It’s nice to be able to stop your car. Without brakes, our vehicles wouldn’t stop until they hit something, or if lucky, coasted to an unobstructed stop. Automotive brakes are another service item that very often gets caught up in big sales pitches and so called "specials" from mostly the mass merchandise shops.
Previously I talked about the importance of tires. In this column I will shed some light on braking systems.
Brakes, like tires, have become big selling items. Don’t make your brake repair decision based solely on price. Many of today’s cars weigh upwards of 3,500 lbs. Pick up trucks and sport utilities weigh in at 5,000 lbs., or more. Getting these vehicles safely slowed down and stopped is an extremely important job.
The key to proper braking is friction. Friction is what "grabs" your brake disc or rotor and, possibly, drum surfaces. When you press down on the brake pedal, fluid is pushed through brake lines and, in turn, pushes the brake pads, or shoes, against the turning discs or drums.
The harder you press, the more effectively the car should stop. This friction material is vital to the stopping process. It must "grab" effectively, withstand lots of heat, and make little noise, while at the same time not wear out too fast or leave heavy dust on the wheels.
The disc and drums must also be in proper condition. The surfaces need to be rust free, not warped, cracked, or overheated. Severely rusty disc or drums will result in greater pedal pressure, generate more heat and drastically increase stopping distances. One of the most common mistakes made during a "brake job" is neglecting the disc or drums. It used to be very common to "turn" or machine the disc or drums in order to restore their breaking surfaces. It is more common now to replace them. These disc and drums have gotten much less costly and the manufacturers provide very little extra metal that can be machined off.
Be careful when you hear of "specials," such as "Brake Pads Replaced for $59.95." The fine print usually states that other parts and labor may be necessary. It is wise to choose brake pads or shoes that are equal to or better in quality than the original manufacturer’s specifications. Low cost parts can be just that. You get what you pay for.
The hydraulic components of the braking system can also require repair or replacement as well. The calipers are responsible for pressing the brake pads against the discs. These calipers can start to stick and then the brake pads won’t fully release from the discs, resulting in rapid pad wear, lots of brake dust, too much heat, and possibly brake fail from boiling of the brake fluid.
Pay attention to the following symptoms that may indicate the need to have your brakes checked.
* High pitched screeching that occurs when you are not braking. Some brake pads have wear sensors on them that contact the disc at a certain point telling you it’s time for some brake work.
* Pulsating brake pedal when braking at higher speeds, sometimes causing the steering wheel to shake. This pulsation is from warped brake discs. This can be from heavily rusted surfaces as well as actual warping, indicating replacement time.
* Brake pull can be caused by sticking calipers or faulty brake hoses.
Having your braking system thoroughly checked during regular maintenance will allow you to get the correct brake work performed before experiencing problems or failure. Talk to the shop regarding the repair options so you can make a good decision regarding grade of materials and extent of the repair. After all, your brakes, as well as tires, steering, and suspension components, are critical to your safety as well as others’.
Gordon Fricke owns Barber & Fricke Automotive Of Hoosick Falls, N.Y.