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Car brakes. Jellaluna@flickr©... Car brakes. Jellaluna@flickr©

Have you ever tried to actually read your owner’s manual, especially the part about maintenance and service? As if this kind of stuff isn’t confusing enough, there are always two schedules listed, one for a vehicle driven under “normal” conditions and another for “severe.” But what exactly does this mean? I have yet to see an automaker that actually explains, in plain English, what these terms mean.

This article is the third in a series of four that addresses the differences between severe and normal service recommendations. We’ve already covered engine oil and other fluids, so now we’re moving on to the brakes and suspension components.

Service Schedules For Brakes And Suspension

Let’s start by trying to understand the differences between normal and severe. The severe schedule, as it is commonly described in your owner’s manual, applies if any of the following are true:

You make frequent short trips, say to the store and back, or to work and back, with a total distance under 10 miles.

You drive your vehicle heavily loaded or use it to tow.

You often drive in dusty, dirty environments like construction sites or off road.

You drive mostly in stop-and-go situations like in city traffic or on a delivery route.

Sometimes the effects of severe duty are obvious, such as how much more rapidly your brakes will wear when hauling heavy loads or constantly slowing and stopping when driving in heavy traffic. However, when you’re dealing with brakes and suspension, there are other severe driving conditions that may not be as apparent, and aren’t necessarily covered in the above list.

For example, let’s say that you live in the Snowbelt. Winter can be hard enough on the undercarriage of your vehicle, but when springtime hits, potholes the size of the Sea of Tranquility can open up. The stress is so great that control arm bushings, steering linkages, and the likes can actually be ripped from the undercarriage of a vehicle -- I have this firsthand on more than one occasion. Also, sidewalls of tires can blow out when going through the sharp edges of a pothole. Add into the mix the effects of salts (used in most areas to de-ice roadways) on the suspension parts and its easy to see that plenty of people should consider themselves candidates for the severe schedule.

When you consider the effect poorly maintained roadways have on a car’s suspension, I would say that most drivers should follow the severe maintenance schedule for their vehicle. The problem is, that with respect to brakes, tires, and steering and suspension, the maintenance schedules just suggest inspecting these parts and rotating the tires at every oil change -- there is no actual maintenance suggested for these items aside from tire rotations. Is this enough? Probably not.

Brakes

Brakes should be inspected at every oil change and the friction materials -- either brake shoe linings for drum brakes or pads for disc brakes -- should be replaced when there is 20 percent of the material remaining. This is a proactive approach to brake service to avoid having to replace the disc brake rotors or brake drums prematurely, which is far more expensive.

Yet many people continue to drive their vehicles until they experience a brake squeal or worse. If you can hear a grinding noise when applying the brakes, you have likely quadrupled the cost of your repair by waiting so long.

A correctly performed brake job will also include the resurfacing of the drums and/or rotors -- provided they haven’t been worn out -- so that the new friction materials break-in properly.

If you drive in dusty and dirty environments, for safety’s sake you should have the brakes cleaned and adjusted semi-annually to guarantee their correct operation, even if they don’t need replacing. Dirt and grime tends to impede the self-adjusters and caliper operation, causing premature wear and failure.

Tires

Most tire manufacturers suggest rotating the tires every six months or six thousand miles, whichever comes first. I subscribe to the tire manufacturer’s schedule because it covers all service applications, taking into consideration both the time interval and the mileage interval.

However, I add one additional step: Have the tires rebalanced every time you rotate them. This extra step ensures that the tire spins “true” as it rolls down the road. Tires are balanced based on the mass of rubber that is present at the time of their installation or rebalance. As the tire rolls down the road, rubber wears off, and the tire is no longer “balanced.” Therefore, it is imperative that you have the tires rebalanced when they are rotated in order to maintain a smooth action when rolling. An imbalanced tire bounces and “tramps” its way down the road, resulting in a chopped or cupped tread wear pattern.

Finally, keep a close eye on tire condition. When impact breaks are evident in a sidewall, replace the tire. Other factors that render a tire unsafe are dry rot (caused by road oils that dry out rubber), shifted belts, a gash in the tread area, or cracked bead areas.

Steering and Suspension Systems

Worn tires can also result from worn steering and suspension parts. Steering and suspension systems suffer when subject to heavy hauling and towing or operation on rough roads or in other bad conditions. Steering and suspension systems are built with ball-and-socket joints and bushings made of rubber, neoprene, or some other synthetic product. Thus, they are subject to environmental elements, road jostle, and other forms of stress. When these bushings and joints become sloppy from wear, the alignment goes out. If you are driving on rough roads, or working the vehicle hard in some other way, the wheel alignment angles will migrate out quite quickly.

Because wheels are knocked out of alignment when steering and suspension parts wear out, I strongly recommend that you check the wheel alignment once per year. There are two benefits from this practice. The first is just to correct alignment issues, which will keep your tires from wearing prematurely. But the second is that the tech will conduct a through inspection of the steering and suspension before aligning the vehicle, because worn parts make it impossible to properly align a vehicle to factory specs. Thus, by having an alignment check every year you kill two birds with one stone.

While few people are willing to spend the money to replace worn suspension components like shocks and struts, let alone bushings, these parts can compromise the ability of the car to maintain traction on the road, which can impact braking and other accident avoidance measures. Keeping your car’s suspension in a reasonable state of repair is necessity if you care at all about safety.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 17 Comments
      meman1
      • 5 Months Ago
      hungry? EAT YOUR IMPORT
      • 5 Months Ago
      70,000 miles (normal, not all highway) on a larger Silverado (extended cab with 8' bed) work truck and still on the original GM pads (front and back). And they look so good they will probably make 100,000 miles. This includes hauling and towing a fair amount too. Beat that with your Jap crap!!!
      • 5 Months Ago
      I HAVE JUST READ THE ARTICLE ABOVE REGARDING THE BRAKES, I WOULD HIGHLEY RECCOMEND THAT THE AUTHER OF THE ARTICLE DO A LITTLE MORE HOMEWORK BEFORE HE GOES TO COPY, ACCORDING TO HIS ARTICLE, " A PROPER BREAK JOB WILL INCLUDE, RESURFACING OF THE ROTORS AND DRUMS FOR THE NEW FRICTION MATERIAL TO PROPERLY BREAK IN". THIS INFORMATION IS INCORRECT. MANY YEARS AGO THAT STAEMENT WAS VERY TRUE IN THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY, FROM CAR DEALERSHIPS TO THE AUTOMOTIVE INDEPENDENTS. IN TODAYS AGE, THE FRICTION MATERIAL HAS HAD SIGNIFICANT BREAK THROUGHS, SO THE BREAKING IN OF FRICTION MATERIAL HAPPENS ANYWAY WITH OR WITHOUT RESURFACING OF THE ROTORS. ACCORDING TO THE MOTORIST ASURANCE PROGRAM (MAP), THE ONLY REASON YOU WOULD NEED TO RESURFACE ROTORS AND DRUMS IS, IF THEY DO NOT MEET MANUFACTURE SPECIFICATIONS (RUNOUT) AND THEY ARE WITHIN THE MACHINING AND DISCARD LIMITS, IF IF THEY EXCEED THE SPECIFICSTIONS THEN THEY SHOULD BE REPLACED. THE INFORMATION IN THE ARTICLE CAN POTENTIALLY CAUSE THE PUBLIC TO SPEND MORE MONEY ON THEIR VEHICLE`S THAN THEY HAVE TO. I WOULD SUGGEST IF THE PUBLIC WOULD LIKE TO EDUCATE THEMSELVES WHEN IT COMES TO THEIR AUTOMTIVE REPAIRS, THEY LOOK UP THE MOTORIST ASURANCE PROGRAM, AND FIND A PARTICIPATING "MAP" AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR FACILITY.
      • 5 Months Ago
      ummmm your brake pads and rotors where manufactured in china and japan. This is a fact tr3parts. Im a A.S.E. master tech 17 years and counting. nothing on your G.M. was manufactured in the U.S. it was assembled here or Canada.
      longhornjpn
      • 5 Months Ago
      Brakes, suspension and tires will last much longer if you drive smoothly, don't speed up to slow down and don't run over everything in the road. Tires rotate every 8 to 10 thousand miles. Alignment is only needed when your car pulls to the left or right and if you experience uneven tire wear. Many mechanics recommend shorter maintenance intervals in order to make more money off of their customers. I agree with the 20% rule on brakes because the pad become harder and start to dig into the rotors. Oil changes can easily go from 4 to 5 thousand miles for regular oil and 5 to 7 thousand miles for synthetic oil. Antifreeze will last for several years in a car unlike the old days when cast iron engines had an excessive amounts of casting sand in the engine block that would prematurely clog radiators and heater cores.
      meman1
      • 5 Months Ago
      motovation profit and greed
      wrkozysr412
      • 5 Months Ago
      i live in two locations, FL n PA. The PA car isnot used in the winter for 3, 1/2 months . When i try to use it the brakes vibrate n i must have te rotors worked on . Any suggestions. Is there an oil spay i can put on?
      • 5 Months Ago
      in the brake section you fail to make the point that many people ride the brake pedal while driving
      K v Voorst Vader
      • 5 Months Ago
      I drive a 21 year old VW Golf, after 20 years it failed it's MOT for shocks (original since 1989), spend $ 400 and I had a new car. Maintenance keeps your car rolling.
      meman1
      • 5 Months Ago
      OK BLA BLA BLA SORRY FOLKS ,BUT AMERICAN ENGINEERS , AND I DO MEAN AMERICAN ENGINEERS, ARE THE MOST STUPID PEOPLE ON EARTH. WHY HAVE THE JAPANEESE BEEN SO FAR AHEAD OF, US FOR SO LONG, IN TERMS OF QUALITY AND RELIABILITY ??? I'LL NEVER BY A BUICK FORD OR GM PRODUCT. I HAVE NO FAITH IN AMERICAN ENGINEERING, IT SUCKS/ ESPECIALLY YOU YOUNG ******* ENGINNERS WHO LISTEN TO NICKLEBACK. CREED PEARL JAM NIRVANA ETC, THATS WHY THIS COUNTRY SUCKS!!!!!!
        • 5 Months Ago
        @meman1
        You ignorant bast--d. How about the fact that during the 70's Honda and many of the foreign auto makers sold their cars at a 50% loss. 50 cents on a dollar just to corner the market. I love this country but rebuilding Japan after WWII was the most stupid idea we had, if you read your history Truman didn't drop both bombs to impress the Russians he did so because of an uprising of young Japanese bent on overthrowing the government because surrender is not an acceptable answer to a fight. Death till the last man is the only way to the Japanese. Even these so called foreign cars of today are made in America by American workers and engineers. So kiss off you import lover and next time you feel like a shot of reality, try driving thru Allentown, PA and Bethlehem, PA or Wheeling WV and take out your check book and start writing. How about a trip to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. Even to this day we have no choice but to buy the flat panel display and electronics made in the Orient, when the ENGINEER who perfected it is an American and proved in trade court that the Japanese were again "dumping" or selling at a loss to corner the market, so when he won and the ruling was a stiff tariff on the display's the big three computer companies "THAT OWE EVERYTHING THEY HAVE TO THE AMERICAN CONSUMER, CHOKE ON YOUR NEXT MOUTHFULL OF FOOD GATES" said if the US did that they would move all their factory's off shore and buy the displays at whatever price they want. After the ruling the only customer this poor sap has is the US Military. So when the service on your import costs triple of my Ford Explorer put your lips on the tail pipe and suck, the Carbon monoxide might do you good.
      • 5 Months Ago
      I think Patrigav1 should move to Japan or China. Probably a resident of California which explains hate for America. needs to learn how to spell.
      • 5 Months Ago
      i make and deliver fully assembled storage sheds on a trailer, pulled by a g m pickup truck my brakes only last fifty thousand miles. when i replace the pads i also install new rotors, it costs as much to turn down the old ones as it does to buy new ones
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