What’s involved in a brake job? Do mechanics have a brake job checklist they work through to ensure every part of your braking system is working the way it should?
While very few of us think much about the braking system or how it works on our vehicles, there’s no denying its importance. Imagine sailing down the mountain after a day of skiing, and your brakes won’t work. That’s a pretty scary thought.
Luckily, that rarely happens. And if your car is well maintained, those chances reduce even more.
Is a brake job do-it-yourself or should you hire a mechanic?
If you’ve ever pushed the brake pedal to the floor and had a hard time engaging the brake system, you know how important your car’s brakes are.
If you’ve ever pressed down on the brake pedal on ice and slid as if your brake system wasn’t there, you know how important your brakes really are.
If your brakes don’t work, you put you and your vehicle’s occupants at risk. The good news is your car gives you warning signs long before the brakes fail.
Brake light on – today’s modern vehicles have all kinds of sensors to tell you when things need servicing. These lights are there for a reason; don’t ignore them. When you see the brake light turn on, get it serviced as soon as possible to determine what the problem is.
Noises – because your brake system is one of the most important systems, engineers have built in sounds to capture attention long before you will have trouble. If you start hearing a high-pitched noise when you apply the brake pedal, it’s warning you your brake pads are wearing thin. They are made of steel so when they come in contact with the rotors, this sound begins.
Vibration – you might also start to feel vibrations as you apply the brakes. It shakes the steering wheel and pulls you to one side or the other. If brake rotors wear unevenly, they give the appearance of wobbling as you attempt to slow down. The rotors should be even to provide a smooth stopping experience.
Fluid leaks – when you tap on the brake pedal, brake fluid is pushed through the system creating hydraulic pressure. If there is a leak in the system, there may not be enough pressure for the brake system to complete the action. If you experience a soft brake pedal, where the pedal moves all the way to the floor before it catches resistance – there is most likely a leak somewhere in the system.
Burning smell – if you smell a strong chemical odor after braking hard or using the brakes repeatedly driving down steep inclines, it could be a sign of overheated brakes. Get to a safe place and allow your brakes to cool. Check your parking brake to ensure it’s fully released and not inhibiting your car from moving. Ensure there isn’t any smoke coming from the wheel, which could be a sign of a stuck caliper. When in doubt, call for help.
Because your braking system is one of the most important parts of your automobile, error on the side of caution. When in doubt, have your brakes checked. If you have experience working with cars, you can perform the check yourself. If not, it’s best left to the professionals.
What’s included on a brake job checklist?
When you bring your car into a reputable mechanic for a complete brake job, they will move through the vehicle’s entire braking system checking off steps as they go. They will check and do the following:
- Test drive the car
- Inspect the tires
- Check entire suspension system
- Look for leaking, cracked, or damaged hoses
- Replace leaking or damaged steel lines
- Rebuild or replace leaking or damaged calipers
- Look for leaks or broken pistons or guide pins and replace the caliper
- Check to master cylinder for leaks
- Test the brake pedal
- Inspect rotors and drums for damage
- Change out the brake pads or shoes
- Service wheel bearings
- Lubricate places like caliper slides and shoe pads
- Check brake fluid and flush if necessary
- Adjust the parking brake
- Replace faulty sensors
There’s a lot that goes into using a brake job checklist. Safety matters, so all good mechanics will use this step by step guide to ensure everything is working properly to keep you and your vehicle’s occupants safe.
Brake pad wear
When many people refer to having a brake job, what they are actually referring to is replacing their brake pads. Brake pads wear every time you apply the brake pedal. If you drive mostly in the city, they are being used dozens – hundreds of times per day as you stop and go with the flow of the traffic.
But don’t think they get a break just because you hit the highway. If you are towing a trailer or have heavy loads, those brake pads work hard no matter how often you apply the brakes. Mountain driving adds in its own special circumstances, often requiring constant pressure as you move up and down the hills.
While a brake system is designed to apply wear evenly on the brake pads, it doesn’t always happen as intended. If you notice abnormal brake wear patterns, that can tell you things too.
Tapered wear – worn caliper hardware
Only one pad worn – caliper or piston hanging up
Grooved surfaces – problems with the rotors
Chipped surfaces – excessive heat buildup
Step in lining – the pads don’t line up correctly – installed incorrectly
If you notice any of these on your brake pads, your best course of action is to schedule an appointment right away.
Braking system care
One of the most effective ways to ensure your car’s performance and safety every day of the year is to properly maintain your brakes. There are a lot of ways you can ensure your car is operating the way it should. Brake deterioration is often caused by:
- Carrying too much weight – only carry what is needed within your vehicle.
- Heavy braking – turn aggressive driving into a more passive driving routine. Every time you jump on the brakes because you’re traveling too close to the vehicle in front of you, you add wear to your braking system.
- Wet weather – be especially mindful of your brakes when road conditions change because of rain, snow, or ice. Give yourself plenty of room to brake, adding extra distance between you and other vehicles to ensure your safety.
Your brakes are your safety net for the road. Without them, you could put you, your vehicle, and your family in precarious situations. If you think you have a problem with your brakes, don’t delay. Schedule a visit with one of our mechanics, where we’ll run through our brake job checklist and ensure every aspect of your braking system is working the way it should.