When To: Change Your Brakes
Don't wear me out
Does your car make you cringe in a fingernails-on-chalkboard kind of way every time you hit the brakes? Maybe it vibrates in an annoying little way too, making you feel like you're not in complete control? Has the brake-pedal position changed? Do you need to press down harder on said pedal, or did you feel a twinge of worry the last time you had to resort to an emergency braking manoeuvre?
Those are all excellent signs that it's time to get those brakes fixed!
When trying to determine exactly what ails your car so you can replace the correct parts, it's important to take the above symptoms into consideration.
If there's a wheezing sound but no vibrations, the brake pedal doesn't respond as well, and you can't remember the last time you serviced the brakes, you need to change the pads. The noise is caused by a manufacturer safeguard designed to warn the driver that it's time to replace them. Don't wait too long, because the noise will grow fainter and you'll be caught of guard when the brakes fail to respond correctly and the components overheat because the pads are now bare.
Is something vibrating? That means it's time to have the discs "turned" or simply replaced. Some discs are thicker and can be re-machined to obtain a smooth surface again. The discs become warped over time, during heavy emergency braking or because of a stuck calliper that applies constant, uneven pressure on the pads. Changing the discs? Might as well do the pads as well!
Now for the callipers. Generally speaking, you know the callipers need to be swapped when you start having problems with the discs. Do you detect vibrations, constant brake pressure, the smell of something burning? Take the car out for a short jaunt, then check the temperature of your brakes with your fingers. If they're warm, all is as it should be. They're hot? The wheel itself is hot too? Don't waste another second.
Contrary to discs and pads, which come in packs of two, you don't have to change both callipers at the same time. If you return the defective part, you can get a credit on the purchase of a new one. You can put off replacing the part by cleaning the guide pins and applying a generous dollop of grease to the calliper, which you can buy in small packets. One should do.
So you've been over everything and it looks good, but when you drive you feel that the pedal doesn't respond they way it used to. The only culprit left is the hydraulic system, which sends the signal from the pedal to the callipers. The system includes a cylinder at pedal-level, a fluid reservoir and a series of hydraulic lines.
Open the brake fluid reservoir - your owner's manual will tell you which one - and check the level of the fluid. If it's normal, that means something else is wrong. But if it's low, there's a leak somewhere. Break out your flashlight and look for traces of oil and rust on the lines, especially around the kinks and connectors. Check if there's oil on the master cylinder too. And don't forget to take a peek under the car, since the lines reach all the way back to the rear brakes.