By P Sanchez
Given how critical braking is to the overall safety of drivers and passengers, engineers have gone to great lengths making the car’s braking system one of the most reliable sub-system of any modern car. However, this does not mean it’s immune to wear or breakdown, particularly over the car’s entire service life. Neither does it mean you shouldn’t pay attention to its operation or provide periodic maintenance. This article aims to show what you need to do to keep your brakes running properly.
Periodically check your fluid levels, including your brake fluid. First, check your manual to know which among the fluid reservoirs under the hood is the one for brake fluid (spoiler: it may have the words “brake fluid” on its removable cap). You should be able to check the fluid levels from the side. Just make sure the level is between min and max. Use OEM prescribed brake fluid (again check your manual).
Fortunately, you won’t need to change your brake fluid as often as you do with engine oil. Depending on the number of miles you’ve put in or the number of years passed, it takes a while before you truly need to flush and replace your brake fluid (to know the exact numbers - you’ve guessed it - check your manual). To give you an idea, most car brands and mechanics recommend having your brake fluid changed every 5 to 7 years (yes, that long) or if you start seeing discoloration of the brake fluid in your reservoir, which ever comes first.
When fresh and new, brake fluid has a deep golden color. But over time, it can darken to black from absorbing moisture, oxidation, and suspension of corroded particles. Dirt and grime can clog the workings of the brake system. At that point you’ll need to have a mechanic to not only change your fluid, but check the overall integrity of your braking system. It’s not often you’ll need a brake fluid change during the lifetime of a car, so it’s best to have your local auto repair shop do your entire brake system a once over when the time comes.
Signs of Trouble
Oil leak under the car is always a sign of trouble and it’s difficult to check the source of the leak. Once you see oil spots in your driveway, it’s a good idea to have your vehicle checked by an expert mechanic. But if you must do it yourself, you can do a cursory inspection if it is brake fluid that your car is leaking. The brake system is a hydraulic system that sends pressurized fluid to all the wheels through dedicated hoses. So each wheel’s brake assembly (whether disc or drum) will have a visible hose feed which you can check for leaks.
Of course any critical brake malfunction, such as low fluid level, drop in hydraulic pressure or excessive thinning of the brake pads, will trigger the brake warning light on the dash. In fact, there maybe two types of brake related trouble lights on your dash: a system-wide brake waning light, usually the symbol of the exclamation mark, and the “ABS” light if your car comes with Anti-lock Braking System. Neither of which should be ignored. To know which is exactly which for your car brand, check your manual. If either one of the trouble lights stays on after starting the engine, check with a trusted mechanic, especially one that uses dealer-grade onboard diagnostic equipment.
(Note that engaging the handbrake will also turn on the brake warning light as part of its normal function. If disengaging the handbrake doesn’t switch off the brake warning light, check with your mechanic ASAP).
We’ve covered the general brake maintenance you should do to your car as well as knowing the signs of critical brake malfunction that you can hopefully catch before you drive off with your vehicle. Next time, we’ll discuss common trouble symptoms in your brakes that will be apparent while your vehicle is already rolling along.