1. Feel any drag? Be alert to brakes that seem to stick, wheels that are hot or an engine that seems to lose power. The brakes may be failing to release; alternately, the condition could reverse, leaving you with no brakes at all.
2. There’s a pull. Does the vehicle pull to the left or right when brakes are applied? Make sure tires are fully inflated. If the pull persists, it’s time for a professional to check the brakes.
3. Stomping on the brakes? It should not take extreme muscle power to make the brakes work. This “hard pedal” symptom, when the brake pedal nearly touches the floor before engaging, can indicate brake trouble.
4. Brake light is on. There are several reasons the brake light is illuminated on the vehicle dashboard. The problem could be simple: brake fluid could be low. Or, it could involve a hydraulic system failure.
5. Shake, shake, shake. Can you feel the brake pedal, steering wheel or your entire vehicle vibrating, pulsating or shaking? This may indicate a problem with disc brake rotors or a faulty steering mechanism.
6. There’s a racket. Brakes should operate with very little noise. Don’t ignore squeals, screeches, grinding, groaning, chatter, clatter or bangs. Your brakes may need repair.
7. Grab. “Touchy” brakes that grab with the least bit of pressure may indicate that brake linings are contaminated with grease or oil, or a component is broken and could fail.
Brakes wear out and will eventually need to be replaced. How quickly depends on factors unique to you: your driving habits, type of vehicle and when and where you drive.
After any brake job is completed, a test drive should be performed. A test drive can ensure the brake system is operating properly. It can also help you to spot other problems with the vehicle. The other reason a test drive must be performed is to mate the pads to the rotors. This can be called “break in” or “burnishing” the pads. Burnishing also can help to transfer a layer of the friction material onto the rotor. Some manufacturers call this transfer-layer technology and it can help to increase the life of the rotor. The number of stops a technician should make will vary. Also, check the box or with the manufacturer for their recommended burnishing procedure.
A good average is 10 to 12 stops. To burnish the pads to the rotors make 10 to 12 stops from about 30 to 35 mph down to about 10 mph. Allow about 30 seconds between stops for cooling. This can also help to prevent the customer from experiencing a burning smell when they first apply the brakes for the first 100 miles. When you deliver the vehicle to the customer, advise them not to do any severe braking for the first couple of hundred miles. Some are also “pre-burnished” to eliminate many of the problems that can occur if the pads are not broken in properly.
Simply pumping up the pedal and backing the car out of the garage into a parking space could cause a comeback or a crash. This is a time to check your work and look for other items to repair.
One of the greatest myths out there is that some customers will not use the full potential of a brake pad due to their driving style or commute. This is false because the one time the customer needs to use the full potential of the pad, the performance will not be measured in dollars and cents, but inches and feet.
What standards should you have when selecting replacement brake pads? If you are a technician, try them for yourself! Set aside some time when the shop is not busy or on a weekend to try out the brands of brake pads you install. Perform at least four emergency stops from 55 mph to a dead stop back to back. Let your right foot be the judge.
Buying a quality brake pad is like buying prescription medicine. When you are buying a prescription drug you are not just paying the cost to manufacture, package and market the pill. The bulk of what you are paying for is research and development. The same is true for brake pads. Brake pads require a great deal of testing and engineering because they are made for a specific vehicle. A quality brake pad manufacturer will spend a lot of time and money on a developing a brake pad application for your vehicle. This includes simulated and on-the-vehicle testing. This type of testing is people and equipment intensive. Another cost of brake pad manufacturing is quality control. Reputable manufacturers will pull random samples from the production line and perform destructive testing. This costs money and time and may mean that a batch of pads could be rejected. Last, but not least is the cost of raw materials and components like the backing plate, shims and hardware included in the box.
When you need to suddenly slow down or stop while driving, your car brakes are the only thing that keeps you from a collision. Operable brakes are crucial for the safety of vehicle drivers and passengers, but we are so used to being able to stop dependably that we often take the importance of working brakes for granted. But, it is up to the driver to maintain the brake system so the brakes do not fail. If you are the driver who is being held responsible for a car accident caused by inoperable brakes, you may be faced not only with your own medical bills and damage costs but also possible lawsuits for the injuries and damages of other victims. So think twice about ignoring a noise coming from the brakes!