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Are your brakes safe?

calendar Published on: Wednesday, 16th January 2019 | female icon Author: Rebecca Taylor

How far do you think it takes a car to stop when travelling at 70mph? You might think that it is somewhere between 10 metres and 30 metres. It’s actually more like 75 metres to come to a complete stop and that’s with brakes that are functioning properly. To put that into perspective, that’s about the length of 9 London double decker buses! So imagine what your stopping distance could be with badly maintained brakes. Even if nothing appears to be wrong with your brakes, a routine inspection can catch potential issues before they became dangerous and expensive to fix. Read on to find out why regular brake inspections are important.

How do brakes work on a car?

There are two different types of brakes that your car could be fitted with; drum brakes or disc brakes. In addition to either drum or disc brakes, many modern cars are also fitted with an Anti- lock braking system, or ABS, which helps to prevent the wheels locking up and skidding uncontrollably. Although the two braking systems work in slightly different ways, both have many component parts which are subjected to regular wear and tear. To understand the importance of getting yours checked, it is crucial to know a little about how your brakes work.

Many car manufacturers have moved towards the adoption of disc brakes instead of drum brakes. Discs are far more common and are less likely to overheat due to greater exposure to outside air. If your car has disc brakes that are functioning correctly, when you put your foot on the brake pedal, hydraulic fluid pushes the brake pad against the brake disc. This friction causes the car to reduce in speed or stop depending on the amount of pressure applied.

Drum brakes work in a slightly different way but still rely on friction to stop the vehicle. A brake shoe with a material lining sits inside the drum brake and expands when the brake pedal is applied. The shoe pushes against the drum causing friction which enables the car to slow down or stop.

What can cause brakes to fail?

With both discs and drums, it is essential that the level of hydraulic brake fluid is checked. If the level of hydraulic fluid is too low, your car will not stop as quickly and as safely as it should.  The level of hydraulic brake fluid is just as important for drum brakes as the fluid forces the brakes pads against the brake drum enabling the car to come to a stop. The brake fluid reservoir can be found under the bonnet of your vehicle but check the owner’s manual if you need help to identify it.

The second part of the braking systems that needs to be checked and is a common cause of brake failure is the thickness of the pads or shoes. To pass the MOT test, your brake pads need to have at least 1.5mm of friction material left. However, many manufacturers recommend replacing your brake pads if they are thinner than 3mm. This will ensure that your brake pads don’t wear down to a dangerous level before your next brake check. Not only do thinner brake pads increase the stopping distance of your car, they can also lead to expensive repair costs. If thin pads are left unchanged, your brake rotor will be directly worn down. When the brake pad and the brake rotor no longer generate sufficient friction against one another, this is known as brake fade which can prove costly to fix. 

How to check brake fluid and how often to change

Checking your brake fluid level is relatively easy. The  brake fluid reservoir can be found under the car bonnet. Check your vehicle manual for its exact location. Once you have identified the reservoir you should be able to see a 'min' and 'max' marking along the outside. make sure your brake fluid level is between these two markers. You can also open up the reservoir cap to check the colour of the brake fluid. If it is dark and cloudy it may suggest you need a brake fluid change. What can be harder to tell from a visual check is how much moisture is in the fluid. Brake fluid absorbs unwanted moisture over time which lowers the boiling point of the liquid and reduces the effectiveness of your brakes. Most vehicle manufacturers recommended changing your brake fluid every 2 years so that to ensure brake fluid operates at peak performance.

5 signs that you need a brake check

  1.  If your car pulls to either the left or the right it could signify a problem with the brake system. This pulling can be caused by the brake pads being work down unevenly leading to a different amount of pressure on each side of the car.

  2. Feeling vibration through the steering wheel can be an indication that your brake discs have changed from their original shape. This will need to be corrected to ensure that your brakes are functioning correctly.
  3. A soft or spongy brake pedal can show issues with either the brake pads or the hydraulic system. You may either need to change your brake pads, top up the hydraulic fluid or fix any potential leaks within the system.
  4. A screeching or grinding sound could be the result of your brake pads being extremely worn down. The screeching sound comes as a result of the fact that the material on the brake pads is so worn down that it isn’t preventing metal to metal contact. If this is not fixed promptly, the disc could be damaged.
  5. The smell of burning rubber is probably the most worrying symptom of brakes not working properly.  This occurs when your brakes are so worn down that the only way they can create friction is by burning through the rubber. This also requires your brake pads to be changed.

How often should you have your brakes checked?

As the components of the braking system are constantly moving, a significant amount of wear and tear occurs over time. Even though your vehicle may not be showing any of the obvious signs of brake problems, it is worth keeping up with your routine brake checks to keep your brakes functioning as they should. For this reason, Tyre City recommends that you have your brakes routinely checked at least twice a year.  If you experience any of the signs that your car may be experiencing issues with the brakes, you should get your brakes inspected as soon as possible. We offer a free visual brake inspection to make sure that the components of your brakes are in good condition.