When you buy a new car, it’s only a matter of time before you start replacing and repairing. The average car has around 30,000 parts. While some wear down quicker than others, every day your car works hard providing you with reliable service. It faces all kinds of weather elements, many different types of driving conditions.
Your car’s brake system contains dozens of those parts. A brake system is designed to transfer force from your foot, through the brake pedal, and ultimately to the wheels, tires, and the road. If every part does its job effectively, you’ll stop without issue. But over time, each of those parts can start to wear and fail. If enough of them have problems without being corrected, that force might not be there for you when you tap down on the brake pedal. If this happens, you need new brakes. Without them, you’re putting you and others around you at risk.
The parts of a brake system
Before we get into the determinants of why you may need new brakes, let’s talk about how the brake system works.
For you, the driver, the braking system begins with the brake pedal. Located inside your vehicle, the more pressure you apply to it, the greater the force within the braking system. Push down hard on the brake pedal and you’ll eventually come to a stop.
As you press down on the pedal, it’s connected to a piston located in the master cylinder. The master cylinder controls wheel movement and hydraulic pressure of the brake fluid. As you push the pedal, pistons move, and valves open up in the master cylinder. Brake fluid passes through a series of tubes and hoses, moving into the brake cylinders.
Depending on your vehicle, you may have either drum brakes, disc brakes, or a combination of both. Drum brakes may be located on the rear wheels. As you apply the brakes, brake fluid moves to the wheel cylinder, pushing the brake shoe into the brake drum, slowing the car down. Disc brakes work when brake fluid moves from the master cylinder, giving force to a caliper which presses against a piston. This piston squeezes two separate brake pads onto a disc rotor located on each wheel. The friction of this action is what slows the vehicle.
Anti-lock brakes provide greater safety. If the anti-lock system detects your wheels locking up, it takes over and rapidly pumps the brakes, giving you more traction against the road.
Each piece of this braking system has dozens of tinier parts, all with the potential to loosen, wear, fall off, or eventually fail. Of course, you might not notice if one bolt or screw is missing. That takes time as more parts continue to wear down. But eventually, your car starts telling you something is wrong, You need new brakes, and if you don’t replace them soon, you will have problems.
How can you tell when you need new brakes?
Because cars are made by humans, we’ve built in a variety of warning signs to alert a driver to potential problems. Rarely will the brake system fail without giving you advanced notice something is wrong.
From the moment you start driving your car, notice the details. How it feels to push down on the brake pedal. The noises your car makes. The way it performs.
Then, when the warning signs occur, you’ll be more aware and notice them as they happen.
If you push down on the brake pedal and you hear a squeaking or squealing noise, you might need new brakes. If you push down on the accelerator and it feels like it’s going all the way to the floor, it’s another sign something is wrong within the braking system.
If you notice a problem once, it’s a sign you should start paying attention. If you hear a squeal, for example, it might be dirt or grime that has settled in on the surface. As you tap the brakes a few times, the sound goes away, and you don’t hear it again.
Your eyes and ears are one of the most critical parts of your vehicle’s systems. They can tell you something is changing, something is wrong. Rather than wait for more damage to occur, that’s when it’s time to bring your car in for a checkup. Replacing small, inexpensive parts is much easier timewise and on your wallet.
How often do you need to replace brakes?
Luckily, your braking system isn’t like gasoline or motor oil. You don’t have to replace parts on a regular basis. In general, car manufacturers suggest brake pads be replaced after about 50,000 miles. Of course, that changes depending on the make and model of your car. It also depends on the way you drive.
Your driving habits – if you’re an aggressive driver, tapping the brake pedal all the time, your brake pads are going to wear out quicker than a more passive driver. Smooth braking is always easier on the braking system than having to stomp on the brakes.
Your location – we live in a state with all kinds of driving conditions. You might sit in rush hour traffic daily. You might perform the stop-and-go dance several hours each day. You might live in the foothills, controlling your speed by tapping on the brake pedal again and again.
Your brake pads – brake pads come in several types, several different materials. They are installed based on your make and model, as well as for the way you drive. Some perform better in an urban setting, while others are made for higher performance. They wear at different rates.
Is a brake service necessary?
Think about all your vehicle goes through each year. Here in Denver, it can operate as temperatures drop below 0 degrees, or climb over 100. Your car provides safety and security as you make your way through city and highway driving. Road conditions change – slush and snow can deposit minerals and grime throughout your braking system.
While you might not need new brakes, it’s still a good idea to let a mechanic inspect your brakes periodically to ensure they are in top shape, working the way they should.