Your vehicle carries some pretty valuable cargo. Let's talk about a major safety aspect of your car, the braking system. Being "out of sight, out of mind," the braking systems on most people's cars go unnoticed, until a problem crops up. What are the most common signs of brake failure?

  • Poor braking performance, (hard to stop the car)
  • Squealing or grinding noises during braking
  • Pulling to one side, or grabbing
  • Loss of brake pedal
  • Pulsation of the brake pedal during braking
  • Clicking noises during braking
  • Excessive drag during acceleration ("Anchors Away" Syndrome)

Now that we've outlined the most common signs, let's discuss them in detail.

Poor braking performance can occur for a few reasons:

1. Crystallized brake pads and/or shoes: The brakes have been heated up to the point that they become hardened and are no longer effective at grabbing and stopping the rotation of the brake drum or rotor. This condition usually occurs after the brakes have been overused, either because of excessive panic stops or "riding of the brake." The braking material must be soft enough to wear and grab hold of the drum or rotor to stop the car. Excessive overheating hardens the braking material beyond its ability to do this. Consequently the brakes become ineffective.

2. Oil or grease soaked brakes can negatively affect braking ... how does this occur? Oil from the rear differential or front transaxle can get on the brakes from an oil seal that might have failed. Grease from a failed rubber boot on a front end component (such as a ball joint or tie rod) can find its way onto the brakes and cause this symptom as well.

3. Loss of power assist from the power brake booster is another cause for poor braking performance. It can occur due to a loss of engine vacuum, or deterioration of the vacuum brake booster diaphragm.

Squealing or grinding noises coming from the brakes: This is usually an indication of worn or glazed brake pads and/or shoes. It's time to have them checked. If you catch them in time you will save money. Procrastinate and you will suffer the financial consequences.

Pulling or grabbing to one side: This can happen for a number of reasons. Pulling can occur from maladjustment of the brakes, a frozen brake, brake fluid leakage, frozen emergency brake cables, or oil or grease leakage on the brake shoes or pads.

Loss of brake pedal: This condition usually is a result of brake fluid leakage due to failure of a brake hose or rusted metal brake line, worn wheel cylinder or brake caliper, or worn master cylinder. A simple "once over" of the system can reveal what's going on.

Pulsation of the brake pedal: The cause of this condition is simply heat and wear. Heat and mechanical wear thin out the brake rotor or drum causing warping. This warping translates into a pulsation (up and down motion) of the brake pedal while applying the brakes. Re-machining or replacement is the answer in this case.

Clicking noises during braking: This has been a problem ever since disc brakes came on the scene. The disc brake pads are held in place by pressure from the caliper against the brake rotor. It's somewhat of a loose fit. The factory installs "anti-rattle" devices to stop movement of the brake pads, which will stop the clicking noise. These devices are made of spring steel and over time become brittle and break, allowing the brake pad to loosely ride in its seat, causing rattling.

Excessive drag during acceleration: Ever feel like someone "threw the anchor out" (so to speak) during acceleration? Maybe it's because the emergency brake cables are frozen due to rust buildup, and are not releasing when they're supposed to. A simple way to avoid this is to use your emergency brake! Remember this very simple rule ... "If you don't use it, you loose it!"

Have your brakes checked every six months just to get a feel of what's going on, so there are no surprises. You can "head off at the pass" high dollar brake work by keeping a watchful eye on your brakes.

'Til next time ... keep rollin'

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