How to check your car brakes

Your brakes are the most important safety device of your car. Checking your brakes and making any adjustments needed to ensure that they are working equally on both sides of the vehicle is essential in both winter and summer, but particularly in winter – icy conditions may require you to brake quickly without having any time to think about it.

Why else should I inspect my brakes?

Inspecting your brakes twice a year for wear and damage can not only protect you and your passengers from serious accidents, but it can also save you money by catching any damage before it becomes too costly.

How do I inspect my brakes?

Visually inspect your brakes’ condition at least every six months. Here are some things to look for:

  • Brake Rotors (Discs) should be inspected all the way around the surface and on both sides for any concentric scoring (grooves) or obvious defects. If defects are found, replace your rotors immediately. Any disc discolouration may be a sign of overheating and an inspection by a brake repair professional is needed.
  • Brake Pads will normally match disc scoring but should also be inspected for uneven wear, breakage or cracking on the friction surface. Again, if defects are found, replace the pads immediately. Many cars also have
    brake pad sensors to warn of pad wear. If your car uses sensors, replace these at the same time as your pads.
  • Brake Shoes (if equipped) should be worn evenly and have no rivets protruding to the friction surface.
  • Brake Drums (if equipped) should also be inspected on a regular basis. Check for the same types of flaws as noted above. The drums should not have excessive grooves or have a deep ‘trough’ dug into them where the shoes ride.

Additional Troubleshooting: When inspecting brakes, check wheel cylinders, calipers, hoses and fittings for any hydraulic fluid leakage.

What is a ‘spongy’ brake pedal?

A ‘spongy’ brake pedal or one that has become lower underfoot also needs investigating. It could be caused by:

  • Sticking calipers
  • Worn pads
  • Low fluid
  • Hydraulic system problems

If you can’t ‘pump them up’, then you have hydraulic problems that need attention. If you always have to pump them up, at the very least your hydraulic fluid needs replacement.

How else can I ensure my brakes won’t fail?

Suggestion 1: Know your brake system – how it should work, feel and sound – before it acts up so you’ll know when something’s wrong.

Suggestion 2: Keep the hydraulic reservoir at the proper level with the fluid type recommended by the car manufacturer. Always use a fresh container.

Suggestion 3: Keep brakes clean by washing them off at the same time as your car.

Suggestion 4: Never spray, touch or drip any oil or lubricants on the brake friction surfaces.