12 November 2020
BRAKING NEWS: How to maintain your car’s brakes

Car brakes are the first line of defense to keep your car from hitting anything or loosing control. Here are our top tips to keep them in tip-top condition.

Mention “safety” in the context of automobiles, features like seatbelts, airbags, and advanced electronics are probably the first things that will spring to mind. However, car safety actually begins even before those features come in to play: with the brakes. 

However, the only thing better than having a ton of safety systems in your car is to not crash in the first place. And if everyone could stop in time, there’s no accident, right? 

Yet despite its obvious importance. Brake maintenance is still not something many car owners prioritise. They’re not only putting themselves, but also everyone else around them at risk. 

Unlike other consumables like engine oil, tyres, or the car battery, there really isn’t a fixed distance or timing interval for how often brakes should be replaced. It depends greatly on driving style, vehicle type, and the driving environment.

Brake service intervals can vary from anything between 30,000 to 80,000km, or two to five years. Our best recommendation would be to have your workshop inspect them every time you go in for a service; they’ll be able to advise in more detail.

The difference between new and completely used brake pads

Of course, there’s plenty of things you could do in the meantime to help maximise the life of your brakes. There are also plenty of warning signs to look out for when your brakes need attention. Here are some ways to care for your brakes and ensure they can always be relied on to keep you out of trouble:

What you can do

Brakes wear down only when they’re being used. Suffice to say, the less you touch your brakes, the longer they’ll last.

This is where driving style can make the biggest difference. Look further ahead to anticipate traffic; if  the lights in front are red, there’s no point in continuing to accelerate towards the junction if you’re going to have to stop anyway.

Instead, lift off the throttle and coast as soon as you notice. Let the car slow down gradually. Heck, if you’re lucky, the lights might even turn green in your favour, negating the need to even touch the brakes at all. The same logic applies when going down long hills or steep carpark ramps – shift to a lower gear and use engine braking to help slow down the car and reduce the need to engage the actual brakes. 

If your brakes start smoking like this, you have the right to start panicking

As an added bonus, the engine uses zero fuel while coasting, so not only are you preserving your brakes by doing this, you’re lowering emissions too! 

Brake failure symptoms

Most modern cars have sensors that can tell when the brakes are getting worn; click here to find out what other warning symbols mean

Even with the best preservation efforts in the world however, the fact is that your brakes will wear out eventually. Thankfully, brakes tend not to fail all of a sudden. Rather, there are plenty of warning symptoms that can signify any problems before it becomes a life-threatening issue.

For example, a piercing screeching noise indicates that the brake pads are due for a change. There’s a little metal tab that sits alongside the pad material and as the pads wear down from use, this tab will eventually come into contact with the metal brake disc, causing the screech or grinding noise:

The tab is attached to the middle brake pad; note the groove in the pad material, which is another wear indicator

Steering wheel judder

On the other hand, if the car or steering starts juddering under braking, that’s a sign of the brake discs being slightly warped. If not too severe, this can be rectified by skimming the surface of the disc until it’s even again. But remember, this is taking material away, and thus it’ll eventually have to be replaced.

Mushy pedal

Meanwhile, if the brake pedal feels soft or mushy when you step on it, that signifies water in the brake fluid. Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture.

If you live in a humid place like Singapore, is happens more quickly and it would be a good idea to replace the brakes fluid every year, regardless of brake pad wear.

As brakes can get very hot with hard use, this heat can boil the water in the fluid, turning it into steam. As steam is compressible, the pressure you apply to the brake pedal may not be transferred directly to the brake pump. This can cause the system to wrongly interpret how much brake force the driver actually needs and slows the car down insufficiently.

If you’re still unsure about checking your car’s brakes, get AutoApp to do it for you. Get a FREE, no obligation car health check for your peace of mind. Download the app for the most convenient car care. Ever.