Your brakes are by far the most important safety feature on your vehicle. When they don’t work, you put lives in danger and your vehicle is literally a time bomb. According to the US Department of Transportation’s Office of Transportation Statistics, 6,159,000 automobile accidents were reported in 2005. Of these, 2.7 million resulted in personal injuries and 43,443 deaths. Mechanical failures (such as faulty brakes) are a factor in an estimated 12% to 13% of all car accidents according to various available sources. Many of them are due to faulty brakes due to lack of proper vehicle maintenance, something that could have been prevented.
Properly working brakes take care of stopping your vehicle. When you step on the brake pedal, your car transmits the force of your foot directly to the brakes through a fluid – brake fluid. Of course, your foot alone is not enough force to stop the vehicle, so your car multiplies the force through mechanical advantage, also known as lever, and hydraulic force multiplication. Brakes work to transmit force to your tires through the process of friction. The tires also use friction against the road. There is more to it than this, but it can be difficult for the average driver. Most cars use two or three brake systems. You can see a shiny metal disc when you look through the hubcap of your front tire. That is what is known as a disc brake. When you step on the brake pedal, a pad of sturdy material attaches to the brake disc and rubs it to slow down, similar to the brakes on a bicycle. Other vehicles may have drum brakes on the rear wheels that work with a show that pushes the wheel and friction slows it down. No matter what type of brakes you have on your vehicle, once you start to accelerate and reach a decent speed, your car will have a lot of energy. When you start to stop, that same energy turns into heat in your brake pads. Brakes can heat up to temperatures of 950 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. That said, brakes should be made of materials that won’t melt at these temperatures, such as alloys, ceramics, or composites.
Without proper maintenance and repairs, many people are unaware that they are driving with faulty brakes. Too often, people learn only after it is too late and something important has happened. At the first visible or audible sign of brake problems, it is recommended to go to a reputable auto repair shop. Knowing the signs and symptoms of brake problems will make you a more responsible driver. Signs of faulty brakes may include, but are not limited to, a loud screech, grinding, screeching, rubbing, vibrating, pulling, pulsation, reduced responsiveness, strong or soft brake pedal, or the brake light appearing on the dash.
If it’s not what you hear or feel, you should check for brake wear by looking at the brake pads through the gaps between the wheel spokes. The outer pad will be pressed against a metal rotor. There must be at least 1/4 inch of padding at all times. When less than 1/4 inch of pad remains, the brake pads need to be inspected or replaced. A hydraulic system filled with brake fluid activates a set of padded clamps known as calipers, causing them to squeeze together on a disc known as a rotor. The friction that occurs between the pads and the rotor eventually stops the car. All components of a brake system are important.
Even if your rear brakes are the only ones in bad shape, it can still be dangerous. If you have to stop quickly, too much inertia could end up being deadly. You see, braking needs to be done in a balanced way, with around 70-80% of the energy dissipated by the front brakes and enough load remaining on the rear tires to keep the rear ones under control and the car in a straight line. If you do not have pads on the backs or are less than ¼ inch mentioned above, all the energy must be absorbed by the fronts. If there is not enough friction on the rear brakes for the rear tires to grip the pavement to ensure proper control, your front brakes and your front tires will do more of their fair share, which becomes dangerous and life-threatening.
There is no universal life expectancy for brakes, brake pads, brake rotors, or other components of the braking system. Like your own health, habits and maintenance can have a significant impact on the number of miles you drive. Of course, there are a few things you can do to keep your braces healthier over time. Experts recommend emptying the trunk and not overloading the vehicle, not hitting the brakes and causing unnecessary friction, trying to limit stop-and-go driving, navigate with the pace of traffic, ignore your aggressive driving habits, and get your brakes serviced. Annually. Although mechanical failures are involved in only a small percentage of all car accidents, they still represent a risk factor. In some cases, drivers who caused an accident due to faulty brakes were convicted of negligence and liable for damages as a result of a lawsuit. You don’t want to be responsible for something that could be prevented with proper maintenance and routine checks, do you? After all, accidents that never happen are the best.