Are Your Brakes in Safe Shape?

Inspect your brakes with this 5-minute safety check

brake pad
This brake pad is too worn and needs to be replaced. Alex Roberts/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Brakes are pretty much the most important safety device on your car. If you've even partially lost your brakes in the past, you'll remember the change of underwear that followed. Inspecting your brakes twice a year for wear and damage can protect you and your passengers while saving you money by catching any damage before it becomes too costly.

On many cars, you can inspect the brakes without even removing the wheel. If your car has alloy wheels with spaces in the middle, you can get a decent assessment done by just peeping through the hole at the goodies. Whether you can peep through your wheel or you have to take the wheel off, be sure you have a clear view of the brake pads and the big shiny disc.

Keep in mind this is a very cursory inspection to see if you have a glaring issue with your brakes. If you suspect that you're having a brake problem, I recommend doing a more thorough inspection or having a professional inspection performed by a trained technician. In terms of getting a very general assessment of your brake system's health, this is a great way to both become familiar with the parts of your car or truck's brake parts and to look into how soon you'll need to do some brake maintenance. 

Inspecting Your Brake Discs

Let's inspect the disc first. It should be shiny from the inside to the outer edge, and fairly uniform. Don't worry if you can see slight lines in it, this is normal wear. However, if there are any rough spots or pronounced grooves in the disc, you should replace your brake discs. If the brakes are cool, you can use your finger to feel the surface of the disc for rough spots or deep grooves. Brake discs should always be replaced in pairs so that your car's driveability and safety are not compromised.

Are Your Brake Pads Worn or Bad?

Now take a look at the pads. You'll have to peek up to see them, but if you follow the surface of the disc to the top, you'll see the outside pad touching the disc. If there is 1/8" or less remaining on the pad, it's time for new ones. That's about the height of two pennies stacked on top of each other. Don't worry, brake pads are cheap and replacing your brake pads is a no-sweat job.

A Quick Look at Brake Lines

Finally, take a look at your brake lines. Rubber coated lines should be soft and supple, not cracked and rigid. If you see cracks in flexible brake lines they will need to be replaced. ​Also be sure to inspect the hard, metal lines. These can become corroded, especially in snowy regions where chemicals are used on the roads.

It's amazing how much money you can save by performing regular inspections on your vehicle's major systems. Each time I hear a car coming to a stop accompanied by a hideous scraping sound, I see dollar signs. If that driver had replaced the brake pads before they were worn down to the base, the brake discs would still be in good shape and hundreds of dollars could have been saved. Deferred maintenance is never a good way to save money. 

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