Your vehicle’s brake system is the most important group of components when it comes to the safety of you and your passengers on the road. Some auto repairs can be put off until a more convenient time, but brake repair is not one of those.
Having a better understanding of the brake system and its repair and maintenance services will help you maintain the system and narrow down the options of local brake shops when you need one.
The Components That Make Up a Brake System
The brake system in passenger vehicles is made up of a variety of components that all work together to effectively stop your car, truck, SUV, or van. There are two types of brake systems: disc brakes and drum brakes.
Most newer vehicles on the road today have disc brakes on both the front and rear. Some vehicles still have drum brakes on the rear, as you would find on older vehicles, which often had drum brakes on both ends. However, it is now becoming the manufacturer standard for all four wheels to use disc brakes since this system is more efficient and effective.
A vehicle’s braking system is a synergistic combination of the following components:
- Brake pedal: This component initiates the whole chain of events that happens to stop your vehicle. When the brake pedal is pressed, it starts the process of pressure being converted into friction.
- Master cylinder: The master cylinder converts the non-hydraulic pressure on the brake pedal to the hydraulic pressure used by the calipers to squeeze the brake pads against the rotors.
- Brake booster: This component enhances the force that is put on the master cylinder from the brake pedal, reducing the non-hydraulic pressure that is needed to press the pedal.
- Friction components (in a disc brake system): These include the calipers, brake pads, and rotors (discs). Specifically, the calipers hold and control the brake pads that sit on either side of the rotors.
- Anti-Lock Braking System control module: This component, found in newer model vehicles, is part of the Antilock Braking System and regularly performs diagnostic checks of the braking system. It then automatically sends the appropriate hydraulic pressure to each of the wheels when braking.
- Wheel speed sensors: Another component found in newer, more electronically-controlled vehicles, these sensors monitor the speed of each wheel and send the info back to the Antilock Braking System control module.
- Emergency brake: This component operates separately from the main braking system and prevents the vehicle from rolling when parked, especially on an incline.
- Friction Components (in a drum brake system): These include the wheel cylinders, shoes, and drum. In a drum brake system, the wheel cylinder applies pressure to the brake shoes that then press against the inside of the drums to generate friction.
To summarize how the disc brake system works, when the brake pedal is pressed, the brake booster and master cylinder work together to push hydraulic brake fluid through the brake lines to activate the pistons in the brake calipers. These calipers then squeeze the brake pads against the rotors to generate the friction needed to stop the spinning of the wheels.
As you can see, on vehicles with a disc braking system, the brake pads are an essential component of the system. When you need to slow down or stop, the brake pads use pressure to generate significant friction against the rotors. And because of the frequent friction they experience, the brake pads are often the first component of the brake system to wear down and need replacement.
Regular Brake Inspections Are Critical to Vehicle Safety
Keeping your brake system in good condition is vital to the safety of you and your passengers and the life of your vehicle. Unfortunately, braking components don’t last forever. Having thorough brake inspections done regularly allows for any minor issues to be detected early and addressed, ensuring nothing is overly worn and that everything stays in optimal condition, helping to extend the life of your brake system.
We recommend bringing your vehicle in for a brake inspection every 6,000 miles or 6 months, whichever comes first. You should also bring your vehicle in for an inspection immediately if you notice any new braking issues. (See more on this below.)
Every vehicle is different in how frequently brake services will be needed. The brake pads used, your driving habits, driving conditions, etc., all impact how quickly your brake components will wear.
Determining When It Is Time for Brake Pad Replacement
Of course, one of the things that will be evaluated during a brake inspection is the condition of the brake pads. As mentioned above, brake pads wear down due to the friction generated during daily use. If the pads are totally worn out or defective, the safety of you and your passengers is at risk every minute your vehicle is on the road. There are 300,000 accidents a year caused by brake failure; don’t let yourself be part of that statistic because you didn’t act quickly to take care of your brake pad replacement when needed.
New brake pads will have 12 mm of the material that helps produce the friction needed to slow or stop your vehicle. As a general rule at brake shops, when your vehicle is in for its brake inspection, the mechanic will suggest replacing the brake pads when the friction material gets down to 4 mm thickness or less. The one thing you definitely don’t want to happen is for overly worn brake pads to start gouging out your rotors.
Measuring the brake pads is not something most drivers regularly do on their own. That is why it is important to keep up with a regular schedule of maintenance checks for your vehicle and to trust professional brake specialists to measure this. These experts have the knowledge and experience to perform the necessary services to keep your vehicle safely on the road and advice on extending the life of your brake pads and other components.
Here at Gaynor’s Automotive, we can thoroughly inspect your vehicle’s braking components and advise you of any brake service that may need to be done. If requested, we’ll also check your brakes while your vehicle is in for an oil change service or tire rotation.
The Different Types of Brake Pad Materials
Most brake pads today are made of metallic, ceramic, or organic materials. Each type has its pros and cons, so being informed and asking your brake specialist for advice is important when selecting new pads for your brake pad replacement. Here’s a quick breakdown of the three types:
Metallic Brake Pads
- Most commonly used
- Made of a mixture of metals and bonding materials
- Perform well overall
- Extremely durable
- Good heat-dissipation capability
- Economically priced compared to others
Ceramic Brake Pads
- Made for high-performance vehicles
- Made of ceramic and bonding materials (and sometimes cotton fibers)
- Lighter weight
- Highest level of heat-dissipation
- More costly compared to other pads
Organic Brake Pads
- Composed of recycled glass, rubber, and/or resin
- Environmentally friendly
- Wear down quicker than other brake pads
- High heat dissipation
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Your vehicle’s needs, driving habits, and the brake pad cost will all impact which brake pads may be the best fit for you. Don’t be afraid to ask your brake shop mechanic for advice. They can help you choose the right pads for your vehicle and budget.
Brake Rotor Turning: An Important Brake Service
Your rotors are a vital component within your brake system, helping to generate the friction needed to stop your vehicle. But they will wear down over time with regular use because they are metal, reducing your stopping power. The excessive heat generated from braking can also warp the rotors.
To remedy these issues, your brake rotors can be resurfaced, as long as enough metal is left. This service is also commonly referred to as turning the rotors. This process involves placing the rotors on a lathe and cutting into the surface with an extremely sharp bit. This gives the rotors a smooth and even surface again and allows the brake pads to effectively grab them and stop your vehicle.
If the rotors are worn, and there is not enough metal left to turn them effectively, then they will need to be replaced.
Signs That Your Vehicle May Need a Brake Repair Service
There are some red flags to look out for that point to trouble within the brake system. Knowing these can help stop a minor issue from turning into a major brake repair issue. It will also prevent the chance of experiencing total brake failure while driving.
The warning signs that it may be time for brake service include:
If you are hearing a loud squealing or screeching noise when pressing the brake pedal, it may be the brake pads’ built-in wear indicator. Manufacturers include this on the brake pads to alert the driver that the metal on the pads has become worn, and the pads need to be checked and possibly replaced.
A clicking noise usually indicates that a part of the brake caliper holding the pad in place has become loose. This will sometimes also cause a rattling noise.
The term brake fade refers to when there is a reduction in the stopping power of the braking system. This is evident when the vehicle takes longer to stop when the brake pedal is pressed. This is caused by repeated or sustained use of the brakes, especially at high speeds or with heavy loads.
Leaking Brake Fluid
Brake fluid should not be leaking from underneath your vehicle. If it is, it will appear as a light yellow or light brown puddle.
Vehicle Pulls to One Side
A vehicle’s brake pads will not all wear at the same rate. Sometimes, an overly worn pad on one side can cause the vehicle to pull to one side when braking. There are a couple of other things that can cause pulling as well. So, if this is happening, it needs to be checked out as soon as possible to determine precisely what is causing it.
Soft Brake Pedal
Your foot should be met with a good amount of resistance when you press on the brake pedal to stop your vehicle. If you notice that you are getting less resistance in the brake pedal when you press it (referred to as a soft pedal), this usually indicates a problem with the hydraulic pressure in the brake system.
Vibration in the Brake Pedal
In most cases, vibration in the brake pedal is caused by the resin that holds the brake pads together breaking down over time.
Ignoring any of the above can significantly jeopardize your safety on the road. If you are experiencing any of these things, bring your vehicle to your closest Gaynor’s Automotive location ASAP.
It is important to note that not all noises or abnormalities are a sign of an immediate brake problem. For example, sometimes moisture coating the brakes after it rains can cause temporary grinding or squeaking noises. Dirt, grime, or rust buildup can also cause brake noises.
The best way to determine the condition of your vehicle’s brake system is to have a brake inspection done by an ASE Certified mechanic. In most cases, you can tell if your brakes are not working as well as usual. But expert auto mechanics, like you’ll find here at Gaynor’s Automotive, can provide more insight into what exactly is wrong and what brake services may be needed.
How to Extend the Life of Your Car’s Brakes
Just by making a few simple changes in the way you drive, you can help extend the life of your brake system’s components:
- Using only one foot while driving: Your left foot should not be pressing the brake before completely letting off the gas with your right foot. Attempting to brake while there is still pressure on the accelerator requires much more effort from your brake system.
- Driving at the speed limit: Making sudden stops that require hard braking, especially from higher speeds, puts excess stress on your brake system components.
- Being observant of vehicles around you: By being more aware of the vehicles around you, you can give yourself enough space and time to brake more gradually—or even coast. This will reduce the strain put on the brake system.
- Allowing the engine to naturally decelerate: When you have more time to come to a stop, you can allow your vehicle to coast and let the engine decelerate naturally. This will significantly reduce your speed without having to use the brakes as much.
- Minimizing the weight in your vehicle: You can help reduce the braking power needed to stop your vehicle by reducing the weight in the trunk or back.
- Having brake inspections done regularly: Regular brake inspections will help maintain your vehicle’s safety and prevent more costly repairs down the road.
Of course, you don’t have much control over the geography of the area where you are driving. Just be aware that frequent braking in hilly or mountainous environments will also wear down braking components faster. In those situations, it’s especially important to keep up with more frequent brake inspections.
Your Trusted Local Vancouver Experts in Brake Repair & Auto Service
Having some basic knowledge of your brake system will go a long way in helping you properly maintain its various components and understand the most common brake services.
When searching through local brake shops, let Gaynor’s Automotive be your first call for Vancouver brake services. Our ASE Certified master mechanics use state-of-the-art tools and equipment to properly maintain and repair your vehicle’s brake system, all backed by the highest levels of customer service at the most reasonable prices.
Our top-quality brake repair and maintenance services include:
- Thoroughly inspecting the brake system’s friction and hydraulic components.
- Resurfacing (aka turning) brake rotors (and/or drums, where applicable).
- Flushing and replacing brake fluid.
- Lubricating the brake calipers and related hardware.
- Installing new, high-quality brake pads (and/or shoes, where applicable).
- Installing new brake rotors.
- Installing new brake calipers.
- Inspecting and repacking wheel bearings (where applicable).
Your brake shop will test drive your vehicle after any brake repair or maintenance service is completed to ensure that the brake system works properly before you get back on the road. Your vehicle’s safety is a top priority!
Gaynor’s Automotive is the top choice for Vancouver-area drivers in brake shops. You can count on our automotive experts for professional brake repair and any other auto service needs you may have. This includes everything from oil changes to engine rebuilding.