Colorado driving brings all kinds of challenges to drivers. Here in Denver, you’ll deal with ice, snow, heatwaves, flooded roads, and sudden drops in temperatures that can have you turning on your air conditioner and heater all in one day.
One of the greatest challenges comes from mountain driving. You may start out at home in a relatively flat location. Hop on the highway, and in just a couple of hours, you can be climbing thousands of feet, change from dry roads to snow-packed highways, and you’re left navigating it all.
Whether you’re new to Colorado driving, or have been here for decades, it takes some getting used to.
A big challenge comes from navigating up and down the mountain. It takes a lot of power getting up some of those hills. It also takes a lot of power to keep your car under control as you drive down. If you’re driving and you suddenly notice a burning smell from your brakes, what does it mean? You know it’s not good,
Anytime you smell a burning smell while you’re driving, it’s not good. Of course, it can mean different things. Any change in your vehicle should be brought to a mechanic’s attention as soon as possible to ensure it’s not a serious problem.
What could a burning smell from the brakes mean?
When you smell a burning smell coming from your brakes, it can mean a variety of things, depending on what you’re doing at the time you notice it.
If you’ve just picked up your car where new brakes have been installed, it can be a little disheartening when you notice a burning smell as you tap on the brakes just a few miles from the shop. In this case, the burning smell isn’t a bad thing at all. A slight burning smell coming from new brakes is harmless, meaning the resin coating built into the brake pad is coming off, and the brakes are settling into use. Consider this the break-in period to allow your brake pads to adjust to your vehicle.
Different brands and types will have a different break-in period. Some might not smell at all, while others have a noticeable odor for an extended period of time. If you’re not sure, give us a call. We can assure you everything will be alright, or if we feel there may be a problem, we’ll recommend you return so we can check everything out.
Your parking brake may be engaged
We’ve been taught that the parking brake is just for parking, but it actually has a lot more uses than that. The parking brake is part of your overall braking system. When engaged, it presses against the rear brakes with less force than the regular braking pads. It’s a secondary system that was designed as a safety feature in case the braking system failed, yet today it’s primarily used to keep a vehicle in place while parked, especially if you’re on a steep incline.
To engage a parking brake, you usually have one of four types of parking brakes.
- Stick lever – this can be located on the steering column of older models
- Center lever – located between the two front seats
- Foot pedal – located to the left of the other pedals
- Push button – located on the console on newer vehicles
Manufacturers suggest using the parking brake as a safety precaution every time you stop. If you follow these guidelines, sometimes the parking brake feature might not disengage all the way when you release it before you start driving again. If so, this brake function is pressing against the rear brakes, and can cause a slight burning smell.
Do you notice other problems? Do you hear a squealing or grinding noise? Are you having trouble accelerating? All can point to a problem with the parking brake releasing.
Brakes are overheating
When you press down on your brake pedal, it engages the brake pads against the rotors, working hard to bring your wheels to a stop. This friction can produce a lot of heat in a short period of time. Aggressive or frequent braking can continually build heat rather than giving the braking system a chance to cool and dissipate some of the heat it’s generated as you drive. Eventually, this can cause the entire system to overheat.
Now think about what happens when coming home from a day in the mountains. It’s miles of road at steep grades bringing you safely down thousands of feet at a rapid pace. Tapping the brakes to slow, over and over again, continues the process of allowing the brakes to generate heat. Especially as you’re navigating a long line of traffic heading in the same direction.
In today’s world, most of us no longer use manual transmissions to get where we’re going. We rely on automatic transmissions to do the work for us. Yet even if you drive an automatic, have you noticed a “2” and “1” on your automatic gear shift? It’s built for these conditions.
Instead of leaving your gears engaged for everyday forward driving, by shifting down to a lower gear, it will take the effort of slowing your vehicle off your braking system, and put it on the power of the engine instead.
If you’re traveling under 50 mph, you can shift into 2nd gear on the fly, meaning you don’t have to pull over. You’ll hear the engine downshift, and the vehicle will begin to safely slow on its own. You need to use the brakes should be significantly reduced.
For an exceptionally steep hill, you can further reduce your speed by moving it into 1st gear – as long as you’re traveling 30 mph or less.
Then eventually move it back into automatic when the steep incline is gone.
Do you notice a burning smell coming from your brakes? Try one of these three techniques and keep a watchful eye out to see if further problems develop. If they do, we’re only a phone call away. Schedule your appointment today, and we’ll ensure your brakes will keep you safe for as long as you own your vehicle.