In Brakes, Maintenance


Common Maintenance Methods to Increase Car Brake Longevity


A vehicle’s braking system is certainly one of the most important systems on a vehicle. The first vehicles had a mechanical system with levers that applied the brakes when the driver pushes on the pedal. In 1918 the hydraulic brake system was invented. Even the most modern and sophisticated vehicle today still uses a hydraulic braking system. This system operates by pushing fluid through the lines which generates pressure behind the caliper piston which applies friction from the pad to the rotor. This friction is what stops the vehicle. Before we can get into how to get the most out of your brakes, it’s best to define some of the critical components within the system.

Maintaining the brake system can be simple but necessary if you want to get the most out of your brakes. When your brakes start to make noise it can be a number of things some as simple as a light rusting on the rotor due to the vehicle sitting after it rains to more complex issues like worn pads or mechanical parts binding or not moving freely. This article is going to outline some of the items that can be done to get the most out of your vehicle’s braking system.

How do you maintain your vehicle’s brakes?

Regular Inspections

  • A visual inspection of the braking system is the best way to identify worn or failing components before larger issues occur. Many repair centers offer a free or low-cost multipoint inspection. A great practice is to have this done during an oil change, tire rotation, or prior to a lengthy road trip.
  • Another simple way to maintain your brake system is to check the fluid level. This is also done during a multi-point inspection and we suggest having the repair center test the brake fluid’s copper content or PH. These tests will indicate whether or not the brake fluid should be changed.
  • Lastly, during the inspection, it is good to monitor and measure the brake pad thickness. Once you have a measurement it can be compared to the specifications to see if they are worn to the point where new brake pads are required.

Brake Fluid Flush

  • Just like any fluid in the vehicle, brake fluid can break down and degrade over time. Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs moisture. If the moisture level gets too high It’s considered contaminated and may lead to corrosion on other system components. The earlier mentioned Copper and PH tests are good indicators for whether or not the fluid should be replaced. If fluid has over 200 ppm of copper it indicates there has been moisture in the system causing corrosion. The copper comes from the brake lines and is the first metal to dissolve from corrosion.
    The other approved method is PH testing. All fluids have a specification for PH and brake fluid is no different. If the PH falls below 6.5 the fluid becomes corrosive. This corrosion can affect the hydraulic components as well as the ABS.
  • Performing a brake fluid flush often involves equipment to ensure there is enough fluid cycled through the system to remove all the contamination. Simply opening the bleeders and replacing the brake fluid typically will not remove the contamination. If you have a repair shop perform this service, I would recommend having them show before and after test strips to ensure the work was done and the contamination was removed.

Brake Pad Replacement

  • Eventually a vehicle will require the brakes to be serviced due to the pads being worn down. Many manufacturers put a metal tab on the brake pad so once the pad is worn to that level, the metal tab makes contact with the rotor and makes a squealing noise. This will let the driver know, it’s time to have the brakes inspected and/or serviced.
    If you are considering new brake pads for your vehicle, you may be overwhelmed by the number of choices. When you chose a new brake pad, make sure it meets all the specifications of the vehicle manufacturer. They may also ask if you want semi-metallic or ceramic as these two are the most popular compositions of modern brake pads.
  • Semi-Metallic pads have been around for decades and offer an economic brake pad that has exceptional stopping power. They do produce more brake dust and because of their braking preference, they may wear your rotors faster.
  • Ceramic pads produce less brake dust and can be quieter, but they do cost a little more.
    If you are having a difficult time deciding, ask what type was used by the vehicle manufacture and use the same.

Rotor Resurfacing or Replacement

  • Rotors are the metal disc that the brake pads get squeezed against to slow or stop the vehicle. Because of the heat generated during the use of the braking system, the rotors have a few other conditions other than worn due to the friction between the pad and the rotor. Rotors can develop high spots and low spots. We call this lateral runout. You may have experienced this when you depressed the brake pedal and felt a vibration in the pedal or the seat. Sometimes a shop can machine the rotor to remove these high and low spots and sometimes they might be so severe they will be required to be replaced. Another reason the rotors may require service or replacement is that they have become too thin. As mentioned above the rotor may be worn especially with semi-metallic pads. This has become more common as new vehicles are using thinner rotors to reduce vehicle weight and oftentimes will be below the minimum thickness at the time of service.

How often do brakes need to be maintained?

  • This is a common question that motorists have when it comes to their braking system. Unfortunately, there is no set time or mileage for when your brakes will need to be serviced. There are several factors that will impact the life of your brakes. If you live in a mountainous area will impact the brakes more than if you live on relatively flat land. Brake pad material also has a big impact on the longevity of your brakes. The one thing you can control is your driving habits. If you tend to ride the brakes or make harsh stops, you may see a reduced time before your brakes need to be serviced. When possible, apply easy constant pressure on your brakes to get the most out of your brake components.

What are some signs that your brakes need servicing?

      A. Squeaking, grinding, or squealing noises
      B. Vibration or pulsation while braking
      C. Longer braking distances
      D. Warning lights or indicators
      E. Unusual brake pedal feel

What happens if you don’t service your brakes?

      A. Decreased braking performance
      B. Increased risk of accidents
      C. Damage to other brake components
      D. Expensive repairs in the long run

Your brake system is critical for your safety and the safety of others. A proper inspection can identify issues before they affect the performance of the brakes. When it is time to service the brakes, be sure to take it to a qualified professional. Ensure all the parts meet the manufactures specifications. To find a qualified repair shop click here to find a trusted shop near you.

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