Aug 5, 2016
Your brakes are the primary pieces of safety equipment fitted on your car. They provide the mechanism by which you can stop safely and quickly enough to be able to avoid nasty, and potentially costly, collisions.
They work by creating friction between two solid surfaces, creating friction which will act on your car’s wheels, slow them down and eventually bring them to a stop.
But bringing several tons of car, its occupants and anything else you’re carrying at the time puts a lot of strain on some relatively small components in your car - so it’s inevitable that, in time, they will start to wear out, and therefore, need to be replaced.
Braking systems have changed only subtly over many years, but innovations in materials technology have ensured that the important parts of a braking system can do their job more effectively, and for a longer period of time.
But it’s important that you know the signs to look out for which indicate that your braking system might not be working as well as it should, which is why we have compiled this basic checklist.
You very rarely get any notice that brake problems are about to manifest themselves, and often, the first sign will be an untoward noise from the part of the car which is being put under undue stress by the problem.
But if you drive your car long distances regularly, you should get a good instinctive feel for when these vital safety components are starting to lose their effectiveness, and therefore, when you should get them looked at by someone with the right sort of experience and know-how.
Unfortunately, because cast iron is an ideal material from which to make brakes, due to it being strong and solid, that also means that these areas are prone to rust. Normal driving will usually be sufficient to clear away most small specks of corrosion - but if the noises persist, you need to look elsewhere for the cause - or get someone who knows what to look for to do it.
A sure sign that your brakes are starting to wear excessively is a grinding noise from under either side (or both) of the front of your car.
The grinding indicates that the rubber which coats the surface of each brake pad is worn, and parts of the bare metal underneath are starting to show through. That grinding noise is the sound of metal on metal - and it’s not a good thing!
The rubber on the pads has the important job of absorbing the force which is created when two objects moving in different directions (i.e. your car’s wheel and the brake shoe) come into contact with each other, so when that rubber is worn down and the metal beneath it on the brake caliper partly (or completely) exposed, that results in the nasty grinding noise which you might hear.
If you hear such a noise, you should get your brake pads replaced as soon as possible.
At the same time, you need to have the discs on which the pads sit examined at the same time, because if the pad isn’t providing the right degree of protection to them, the noise you hear will be the metal from the wheel rim coming into contact with the exposed metal of the brake shoe - and that kind of friction between moving parts spells bad news for your car, and ultimately, your and your passengers’ safety!
If you have reached a situation where two bare metal surfaces are coming into contact each time you apply your car’s brakes, it could quickly cause damage, in the form of distortion, to the outer metal drum, the part of the wheel on which the brakes act to slow the car down.
A grinding noise might also occur if your car has been left standing for a long time.
Dampness can exacerbate the problem, by causing a fine layer of rust to form on your brake discs. In the event of you having to leave your car out of use for any longer than a couple of weeks, you should take the car for a drive, making sure that you use your brakes at regular intervals - provided it’s safe to do so, of course - and after a short time, the action of the brake pads on the discs will rub off the offending deposits.
Under typical driving conditions, the lifespan of a set of front brake pads is about 20,000 miles. You need to remember that, just like your tyres, the pads are critical to your safety and that of your passengers - and also, just like tyres, they’re made mostly of material which will deteriorate and wear away with regular use. On that basis, even if you aren’t covering an average mileage of about 10,000 a year, you should make a point of having your brakes thoroughly checked at least every two years.
If you’re regularly sat in stop-start traffic, your brakes will naturally be subject to greater wear than if you spend prolonged periods in faster-moving traffic, and this is another factor which will greatly impact on the lifespan of your brakes - both the pads and the discs.
It isn’t just a grinding noise that you need to listen out for as a sign that your brakes need attention. If your car is pulling to one side when you brake in a straight line, this is another symptom of brake problems, which you should have looked at by a mechanic as soon as you can manage it.
The consequences of leaving a problem like this unattended are obvious - if your car isn’t under proper control when you’re trying to stop, you might easily hit something (or someone).
And as it’s usual these days for the brakes operating on all four wheels to be discs - operated by calipers to which are attached the brake pads - it isn’t just your front pads which will need to be replaced over time.
They might not take as much of the strain when you bring your car to a halt, but they are constantly engaged when your car is not being used, as they are activated by your handbrake. So your rear brake pads - and discs - should also be regularly examined, along with the condition of the cables which run from the handbrake lever, under the car, and connect it with the rear calipers.
Front brake discs are always checked as part of a regular car servicing schedule. But rear brakes are not always prescribed to be looked at so often, so you need to be especially aware of any unusual grinding sounds coming from the back end of your car at any time between servicing intervals.
Some large garage chains offer free brake checks - while these are useful for helping you keep a check on their condition, especially in these days of extended regular servicing intervals, you should be wary of any recommendations they make. If they suggest that your brake pads need replacing, or even that more extensive work is needed, you should try to make sure that this is verified as such by an independent garage or your local franchised dealer.
Car mechanics spend a lot of their time investigating and fixing brake problems, so you can be sure that there is very little an experienced expert won’t have seen.
But because keeping the braking system of any vehicle in good working order is so central to its safe operation, it’s vital that you don’t shy away from any problem, and get it attended to as soon as you can.
Even if you’re not sure what the source of an unusual noise from your brakes is, getting to the bottom of it will entail putting your car up on a ramp so that its underside can be examined. That’s why you should ideally call in an expert who knows their way around a braking system, and will be able to spot anything that’s amiss.
The problem may be straightforward, with an obvious solution, but when it comes to your car’s brakes, it’s possible that you’re putting your safety - and other road users - at risk by not having it looked at.
No mechanic will think badly of you if you do this, and if you’re unsure of where to go for a brake check, or to have remedial work done, you can use our easy comparison service.
With a simple registration, you’ll be able to enter the details of the work you want to have done, and members of our panel of garages will contact you directly with quotes for the job. It saves you time and, if your brakes are getting to the stage when they need urgent attention, that time saved could also save lives.
There’s no need to ignore a noise of grinding from your car’s brakes. Getting a brake check, and where needed, new brake pads or brake discs fitted, can be arranged simply though Mycarneedsa.com. Enter your details, and let our experts quote you for the work.
Need a basic, interim or full service? Compare quotes.Get Quotes