or replaced. Have you ever heard a high-pitched screeching sound when you applied your brakes? That’s a small metal shim, called a wear indicator, which is giving you an audible warning that you need to replace your brake pads
You should be aware of this sound (which is loud enough to be heard while the windows are up, but not necessarily loud enough to be heard over the radio or air conditioner). If you hear it regularly, quickly make an appointment with your mechanic. Here are some other signs of brake problems. If you experience any of these, you should visit your repair shop as soon as possible:
- Reduced responsiveness or fading. If your brakes are not as responsive as they should be or if the pedal “sinks” toward the floor, this could be an indication of a hydraulic problem in the braking system.
- Pulling. If your vehicle “pulls” to one side while braking, this could indicate a binding or failed caliper or hydraulic problem.
- Grinding or growling. This loud metallic sound usually means that you have worn down the pads completely. The grinding or growling noise is caused by the brake pad assembly’s metal backing making contact with the brake rotor. If this happens, do not be surprised if your mechanic tells you that the rotors need to be resurfaced or even replaced.
- Vibration. A vibration or pulsating brake pedal is often a symptom of warped rotors. Warped rotors are caused by severe braking for long periods, such as when driving down a steep mountain or when towing. Tremendous amounts of friction are created under these conditions, heating up the rotors and causing them to warp. The vibration is felt because the brake pads are not able to grab the surface evenly. This is a very common condition in the foothills.
For many owners, maintaining the vehicle’s brakes is something that is often overlooked. But keeping your brakes in good working order can prevent costly repairs down the line, and, more importantly, help you avoid a collision.