Brakes need to work to their best and if they aren’t, they need to be checked out immediately. From that dry chalky sound to warning symbols in your display screen, here are some of the signs that your brakes might need some urgent attention.
Why do your brakes matter?
A seemingly obvious question but let’s go over it anyway: your brakes are the most basic (and most vital) safety system in your vehicle, allowing you to control the speed of your vehicle, and to bring it to a stop. The brake pedal is the first pedal you will hit in an emergency on the road. You’ll perhaps remember practising emergency stops from your driving lessons, where you would be asked to swiftly and firmly apply your foot down on the brake pedal, before applying the handbrake.
But like any other on-board vehicle system, brakes have to be regularly maintained and inspected to make sure they are functioning properly, as they have a three-fold safety purpose: to help ensure your safety, that of those who may be travelling in the vehicle with you (human or animal) and the safety of other road users including cyclists and pedestrians using crossings.
And while your annual MOT or Service are both offer opportunities for a qualified technician to assess the condition of your brakes, you should always be on the lookout for warning signs that tell you your brakes aren't in excellent condition.
What are brake problems to watch out for?
Brakes that don’t ‘feel’ as effective: You can sometimes tell when brakes aren’t working properly which might lead you to getting them checked in the first place. Going by ‘feel’, as in the driving experience when behind the wheel, less effective braking could be down to several factors: your brake pads and discs could be old and worn, causing them to grip less well; the brake fluid could be old and has absorbed moisture, reducing its effectiveness; or the hydraulic system could be losing fluid and pressure.
Grinding: If you hear a grinding noise when you brake, it could mean your brake pads or discs need replacing. Brake pads have a metal wear indicator fitted that makes a noise when it contacts the brake disc. When your pads are worn to this extent, it is likely you will need to replace the discs too.
Squealing sound: You might notice a squealing sound when you brake, if your vehicle has been parked in the rain or in standing water for a long time, which can cause a build-up of rust on the discs. However, this should quickly smoothen out when you're back on the road.
Display warning lights: If your vehicle’s dashboard warning display is showing the brake warning light (a full circle with an exclamation mark and surrounded by two brackets) please get your car checked immediately. This is likely an indication that the brake hydraulic system has failed, and must be addressed as soon as possible. Find out more about your vehicle’s instrument display lights and what they mean in the Autoparts blog.
Left- or right-side pulling when braking: Your car should of course, slow down, but steer straight and true when you brake, so if it doesn't, it could be a serious problem when you apply the brakes hard in an emergency situation. If your brakes are worn more on one side than the other, pulling to one side may occur. Another potential cause may be a sticking brake calliper.
Vibration: If you notice vibrations through your steering wheel or brake pedal as you slow down, get your brakes checked. A vibrating brake pedal is a sign that your brake discs are warped.
Brake pedal sinks to the floor: If you have to press the pedal a long way down before the car starts to slow, this could be due to your brake system leaking which is very serious.
Leaks on the inner wheels: Your braking system is complex. If there are worn seals, loose connections or split hoses in the system, air and fluid can leak out, making your brakes less effective. Look out for fluid on the inner wheels, or on the ground where you regularly park your car. Brake fluid is normally clear, with a slight odour.
The handbrake sticks: If you feel resistance when you take the handbrake off and try to pull away, your handbrake could be sticking on. Make sure you get it checked by an expert, as driving with the handbrake stuck on can increase friction and cause your brakes to heat up, which will wear down your brakes and damage them.
For parts, tools and accessories including brake pads and kit for making brake repairs, visit Autoparts’ braking collection in our products section.