Your vehicle’s brakes may not be something you think about often, but they are one feature that should always be front of mind. A brake system is one of the most important components of a vehicle. Maintaining your braking system is crucial to avoid unsafe driving conditions and costly repairs down the road. 

Unlike services such as an oil change that is largely odometer driven, the lifespan of your brakes can range widely depending on your driving habits, conditions, and vehicle type. So how do you know when to replace your brake system? How do brakes work and what are they for? Let’s take a closer look at the in’s and out’s of brake systems and five brake replacement warning signs to look out for. 

How do brakes work? 

When you hit the brake pedal, the brake pad presses against the rotor. When these two elements meet, it creates friction to ultimately slow down the vehicle. Brake pads are a key part of your brake system, and without functioning brake pads other elements of your vehicle will wear away. Every time you use your vehicle’s brakes, the friction causes a small amount of protective coating to wear away from the brake pad. Over time this friction starts to have a toll on the pads causing them to become thinner and thinner.

Now that you have a better understanding of how brake systems operate, continue reading for key warning signs to keep your eyes (an ears!) out for.  

Brake Light

In most cases the light on the dash is a result of worn down pads. Most modern vehicles are equipped with pad wear sensors to let you know when it is time. To see if your vehicle comes equipped with a low-pad warning system, check your owner’s manual. The warning light may also be a result of low brake fluid, which should be changed every 2 years or 60,000 miles; whichever comes first! 

Squealing or Screeching Noises

Typically, one of the first indications of worn brake pads is a faint squealing or screeching noise when the brakes are in use. This sound is caused by built-in “wear indicators” that are embedded in your brake pad. Most cars are manufactured with this indicator for the sole purpose of letting the driver know when the brake pad has worn down. If you hear this noise consistently when braking, it’s time to bring your car in for an inspection. 

Grinding Noises

Arguably one of the most unpleasant sounds a vehicle can make, this noise means the pads have worn down completely and may cause damage to other components. The loud metallic grinding noise can be caused by the metal brake disc and caliper rubbing together. If this happens, metal on metal contact can quickly cause further damage.

Spongy Brakes

One of the signs of “sponge brakes,” also known as “squishy” or “mushy” brakes, is increasing pedal effort coming to a full stop. The problem could stem from the air in the brake line or possibly a brake fluid leak. The air in these lines can throw off the balance of pressure and can result in more time and effort to stop. Uneven pressure in the brake lines could be caused by a leak or low brake fluid. You can quickly check for a leak by moving your car after it has been parked and examine the ground for brake fluid. 

Vibration

A vibration or pulsating brake pedal is typically a symptom of a pad deposit or in extreme causes warped rotors. This vibration can feel similar to an abrupt stop where the anti-lock brake systems become engaged and is described as a pulsating sensation. Warped rotors are caused by harsh braking conditions or severe braking for long periods causing increased amounts of friction (and extreme heat). If you drive in these conditions, make sure to stop every so often to give your brakes a chance to cool off. 

Regular maintenance and being conscious of these five warning signs is crucial to avoid further problems. If you experience any of these issues, you should visit your service shop. Luckily at Excelerate Performance, we offer a wide range of major brake system repairs. Feel free to give us a call or send us an email, we’d be more than happy to answer any questions.