Five Safety Tips For Your Vehicle's Braking System

Families penciling road maps and compiling an itinerary for summer travel should add one additional item to the list—brake inspection. See Coupons.

Your vehicle’s brake system is a key safety component and prone to problems caused by harsh summer conditions.  Heat is the main culprit, especially for vehicles loaded down with travelers and gear.

“You don’t want to get stranded in the desert or on a remote mountain side.” said Tony Molla, vice president of communications at the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.  “Drivers should always get their brakes inspected before going on vacation.”

The following five tips will help you ride safely into your summer travels.

1. Take it easy in extreme conditions.

For instance, extensive braking on steep mountain grades causes heat build-up in brake pads and prevents them from working properly.

“Heat build-up makes the braking system less effective,” Molla said. “It could get to the point where the brakes don’t work at all.”

That is especially true when brake pads are worn. They do not have enough composite material to dissipate heat quickly, and the brake system can fail.

2. Are your brakes “spongy”?  Could be a sign there is air in the brake line or perhaps a leak.

Brake lines are the backbone of the hydraulic system that stops your vehicle when you push the pedal.  Any “play” indicates a problem with the braking system.

“If you feel sponginess in the pedal it could be because your rubber brake lines are going bad,” said Tim Beachboard, owner of FedHill Brake Line, a Massachusetts-based company.

Moisture in brake lines can cause brake systems to fail and fluid to go bad.

“It should look light, like light beer or lager,” Beachboard said. “If it’s dark, like Guinness stout, then it’s time to replace it.”   

3. Listen for grinding or scraping sounds when you apply the brakes.

“If you hear any kind of grinding noise during braking, pull over and park your car immediately,” ASE’s Molla said. “Otherwise you could cause expensive damage.”

Stop-and-go driving and mountain driving tend to wear down brakes faster than freeway driving. Other factors include how hard you apply brakes, driving conditions and types of materials used in brake pads.

4. According to Molla, drivers should use replacement pads that meet manufacturer’s recommendations. Pads are designed of composite materials including metal fibers, rubber compounds, silicates and resins. How and where you drive influences the kinds of pads best suited to your driving habits.

Trucks pulling trailers usually require stiffer, larger pads than passenger vehicles. Brake pads for highway driving need to absorb more heat but generally wear out faster.

Ask your service advisor to make some recommendations based on your driving habits and locations.

5. Get your vehicle brakes inspected before your road trip.
Your auto technician can check thickness of brake pads, leaky brake lines, brake fluid and wheel rotors.

“Rotors require careful inspection of a trained technician because even slight wear can warrant their replacement and precision tools such as micrometers are needed to measure that wear,” Molla said.