Your brakes are one of the most vital safety features of your vehicle. A well-maintained and well-functioning set of brakes ensures your car comes to a quick and controlled stop when you press on the brake pedal.
But brake systems are complex, with many moving parts that could fail and put you, your family, and your car in danger. That’s why you need to get your brakes replaced and repaired regularly. If you understand how car brakes work, you can more easily spot the signs of dangerous wear and tell a technician what’s wrong with your brakes. Read on and find out the things you should check before a brake job and when you should change your brakes.
What Do I Need to Check Before a Brake Job?
Before you bring your car to a technician, it’s good to give some thought to how your car is behaving during braking. It can help you spot the most obvious problems and inform your technician about them.
But you also need to know how car brakes work before analyzing them. Modern cars generally have two different kinds of brakes:
- Disc brakes
- Drum brakes
How Do Car Brakes Work?
Disc brakes function a lot like bicycle brakes. They consist of three main parts — brake pads, the brake rotor, and the brake caliper.
The caliper contains a piston, which presses the brake pads against the rotor when you hit the brakes. This creates friction, which removes your car’s kinetic energy and stops it. Repeated clamping eventually wears out all of these three parts.
Drum brakes are the original car brakes. Despite disc brakes offering greater braking power, many non-sport cars still have drum brakes on their rear wheels — and even sports cars often include one for the hand brake.
A drum brake has two brake shoes and a piston inside the brake drum. When you brake, the piston presses the shoes against the drum to create friction. A drum brake also has plenty of spings that pull the shoes back when you release the brake.
In addition, your car’s brake system contains brake fluid. This hydraulic fluid provides the necessary force to move the pistons when you stomp down on the brake pedal.
What Parts Do I Need to Replace Brakes?
As you’ve learned, car brakes contain many more or less complex parts. On top of knowing how they work together, being aware of the finer details of each component can make it easier for you to describe your brake issues to technicians.
Let’s take a closer look at the most significant brake parts on your vehicle.
Brake pads clamp onto the brake rotor to provide the friction needed to stop your wheels from turning and stop the car. They consist of a metallic backplate, on which the manufacturer piles insulation material, adhesive, and the friction block itself.
Brake pads may include wear indicators — small pieces of metal that begin to grind loudly against the rotor when the pad is worn down. This noise tells you it’s time to replace your brake pads. Some pads also feature noise reduction shims, which reduce vibration and sound from the brake pads.
When shopping for brake pads, you’ll generally find them in three different qualities:
- Economy Pads: Economy brake pads are usually the cheapest, but they may end up being expensive in the long run. They’re made of low-quality materials that wear down quickly and need to be replaced often. They may also not have noise shims or wear indicators.
- OEM Pads: Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) pads aim to be the same quality as your car’s factory-installed brake pads. They have a good lifespan and effectiveness and are usually a safe choice.
- Premium Pads: As the name implies, premium brake pads are made from higher-quality materials. They don’t necessarily last longer, but they will give you smoother braking.
The brake rotor is a metal disc that provides a surface for your brake pads to grab onto. They consist of two flat, round metal panels with cooling fins in the middle to dissipate heat from the braking action.
Like brake pads, brake rotors have different quality levels. The most noticeable difference is the thickness of the metal plates — cheaper rotors can have thinner and lower-quality plates that will wear through quickly.
Economy-grade rotors also may have fewer cooling fins. As a result, they can build up heat that can cause the rotors to degrade faster.
It’s relatively common to see DIY mechanics reuse old caliper parts when they replace their brakes. This can be a big mistake — the high heat and tension during braking can degrade caliper parts severely. Even if the part looks fine to the plain eye, it may be at its breaking point.
Luckily, even high-quality brake caliper parts are inexpensive. You should always replace these crucial but cheap brake components when servicing your brakes.
Drum Brake Parts
You should replace the shoes and the drum in drum brakes like you would replace the pads and calipers on disc brakes. The above notes about product quality apply to them as well.
It’s the multiple springs and adjusters in drum brakes that are a bigger issue. Like with brake calipers, it might be tempting to tell a technician to reuse the old parts when changing the drum brake shoes.
But, once again, these parts endure a lot of heat and wear. You should never reuse your old drum brake springs and adjusters.
In addition to the brake components, there’s plenty of additional equipment a technician requires to service brakes. These include:
- Protective gear, like gloves and goggles
- Car jack and jack stand to prop up your car
- Brake caliper piston tool to retract the pistons
- Brake bleeder wrench to ensure air can’t enter brake lines
- Wrenches and screwdrivers
When Should You Change Your Brakes?
There’s no simple answer to when you should change your brakes. It all depends on the make and model of your car, the quality of your brake components, how much you drive, and your braking habits.
Additionally, different parts of your brakes wear down at different rates. Weather is also a big factor in determining how fast your brakes wear down. For example, the humid summers and cold winters in northern Virginia cause extremely varied weather conditions that can wreak havoc on your brakes.
For the manufacturer’s recommended brake service intervals, check your car owner’s manual.
How Often to Change Brake Pads
To keep wear at a minimum, you should replace your brake pads every 20,000 miles. If you have a new car with a modern, high-quality brake system, though, you may be able to get 50,000 miles out of a pair of pads.
How Often to Change Brake Rotors
Brake rotors have a lifespan that’s roughly double that of brake pads. To ensure they remain in peak operating condition, change your brake rotors every 50,000-80,000 miles.
5 Signs That You Need a Brake Job
These milestones are just rough guidelines. As we mentioned, car and road conditions and your driving habits can wear your brakes down faster — or make them last a lot longer than you’d expect.
For this reason, you should be aware of a few telltale signs of worn brakes. If you notice any of these symptoms, bring your car in for brake inspection and service immediately.
- Squealing or Grinding: If your brakes make an ear-piercing squeal or a loud grinding noise when you push on the pedal, it’s a clear sign that your brake pads or rotors need replacement.
- Vibration During Breaking: A vibrating car or brake pedal can indicate that your rotors have warped and are causing uneven brake pad wear.
- Unusual Pedal Feel: Your brake pedal feeling spongy can be a sign of air encroachment in your brake lines. If the pedal is soft or travels farther than normal, your master cylinder could have a serious issue.
- Poor Stopping Power: Loss of braking power can hint at several dangerous brake issues, like extremely worn pads or leaking brake fluid.
Active Warning Light: Modern cars have warning lights for both brake and ABS systems on their dashboards. If you see either of these lights, don’t delay getting auto brake service.
Where Can I Get My Brakes Done in Chantilly & Warrenton?
The roads and weather in Northern Virginia can be poison to breaks. The humid and hot summers and frigid winters can cause dirt and ice buildup in your brake system, which will quickly wear down the components.
If you find yourself wondering where you can get your brakes done in Chantilly or Warrenton, VA, come see our friendly technicians at Advanced Automotive. We offer every type of brake repair service to ensure your car stops when it needs to.
And while you wait for us to fix your brakes, you can enjoy our A+ rated customer service and free refreshments and Wi-Fi. When you need a professional brake job in northern Virginia, we’re here to help.