Stop what you're doing and think for a moment. When was the last time you had your brakes checked? Do you hear squeaks and squeals every time you slow to a stop at a sign or light? Has it been a few months since you stopped by the auto shop at all?
August is Brake Safety Awareness Month, so it's high time to get one of the most important parts of your vehicle inspected. If you're having any reservations, consider these five facts.
1. Braking distance is measured under optimal conditions
When organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conduct brake testing, they're measuring the parts that are like new on the vehicle. Wear and tear is factored to give drivers a look at how the car will perform as soon as it drives off the lot. That's the best way to provide genuine data to the largest number of consumers buying new cars. However, it won't give the full picture once you clock several thousands of miles on the odometer.
If vehicle safety is something you're shopping for specifically, you likely care about the car's stopping distance. If you want that number to be accurate around the clock, maintenance is absolutely critical so the vehicle's brakes stay close to that tested "like new" condition.
2. There isn't a set-in-stone brake maintenance schedule
To set a schedule for proper oil changes, all you have to do is refer to the suggested timeframe in your vehicle owner's manual. Finding that same suggestion for brake changes is trickier, though. The reason for this is because brake wear and tear is completely dependent upon your driving behaviors. A driver that ordinarily slams on the brakes will need maintenance sooner than a motorist who gently eases to a stop. Moreover, the region you're driving in can have a big impact, too.
Listen up, Boston drivers. Motorists in the city have to change their brakes much more frequently than rural country drivers. In fact, Cars.com noted that a Boston driver who only travels 8,000 miles per year will still have to replace brake pads more often than a driver in, say, Nebraska who travels 28,000 miles per year. Hills, traffic and frequent traffic light stops can do a number on your brakes in no time.
3. Drivers need a thorough inspection at least once a year
You might have to get the brake pads replaced more often than this, but the Car Care Council suggested getting a thorough inspection into your car's braking system at least once every year. What does a thorough inspection entail? Motorists should have their brake pads checked, brake fluid levels examined, rotor thickness inspected, hoses and brake lines checked and inspect any warning lights on the dashboard to ensure they work properly.
4. You should know the poor braking warning signs
However, even if those dashboard monitors aren't in working order - or your vehicle doesn't have them - you should be able to identify potential brake problems during a drive before something happens. The first and most easily recognizable sign is an odd noise that occurs when the brakes are applied. If your car pulls to one side when you put on the brakes, this could be a sign that your hardware has been compromised on one section of the car. Also, pay close attention to how your brake pedal feels. If you need to apply a significant amount of force to come to a stop, there could be a problem. A sensitive brake can be equally problematic because it may cause the pads to degrade quicker.
5. Waiting could cost you
Every minute you drive with worn out brakes, you're risking the possibility of an accident. But even if you dodge a dangerous road situation, your pocketbook may still pay the price. When a brake pad is worn down all the way, the brake caliper will begin to press on the disk. This will scratch or even warp your rotors, meaning that they'll have to be turned or replaced during your next visit to the service center. When it comes to having the brakes changed, trust that replacing the pads alone is a lot cheaper than swapping out rotors.