Angie's List tips for brake maintenance on your car

If your brakes are broke, fix them fast

TAMPA - While modern cars are more reliable than ever, they still need regular maintenance. Brakes are one car repair where you don't want to cut corners. "Brakes are one of the most important functions of the car," said Angie's List founder Angie Hicks. "And we don't want to ignore them because it can be a very big issue. If you start hearing noises with your brakes have it checked out right away. It's not a repair you want to put off."

A brake inspection should be part of your vehicle's ongoing regular maintenance to ensure safety and reliability. It's a good idea to have your brakes inspected at least every six months for signs of wear or degradation, or whenever you experience grinding, vibrations or shaking when you brake. Don't wait until noises develop or become significantly louder to address brake system maintenance.

Here are some signs you need brake repair:

  • Squealing: If you notice a high-pitched squealing sound when you apply the brakes, it's a good indicator that your brakes need to be replaced or at the very least inspected. Many vehicle and brake component manufacturers engineer wear indicators into their brakes to produce this sound to notify the driver brake work is needed. Other factors that can produce a high-pitched squealing from the brakes include a build-up of brake dust from the brake pads being worn down, debris or rust on the surface of the rotor or brake pads becoming glazed over from high heat. Auto mechanic Fred Kuhn recommends new pads every twenty to thirty thousand miles. "Brake pads from different companies start off anywhere from $100 up to $200, $300 – it depends on the make and model of the car. The newer cars are more expensive than the older cars and the pads are a different material. That's why they are more expensive."
  • Grinding: If you hear grinding sounds when you apply pressure to your brake pedal, it means the pads weren't replaced in time or something is rubbing against the brake rotors the wrong way. The brake pads may be beyond their wear limit, they may be coming into rough, uneven contact with the rotors, or it can be something more sinister like brake calipers or pistons grinding against the rotor.
  • Vibrations or pulsations when brake pedal is applied: Feeling pulsations or vibrations when you apply the brake pedal typically indicates the brake rotor is significantly worn or warped. Effective braking power relies on the brake pads and brake rotor coming into contact cleanly, that is the entire surface brake pad contacting the brake rotor simultaneously. A rotor that is warped by friction or heat, or worn beyond acceptable limits, can create vibrations or pulsations.
  • Loss of pressure on the brake pedal: When your foot presses on the brake pedal, you should feel a firm response that becomes increasingly firm as you press down harder. If you own a late-model vehicle (and not a classic or vintage vehicle without modern braking technology), a brake pedal that feels mushy or can be pressed all the way down to the floor can indicate several things. It could be a relatively minor problem such as a leak or gap in the brake lines allowing air to enter and diminish braking power or the brake pedal may need to be adjusted, or it may be something much more serious, such as a failing brake system.
  • Dashboard warning lights: Modern vehicles with on-board vehicle diagnostic systems may display warnings on the instrument cluster to indicate issues with the braking system. If an "ABS" or "brakes" warning light appears on the instrument cluster and doesn't go away, or flashes, check your owner's manual for details. Be sure to inform your auto service technician about the warning lights when making a service appointment.

"If you hear a noise you haven't normally heard I would get it looked at. If nothing else you usually can drive by and say ‘hey, is this something I can wait on, or should I make an appointment to get it looked at," said Kuhn. Many of us don't notice a needed repair until something changes, particularly how the car sounds. You're the most familiar with how your car is supposed to sound, so any new, unusual sound should be a call to action to contact a trusted auto repair pro."

Hicks adds, "When looking for a mechanic you want find someone who has expertise with the type of car you have so they have the right equipment to run the diagnostics necessary. Find that mechanic preferably before you have a big issue like your brakes. Use them for oil changes, that way you know you have a rapport and they know your car."

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