How do I know if my brakes need replacing?
Updated 12 Oct 2019
The braking system is one of the most important systems on the modern motor vehicle, and it’s crucial it is kept in pristine condition to ensure the safe operation of your car.
The braking system works by creating friction between either the brake pads or brake shoes being forced against a metal surface, which turns the kinetic energy (the force of the vehicle moving forwards) into heat to slow the vehicle down.
This process causes wear and tear on the brake components, so they need to be replaced periodically, once they have worn down to unsafe levels.
There are a few checks that will indicate whether your brakes need to be replaced.
On some European vehicles, the brake components are fitted with wear sensors.
These sensors will switch on the brake warning light on the dash, letting the driver know it’s time to have the brakes inspected and replaced if necessary.
Noise when braking
You may notice a squealing type noise coming from your wheel area when you are driving.
This is an indication that your brakes may need replacing.
Most manufacturers fit small pieces of metal to the backing plate of their brake pads, which contact the brake rotor (the silver disc behind your wheels), when the friction material has worn down to unsafe levels.
When you hear this noise, it’s time to have your brakes inspected, and limit the amount of driving you are doing.
If you ignore this noise, you may suffer increased damage to your braking system and severely reduce the effectiveness of the brakes.
Steering wheel shudder
Another indication of worn brake components is a shudder through the steering wheel when slowing down.
This is usually noticed at higher speeds, such as slowing down coming off the highway, or sudden stopping.
Uneven wear of brake pads and disc rotors is the most common cause of this issue, which may be caused by an underlying issue with your brake calipers sticking, allowing the brake pads to wear down on one side more than the other.
If you notice these symptoms, it is best to limit the amount of driving that you are doing, and have the brake system inspected for unevenly worn components and/or sticking brake calipers.
Increased stopping distance
Increased stopping distance can also indicate that your brake components are on their way out.If the brake pedal is travelling further down to bring the vehicle to a stop, or the pedal feels spongy, it could be an indication that your braking system components are worn, and your brake fluid is due for a change.
If the brake pedal is travelling further down to bring the vehicle to a stop, or the pedal feels spongy, it could be an indication that your braking system components are worn, and your brake fluid is due for a change.
Excessive moisture in the brake fluid (which occurs over the life of the fluid), decreases the effectiveness of the braking system and excessive brake pedal travel can result.
Worn brake pads can also cause this issue, as the fluid has to travel further to activate the brake pads or shoes and slow the vehicle.
Having your braking system checked and replacing worn components before they cause issues will ensure that your vehicle is operating as safely as possible, for both you and your family, and other motorists on the road.
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Image credit: Brake pad Petras Gagilas
Finding a passion for cars from a young age, Joel carried out work experience as a mechanic whilst at school before starting an apprenticeship after finishing year 12.
After almost 10 years on the tools and in customer service, he moved into the IT realm as a Data Analyst and In-House mechanic at AutoGuru.