Brake Symptoms and Problems: What Are They Telling You?

The brakes on your car are critical to your overall safety, and so it's of utmost importance that you keep them in good working condition always. If there's a problem with your brakes, you're better investigating the issue sooner rather than later.

Even if you have your brakes checked regularly, you should never ignore the signs and symptoms that declare your brakes need attention. But how will you know what your brakes are telling you? Let's look at how you can tell when you're going to need new brakes very soon.

Use your eyes and ears

To check for brake issues, you need to look and listen at the parts that make up the brake system. First, check your brake pads and observe any excessive wear and tear. Generally, the pads should at least be ¼ inch thick. If you can, measure the thickness of your brake pads through the wheel's spokes. If your measuring tape reads less than ¼ inches, you may need to visit a service shop to have the pads inspected or replaced.

Brake pads can also let you know they need replacing when they make a high-pitched screeching sound every time you step on the brake pedal. The cause of all that noise is a small metal shim imbedded in the pads, called an indicator. Once the pads get too thin, the brake shoe starts pressing on the shim, and metal-on-metal action gets you the piercing noise telling you to replace your pads. If you hear the audible warnings often, don't wait to bring your car to a mechanic.

Other brake systems you may need to check include the brake cylinder, pipes, hoses, piston, and even your tires. Below are five of the 'subliminal messages' that your brakes are telling you based on the signs and symptoms you may observe.

“Replace my pads!”

Grinding, squealing, screeching, and other eardrum-piercing noises tell you that your brake pads need some attention. Such noises should be addressed immediately because left unattended, worn pads can cause damage to other parts, leading to more expensive repairs for you. When you replace pads on one side, make sure to replace the opposite side as well. Replacing pads in pairs ensure that one pad is working as well as the other.

“Replace my discs!”

Symptoms of worn pads can also represent a problem in your brake discs, as loud metallic scraping from the wheels can also be caused by scoring on the discs. Another sign of a brake disc problem is a noticeable vibration when you press on the brakes, which could mean disc warping. Warped discs don’t necessarily mean you’ll have to replace them—many machine shops can get them functioning as good as new with some resurfacing work to get the warpage off. However, if your mechanic says the damage is too severe, replace your discs immediately. Replace in pairs, and replace the corresponding pads as well.

“Replace my tires!”

If you feel your brakes biting but the vehicle takes some time to come to a full stop, your tires could be the culprit. Quite possibly the tread on your tires could be all the way down to dangerous depths. Before you loosen any brake-related nut or bolt, take a look at your tire treads to make sure the baldness haven't yet reached the metal bands.

“Inspect my pipes and hoses!”

If your brake pedal reaches the floor and yet the system is not as responsive as it should be, you may have a leak somewhere in the brake system. It could be an air leak or a fluid leak. Either way, air or water in the pipes and hoses can cause a spongy feel in your brake pedal. Leaky or damaged hoses and pipes should be replaced.

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