When to get your brakes checked

Your car could be trying to tell you something. Every screech, squeal, or grind could be its way of asking for new brakes.

First, a word about how brakes work…

Most vehicles today have disc brakes. When you press the brake pedal, the car pushes pressurized fluid through its brake lines. The fluid goes into a pair of calipers (clamps) lined with brake pads. They start to squeeze the rotors (metallic discs) from either side. The rotors are located behind each wheel and so the resulting friction slows the spinning, and eventually stops the car.

This constant squeezing and release causes wear and tear. Cars will need new brake pads every 25,000 to 65,000 miles, and new rotors between 30,000 and 70,000 miles. The actual mileage depends on your driving habits. Frequent braking, braking at high speeds, and driving a heavier car will take their toll on your brakes.

How to tell when you need new brakes

The good news is that your car gives you warning signs when brakes begin to wear out. If you notice any of the following, it’s time to get your brakes checked.

Squealing or screeching sound

Brake pads are built with a small piece of metal that becomes exposed as the pads wear down. The metal vibrates against the rotors, causing a high-pitched squeal or screech. That usually happens when the thickness of the pad is at the lowest possible level while still being considered safe to drive. So, if you hear the squeal, you will want to act soon. If you let it go too long, it will become a heavy grinding sound and it can start damaging other parts.

Pro Tip: Know that brake squeaks and squeals can happen if a car has been sitting for a while. That’s because the pads are covered with moisture, rust, and grime. Those noises go away after a few uses of the brakes.

Low brake fluid warning light

Your brakes use hydraulic fluid and cannot function without it. If you see a low brake fluid light, that means something is going on. There could be a leak in the system. Or it could be you’re your brake pads have worn down, causing the fluid to fill the space that’s lower in the reservoir.

Pro Tip: Look for a driveway puddle after your car has been parked for a bit. This type of fluid ranges from clear to yellow brown in color. You’ll find the leak near the wheels. It’s not safe to drive if you have a brake fluid leak. It may cause the brakes to fail.

Car pulls to one side while braking

If the car is pulling to one side or the other when you brake, you’re probably only getting brake power to that side. That’s an indication that you need new brakes or pads or that you have a jammed caliper. Either way, you’ll want to get it checked out.

Pulsating during braking

If your car vibrates, shakes, or pulses as you brake, it could be due to warped or unevenly worn rotors. It also could be caused by adhesive that gets hot and smeared across the rotor. Mechanics call this “glazing” and it can compromise brakes.

Rattling or clicking when you brake

Some vehicles hold brake pads with clips, bolts, or pins. If they become loose, they’ll begin to rattle. You may hear a clicking sound when you brake.

Poor brake performance

If your car takes longer to stop than usual, or if you are pressing the brake pedal down to the floor to get your car to stop, there is a problem. Causes include worn rotors, low brake fluid, and brake pads that are too thin. It could also be an issue with your car’s hydraulic system.

Grinding sound while braking

This is a sign that your brake pads are completely worn. The grinding sound you hear is “metal on metal” as the caliper and rotor scrape against each other. Because this can easily damage them and other parts, you’ll need to get this addressed right away.

Stay on top of maintenance

When one part of the braking system is damaged, it can affect other parts. Driving with worn brakes also can damage your tires. It can wear them down and cause them to be unbalanced. Your car is one of your greatest investments. Keep it well maintained and protect it with the right insurance.

This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

California Casualty

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