Driving a car is a little bit of paying attention to the road in front of you, and a little bit of listening to how well your car is operating.
If you listen, you can hear squeaks, chirps, and hums, warning you a potential problem is on the horizon. You can watch for smoke, feel vibrations, or even notice a burning smell coming from underneath the hood, all warning you something is wrong.
Your car’s braking system is one of the most vital systems on your vehicle. And even in the best circumstances, you’ll have to replace the brake pads every 30,000 to 70,000 miles or so.
Is it possible to extend the life of your car’s brakes? Can you make your vehicle’s brakes last longer?
Understanding the brake system
Before we get into extending the life of your car’s brakes, it’s important to understand how they work.
All modern vehicles on the road today use hydraulic brakes. They work by pressurizing and transferring brake fluid to each of the braking components located at each wheel. Whether disk or drum brakes, they use this pressurized fluid to apply the friction of the brake pad material against the rotors, creating the pressure needed for braking.
Many cars on the road also use anti-lock brakes. These have wheel speed sensors, a computer control module, and an actuator to work together with the hydraulic brakes and prevent them from locking up during hard braking. They keep the car safer under extreme conditions.
Hybrid vehicles also bring a regenerative braking system that works alongside hydraulic brakes, using electric components to initially slow the car. It relies on hydraulics to bring it safely to a stop.
A parking brake provides added protection when hydraulic or regenerative braking systems need support. They apply more pressure on the rear braking assembly, perfect for keeping your car in place so it won’t roll.
How can I make my brakes last longer?
Modern braking systems function and rely on several key parts.
- Master cylinder – used to push hydraulic fluid down into the brake lines
- Brake rotor – spins while the vehicle moves, used in conjunction with the brake pad and caliper to cause friction to slow the car
- Brake drum – the alternative to a brake rotor, used when cars use drum brakes instead of disc brakes
- Brake pad – they rub against the spinning brake disc
- Brake caliper – provide the clamping force that pushes the brake pad into the rotor
- Brake shoe – used on drum brakes, the alternative to a brake pad
- Brake booster – amplifies pressure from pushing down on brake pedal
- Brake pedal – small pedal by the gas pedal
- Brake lines – transfer brake fluid between the master cylinder and wheels
If you want to extend the life of your car’s brakes, knowing what each piece does helps you make better decisions while driving. Extending the life comes from care and maintenance of each piece of the braking system.
Inspect your brakes regularly – in order to properly maintain the brake system, it’s important to have it thoroughly checked. At a minimum, schedule a yearly maintenance visit to allow a mechanic to inspect the system and make any necessary repairs. If you are road tripping and will be driving extensively, you might have the brake system checked first to ensure it’s working properly. You can also have the brake fluid levels checked to ensure the hydraulics work efficiently.
Slow down – one of the hardest things for your braking system is to stop a fast-moving car. If you find yourself stomping on the brake pedal frequently, back away and give yourself more braking room. Extra heat on the brake pads adds friction, which wears down the material faster. It can also cause the rotors to warp as well.
Change your driving habits – tailgating leads to a lot of quick braking. When you leave more space, it gives you more room to slow down. Without pouncing on the brakes, it saves the brake pads by reducing the amount of heat transferring within the system.
Reduce the weight of your vehicle – more weight takes more stopping power. Instead of carrying a lot of extra equipment in your car, leave it behind and only haul what’s absolutely necessary. This will also help you improve your gas mileage too.
Is there such a thing as lifetime brakes?
We’ve recently seen flyers that offer a lifetime guarantee on brake pads. Seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.
It’s just one more tactic repair companies use to try and gain your loyalty over time.
Brake pads will wear out. It’s a fact.
Different manufacturers may provide slightly different materials, which can provide you with a somewhat different lifespan. Yet overall, brake pads will last between 30,000 and 70,000 miles. It depends on type, composition, even the way you drive your vehicle. But eventually, your brake pads will wear out.
Those lifetime brakes are a ploy to bring you back into the repair shop where you originally had them installed. With a “warranty” in hand, they’ll gladly give you “free” brake pads. Where you’ll pay is in the labor charges. And their labor charges are probably going to be one of the highest rates in the area.
You’ll pay one way or another.
This concept of “lifetime” brakes can be problematic for another reason: It gives the driver a false sense of hope. If you don’t anticipate your brake pads wearing down, you don’t look at minor telltale signs that your brakes are failing.
The braking system contains more than brake pads. It’s a series of parts and components working together to keep your car under control and ultimately bring it to a stop. Those parts can wear down just as easily as brake pads. Even with wear left on your brake pads, these other parts can fail.
And if you aren’t anticipating it, you might overlook the warning signs. Putting you in danger.
Are your brakes operating well?