Learn how to spot issues with your car's brakes

How to Diagnose Your Brake Problems

Brakes are the most crucial component of a car. Without them, how could you ever get your car to stop? One motion of the leg is nowhere near enough pressure to stop, let alone slow down your almost two tons car.

Through many systems, your car is able to maintain its ability to ‘brake’ and stop your car from moving. These systems are all vulnerable to interferences and damage such as wear and tear, overheating and other such problems. Should one of these systems suffer, the others would all be affected, leading to reduced braking efficiency or even the complete loss of the brakes.

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To understand these systems means to know what problems can arise within them and how to remedy their afflictions.

The Hydraulic System

As already mentioned, the weight and pressure applied when a driver presses down upon the brake pedal is nowhere near enough to reduce the speed of the car. This is where hydraulic pressure comes in to assist. The pressing of the brake pedal applies pressure to a wheel cylinder that contains two pistons, one at the top and one at the bottom. Due to this fluid being incompressible, the pressure applied could be compared to that of a steel rod with one exception.

In a liquid form, it works its way through all the lines in the car making its way to each of the vehicle’s wheels which contain the braking plates. In each wheel there is a disk which is flanked by two brake pads. This fluid hydraulic pressure system squeezes the two pads against each disk in each wheel which results in the car slowing down, soon coming to a halt.

Disk Brake System and Drum Brake System

The most common innovation is for cars to feature two disk brakes on a car’s front wheel while utilising drum brakes on the rear wheels. The disk brake system uses the previously mentioned brake pads to pressurise the brake disks that are connected to the axle or wheel. This action causes the attached wheel to reduce in speed as the amount of friction between the surface outside and the wheel increases.

Drum brakes, on the other hand, enlist the use of brake shoes which are mounted on backing plates to slow the car down to a stop. These brake shoes apply pressure to the inside of a rotating drum which, in turn, results in the same eventual stopping of the vehicle. Despite the differences between these two systems, both efficiently create friction which slows and eventually stops the wheels of the car, causing the car to become stationary more swiftly, dependent on the amount of pressure applied.

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Braking Problems and How to Determine them

One issue that can plague a car’s braking system could be a leak in the braking fluid. This kind of problem is surprisingly common, but can easily be assessed and identified by observing how quickly your car slows down when applying your brakes.

If a leak has occurred within your braking system, the loss of the hydraulic braking fluid is inevitable. Without the correct amount of fluid in the wheel cylinder and losing some or all hydraulic pressure to each wheel, your brakes will begin to lose their effectiveness. Losing the majority or all of this fluid would mean that your brakes would lack all pressure and fail when you use them.

There are several ways to tell if this leak has arisen:

  1. Brake Warning Lights lighting up would mean that your braking fluid is low. This is probably the easiest way to detect a leak.
  2. If the car pulls to one side when applying the brakes, this is a prime sign of a leak.
  3. If the brake pedal becomes difficult to press or feels different when pressing down, it is a sign that air has reached the brake lines. This could have occurred due to a leak.

Another common problem would be worn down brake pads. Over time, the use of the braking pads can eventually wear them down to their base (the rotors) and reduce how efficiently your brakes will function. Despite the obvious increase to braking time, the monitoring of this problem can be as easy as listening to your car as you drive. If you hear any squealing or grinding sounds when applying your brakes, the brake pads are more than likely worn down.

Having your car serviced would almost always involve the checking of your brake pads; preventing any incidents occurring later down the line. A less common braking problem could be overheated brakes. As the brakes are used, certain ‘hot spots’ can manifest on the brakes’ rotors which actively work to resist the friction created by the brake pads pressuring. If the brake pads are presented with no grip, the friction will not be created which then causes your brakes to lose effectiveness and eventually completely fail.

To determine whether or not you have overheated brakes, the symptoms presented are pretty much the same as seen when the brake pads wear down. A lack of braking efficiency and a drop in friction levels to the point of brake failure is a clear sign of overheated brakes. Alternatively, if the brake pedal seems soft it would indicate that the brake fluids may have been overheated to a boiling point.

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