By P Sanchez
Last time we discussed required general maintenance that you should do to your car to ensure a properly working braking system. We also discussed what the brake warning lights on the dash means and why you should always call a mechanic when you do get the warning.
In this article, we’ll talk about unusual noises and behavior your car can make which may not trigger the brake warning system but should still tell you that there’s trouble with the brakes.
Pressing the brake pedal should give you a smooth travel, light to the foot at first but becomes progressively firmer as you bottom it out. But if there’s inconsistency to the feel of the brake pedal, such as sponginess or if you are getting “notches” of resistance, then air may have seeped in the hydraulics which compromises brake effectivity. Check with a mechanic as they would need to bleed the air out of your system and figure out where air is seeping in.
Grinding and scraping sounds emanating from the wheels that progressively get louder and faster with vehicle speed could be signs of mechanical problems with the brakes. What’s possibly happening is that the brake pads are not fitting evenly against the braking surface when pressed. This causes uneven wearing of the pads and the undesirable noise. In worst cases, the pads get so worn that the metal mounting surface of the pad gets exposed and when braking, scrapes against the rotor (if using disc brakes) or the inner walls of the drum brakes.
Misalignment of the brake calipers or the inner assembly of the brake drum can be the cause of uneven wearing of the brake surfaces. Using the wrong sized or substandard brake pads can also do the same damage. So it’s important that you get a mechanic that really knows what he’s doing when you get your brakes serviced in order to ensure your driving safety as well as avoid premature damage and costly repairs down the road.
Squeaky brakes may mean dirty rotors or it might be time for the brake pads to be replace. If it’s just dust or dirt, there are aftermarket cleaner sprays formulated for that exact purpose. On the other hand, brake pads and brake linings do wear out over time and periodic inspection by a qualified mechanic is necessary to check the need for replacement.
Lastly, a damaged rotor can cause the same noise. As previously mentioned, a worn brake pad may have exposed metal surfaces that will gouge the surface of the rotor resulting in an uneven surface plane. Rapid changes in temperatures - such as repeated hard braking which significantly heats up the rotor and then sudden immersion in water such that in floods or deep water puddles - can cause the rotor to warp. Misaligned brake calipers can also bend the rotor out of shape over time. Once the damage is done, the only remedy for a warped or damaged rotor is an expensive rotor replacement.
Of course any unusual noise merits a visit to the auto repair shop but knowing how to describe the symptoms to your trusty mechanic will help him (or her) immensely in diagnosing your car. Hopefully sharing a few troubleshooting tips helps you tune-in better to your car, prevent bigger and costlier damage, and ensure you a safe and comfortable driving experience.