Brake Service

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Car brake systems: what you need to know

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There’s a lot to think about when it comes to taking care of your car. But at the top of the list of priorities is ensuring your car is running as safely as possible.

The most important safety feature of any vehicle is the braking system. Whether you’re slowing down, parking your car or you find yourself in an emergency stop situation, all it takes is a push on the pedal. But, the truth is, it’s a little more complex than that. Every vehicle on the road today is equipped with a braking system made up of several different components. Each part plays an important role when it comes to your safety, and the safety of others on the road.

 

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about car brakes, brake servicing and how you can keep your vehicle running as safely and reliably as possible.

 

Table of contents

-   What are brakes?

-   Brake System Glossary

-   The different types of brakes

-   What is ABS?

-   When do my brakes need a service?

-   Signs of bad brakes

-   Can you drive with bad brakes?

 

What are brakes?

Brakes are a crucial safety feature on every modern vehicle.

They are responsible for slowing down and stopping your car and they do this by preventing your wheels from spinning. 

This creates friction between your tyres and the road which slows your vehicle down.

 

What are the different types of brakes?

 

Disc vs Drum brakes

There are two primary types of brakes within modern vehicles: disc brakes and drum brakes.

 

Disc brakes are made up of a disc brake rotor which attaches to the wheel hub and caliper.

When the brake pedal is pushed the caliper squeezes the disc pads and rotor which causes the car to slow down or stop.

Disc brakes are thought to have a higher braking force and are often considered a better braking system than their drum brake counterparts.

 

Drum Brakes use friction caused by shoes/pads that press outward against a part known as the brake drum.

Hydraulic fluid is pushed into the brake wheel cylinders which forces the brake shoes against the brake drum. 

The friction between the shoes and drum slows or stops the car.

 

Brake system glossary

There’s more to your braking system than just brake pads and a pedal and we’re explaining it all.

 

Brake Caliper

Brake calipers are the housing for your brake pads. 

When you apply pressure to your brake pedal the caliper squeezes your brake pads against the rotor which slows down your car.

 

Brake fluid

Brake fluid provides the pressure which pushes your brake pads onto the rotor and slows down the vehicle.

 

Brake Master Cylinder

The brake cylinder’s job is to push brake fluid through the brake lines forcing the caliper to squeeze the brake pads against the rotors and slow/stop the vehicle. 

 

Brake pads

Brake pads work to create friction against the drums/rotors and this friction slows the wheels. Brake pads are designed to withstand intense resistance and to function effectively for thousands of miles.

 

Brake pedal

The brake pedal is the in-car brake control. By applying pressure to the brake pedal your braking system will activate and engage all of the relevant parts to bring your car to a stop.

 

Brake piston

Pistons in the brake caliper force the brake pads to make contact with the brake discs.

 

Rotors / Drums

Your car will either have rotors (disc brakes) or drums (drum brakes).

The rotor attaches to the wheel hub and the caliper and when the brake pedal is pushed, the caliper clamps the brake pads down onto the rotor which causes the car to slow down or stop.

“There’s more to your braking system than just brake pads and a pedal.”

 

What is ABS?

ABS (anti-lock braking system) is a standard safety feature within all modern vehicles.

The system uses intelligent sensors to detect when a wheel is about to lock up.

To counteract any jolting it will release the brake momentarily then immediately apply optimum braking pressure to each wheel.

 

“ABS is an important safety feature which uses intelligent sensors to detect when a wheel is about to lock up.”

 

It does this repeatedly so that the system brakes enough to slow you down but not so much that it completely locks your braking system.

 

When do my brakes need a service?

Brake servicing is a crucial part of your ongoing car maintenance. 

How often you have your brakes tested will depend on individual driving habits and road conditions.

-   Where you live: if you live in a more congested area you will be stopping and starting more frequently and hitting the breaks more often. This means they will likely wear down more quickly.

-   How much you use your car

-   Whether you regularly pull a trailer or carry heavy loads in your vehicle

-   The quality of road that you drive on:  off-road driving impacts the brakes and the dirt from different types of roads can wear down brake parts.

As a general rule, it’s a good idea to have your brakes checked at the same time that you rotate your tyres or every 6 months. 

But if you ever notice any signs of bad brakes, get them checked by a professional immediately.

 

5 common signs of bad brakes

If you ever notice any of the following tell-tale signs of brake problems, head straight to your local brake specialist to get them checked.

It’s never worth taking the risk on the road.

 

The brake light is on

If you notice a red or yellow brake light appear on your dashboard it could mean one of two things:

1) you’re due for a routine inspection

2) your electronic system is alerting you to a problem.

Either way, best to get your car in with a professional for a check-up.

  

Strange noises from your brakes

If you notice squealing, grinding or other abnormal sounds coming from your brakes it could mean that your brake pads need to be replaced.

It’s best to do this sooner rather than later as brake pad problems can lead to bigger, more costly problems if they’re not addressed quickly.

 

A shaking steering wheel

Shaking in the steering wheel can indicate that you have an uneven rotor. 

This could be due to general wear and tear or rust may have developed. 

Another possible cause of shaking or vibrations is the brake caliper not releasing properly. This can happen over time due to heat or bits of dirt and debris landing on the piston.

  

“it’s a good idea to have your brakes checked at the same time that you rotate your tyres or every 6 months. But if you ever notice any signs of bad brakes, get them checked by a professional immediately.”

 

A burning smell

If you can smell a burning chemical smell when driving, it’s an immediate sign to pull over and contact your mechanic.                       

If you have overheated brakes it can lead to brake failure and if you notice smoke coming from a wheel it may be a trapped brake caliper which is potentially unsafe to drive any further.

 

Leaking fluid

If you discover liquid or residue under your parked vehicle or if your brake fluid looks low, dirty or discoloured, you may have a leak.

Leaking fluid can reduce the hydraulic pressure that is needed to slow and stop your car.                  

You may notice that your brakes have a spongy or soft feeling to them when you apply pressure to the pedal. 

This may mean that you have an increase of air and moisture in the system and that you should head straight for a service.

Can you drive a car with bad brakes?

If something isn’t quite right with your braking system then it’s important to book in for a service immediately.

In some instances, it may be better not to drive the car at all until the problem has been fixed. It’s never worth the risk on the road.           

 

Time for a brake check?

Book me in

What is a brake service?

A brake service makes sure that all brake parts are working effectively in between replacements. The brake inspection typically involves checking brake components according to manufacturer guidelines.

What is included in a brake service?

The brake inspection typically involves checking brake components according to
manufacturer guidelines, such as:

  • Checking your brake fluid is to a proper level and moisture content
  • Measuring the brake pad or brake shoe material thickness
  • Inspecting front and rear brake discs
  • Removing the pads and callipers
  • Cleaning and lubricating guide pins and the calliper brackets to stop sticking and seizing
  • Brake discs (rotors) are cleaned out from surface rust to prevent squeaking
  • Check the parking brake for readjustment
What is included in a brake service?
The brake inspection typically involves checking brake components according to 
manufacturer guidelines, such as:
  • Checking your brake fluid is to a proper level and moisture content
  • Measuring the brake pad or brake shoe material thickness
  • Inspecting front and rear brake discs
  • Removing the pads and callipers
  • Cleaning and lubricating guide pins and the calliper brackets to stop sticking and seizing
  • Brake discs (rotors) are cleaned out from surface rust to prevent squeaking 
  • Check the parking brake for readjustment
How often should a brake service be done?

You should service your brakes regularly and when needed. Typically brakes will
need a service every 8,000-11,000km or every 4-6months (whichever comes first). You should get a brake service at least once a year.

What happens if I don't get my brakes serviced?

Several components will break down if your brakes are not serviced. Minor issuesare fixed during a service. If left unattended, this will have a knock-on effect on the rest of its operations and cause you to have a more expensive replacement than before:

  • Damage to the rotor: The brake pads will eventually be worn down until they grind the rotor, causing that to need a replacement
  • Damage to brake callipers: These are the metal plates that hold the brakes in place and help them to smoothly slide. If your brakes are grinding against the rotor, this can cause the callipers to be destroyed
  • Dislodge the pistons: These push the callipers in position
  • Brake failure: This puts you and the people around you in a possibly fatal position
How long do brakes last?

On average, disc brakes last between 50,000-80,000 km. Rear drum brakes last
longer, up to around 240,000 km. However, you should have your brakes serviced (without needing to have them replaced) every 8,000-10,000 km or every 4-6months, whichever comes first.

Should you replace all brake pads at once?
While brake pads are sold in four sets, you do not need to change the front and 
rear brake pads together. 
 
Front and rear brake pads wear down at different rates. This is because the front brake pads do most of the work leading to them wearing faster. 
 
You will need to change both sets of front brake pads to maintain an even wear on all pads. Failure to do so can lead the car to pull to one side. 
Do front brakes last longer than rear?

The short answer is no. Front brakes can last 50,000-80,000 km while
rear brakes can last a lot longer, sometimes up to 240,000 kms. But, this is a
rough guide and can vary greatly depending on many different factors.

What are the signs of worn brakes?

There are a variety of signs that breaks are worn. If you see any of these signs,you should book your car in for a service. Brakes are critical to providing a safe drive for you and the people around you.

  • Brake light comes on: If there is a yellow or red brake indicator on your dashboard, you are due an inspection or have a problem with the brakes.
  • Grinding, squeaking or seizing: If you hear a regular screeching noise, even with your windows closed, this is a symptom of worn brake pads. If there is a grinding sound, the pads are completely worn down.
  • Spongy or soft brake pedal: If the brake resistance has changed, this indicates air or moisture in the braking system
  • The car pulls to one side when braking: this likely indicates an uneven wearing on the brake pads.
  • Burning smell when driving: If there is a sharp chemical smell, then your brakes may be overheating
  • Brake Dust: If there is a large amount of brake dust on your wheels and/or a black residue, this means your pads are wearing down rapidly.
Can you drive with worn brake pads?

Brakes are an important safety component of your vehicle. Driving with faulty,
damaged or worn brakes can cause serious harm to the driver and those around them.

Here is a list of things that can happen if you drive with worn brake pads:

  • You can damage the brake rotors and callipers
  • Your brakes will have a slower response time
  • Car vibrates when braking
  • Worn down tyres
How often should you change car brakes

Brake pads and brake rotors wear over time. On average, they should be changedbetween 50,000-80,000 kms or roughly every 4-6 months. However, the wear on your brakes depends on the materials it is made from and your driving habits.

Here is a list of factors affecting the lifespan of your brakes:

  • Driving Habits: If you break and stop abruptly, then you are likely to wear your brakes faster than someone who comes to a smooth and gradual stop.
  • Environment: Driving in a city environment involves considerable start-stop movements and therefore is harder on the brakes. People who live more regionally on straighter roads will have brakes that last longer.
  • Brake pad hardness: Brake pads vary their make-up. Hard compound pads last longer and often need to be warm - these are better suited for performance cars. Softer compound pads work better at lower speeds so are often placed on cars designed for city driving. Heat on these brake pads can cause the compound to melt onto the rotor.

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