Watch­ing for warn­ing signs

Seaway News - - AUTO TALK -

When it comes to your car's safety, brakes top the list of sys­tems that need mon­i­tor­ing. How­ever, many peo­ple are un­aware of the signs that in­di­cate a car's brakes may need main­te­nance or re­pair.

For rou­tine main­te­nance, it's im­por­tant to check the ve­hi­cle's brak­ing sys­tem at least once a year. A thor­ough in­spec­tion should in­clude brake lin­ing wear, brake fluid level, ro­tor thick­ness, con­di­tion of hoses and brake lines, brake and dash warn­ing lights, as well as tak­ing the car for a test drive to de­tect other po­ten­tial brake sys­tem prob­lems. It is im­por­tant to be alert and rec­og­nize the dan­ger signs of brake prob­lems. Other warn­ing signs in­clude an il­lu­mi­nated brake warn­ing light, brake grab­bing, low pedal feel, vi­bra­tion, hard pedal feel and squeal­ing.

" Some­times it's only a few miles be­tween a soft brake pedal and a pedal that goes clear to the floor," said Stephen Pow­ell, NAPA/ ASE Tech­ni­cian of the Year and owner of Thor­ough­bred Trans­mis­sions & Au­to­Care, Inc. in Lau­rel, Md. " But con­sumers eas­ily can pro­tect them­selves from brake fail­ure by watch­ing and lis­ten­ing for a few sim­ple clues."

Pow­ell says noise is one of the lead­ing in­di­ca­tors that some­thing is awry with brakes. " Any out of the or­di­nary sound is of­ten a sign that brakes have worn to the point they should be checked," he said. " Watch es­pe­cially for a grind­ing noise, and if your brakes typ­i­cally throw off brake dust on your wheels, look for a sud­den in­crease or de­crease in dust." He added that find­ing small metal flakes on the wheels is also a sign that brakes should be checked. An­other lead­ing in­di­ca­tor is the feel of the brake pedal, Pow­ell said. If the car pulls left or right when brak­ing, or if the front end shakes, those are both signs of ex­ces­sive brake wear. If the brake pedal be­gins to feel spongy, it could be a sign that air has en­tered the brake sys­tem or fluid is low. " A mushy brake pedal, along with a de­crease in brake fluid, could also in­di­cate brake wear," Pow­ell added. " Check the brake fluid reser­voir to make sure it's topped off. If not, then brake fluid is likely re­main­ing at the wheel to fill the space caused by wear." Many cars now have ABS ( Au­to­matic Brak­ing Sys­tem) that ini­ti­ates a rapid-fire pump­ing se­quence to the brakes to keep the car straight dur­ing sud­den or hard brak­ing. " If the ABS light il­lu­mi­nates on your in­stru­ment panel, then it's likely that the wheel sen­sors have de­tected ex­ces­sive build-up of metal par­ti­cles from the brake sys­tem," Pow­ell said. " Most cars are de­signed to shut down the ABS when ex­ces­sive par­ti­cle build-up oc­curs." Pow­ell added that a shut­down ABS does not pre­vent you from stop­ping, just that the ABS fea­ture isn't work­ing. Other tips: • Wheels should be pulled and brakes checked once a year by an ASE-Cer­ti­fied tech­ni­cian. " It's not un­com­mon to re­place brakes af­ter 12,000-15,000 miles," Pow­ell ex­plained. An in­spec­tion typ­i­cally in­cludes the ro­tors, calipers, drums, pads, pis­tons and brake lines.

• Brake sys­tems should be flushed and brake fluid re­placed ev­ery two years. " Brake fluid ab­sorbs mois­ture in the sys­tem and be­comes acidic af­ter two years or 30,000 miles," Pow­ell said.

• Check your owner's man­ual or ask your ASE-Cer­ti­fied tech­ni­cian to see what kind of brakes your car has and how they are ad­justed. For ex­am­ple, most drum brakes are self-ad­just­ing by back­ing up or en­gag­ing the emer­gency brake.

• Re­gard­less of care, brakes should most likely be re­placed ev­ery 20,000-30,000 miles. " Of course, how and where some­one drives will greatly in­flu­ence when brakes should be re­placed," Pow­ell em­pha­sized.

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