Brake Safety Awareness Week kicked off on August 20, and serves as a reminder for drivers to make sure that their brakes are in working order, especially as the school season is gearing up to begin soon. Wear is to be expected on the braking system, and it may be caused by the way a motorist drives the car, the conditions in which it is driven, the quality of the current brake lining and the type of vehicle. It is important to routinely inspect your vehicle's braking system, at least once a year, to ensure optimal driving conditions.
It is important to know the warning signs of brakes that are wearing out so you can catch problems early to avoid further damage and dangerous driving conditions. A few signs that your vehicle's braking system could be on the decline are an illuminated brake warning light on the dash, uncommon sounds when you apply the brakes, vibrations, squealing or differing pressures in the brake pedal. You may also notice that the vehicle tends to veer to one side or the other when you brake.
When you are inspecting the brake system, you will need to take a look at the brake fluid levels, rotor and brake pad thickness, hoses and brake lines. For this inspection you will need a flashlight and a brake stick or feeler gauge. Wait at least 20 minutes after the engine has been shut off before attempting to inspect the brakes so they have a chance to cool down.
First thing to check is the brake fluid. Pop the hood and find the brake master cylinder reservoir, which is usually small, cylindrical and located toward the back on the driver's side of the engine bay. You will not need to remove the cap if the container is translucent, which is the case in most newer cars. Grab the flashlight and shine the light into the reservoir. If the levels are low or the fluid is dark, this could mean that the brake pads are worn.
Low levels can be topped off, but it is important to make sure you get the proper grade. This is often inscribed in the reservoir's cap and can also be found in the owner's manual. Be especially careful when dealing with brake fluid, as it is very toxic. Try to avoid spilling any on yourself, the ground or the car, and always wash your hands thoroughly after working with the fluid.
Checking the brake pads on cars with open wheels is easy enough. Just take your feeler gauge or brake stick and measure the pads. If they are less than three millimeters thick, they should be replaced.
You should also take a look at the rotors, which often have a stamp that indicates the minimum thickness number. Anything below this number means it's time to replace the rotors. You can also detect wear by running your finger along the edge of the rotors. If you notice that a groove or a lip is forming, this means that there is excessive wear and it is replacement time.
It is also important to keep an eye on the brake lines. You should visually inspect the lines for cracks, bubbles, friction marks, stains that could indicate leaks, twisted hoses and loose mounts. Grip them gently to feel them for any irregularities. The lines should be firm but flexible, and should not be too brittle or soft. It helps to have an assistant depress the brake pedal so you can test the lines when they are under pressure. If you can visibly see the hose expand, this could indicate an issue. If one hose shows any sign of wear, it is best to replace all of them at once.