8 Common Car Brake Problems and Fixes

Whenever you press the brake pedal in your car, a plunger inside the brake master cylinder pumps brake fluid through break lines to the brakes. The brake fluid serves as pressure to the brake pads. The brake pads squeeze the brake discs or push the brake shoes to the brake drums.

Top Factors That Affect Lifetime of Brakes

Most brakes should routinely be replaced after 25,000, 50,000 or 70,000 miles. The life cycle of the brakes is extended when the tires are rotated twice a year. If things go wrong before the routine replacement, the brakes should be repaired as needed. The primary factors which affect the frequency of brake pad changes are:

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The environment – Whether the car is driven down long winding roads in the country or in stop-and-go traffic in a congested city, the life cycle of the brakes will vary, depending upon the environment. Flat terrain is less demanding than steep, hilly areas. Congested city traffic wears the brakes on a car much faster than other environmental demographics. A car driven primarily on long roads with little in the way of stop signs and red lights will have higher fuel economy and will need much less brake maintenance.

Driving habits – The driving habits of the driver are an important factor in how long the brake pads will last. The brake shoes can become stuck against the wheel drum. Gentle drivers who do not drive like they are in a rush will get more out of their brakes than the aggressive driver who constantly pounds on the brakes.

Materials – The materials used on the brake pad and rotor also play a large role in how long the brakes will last. The material may be metal, steel, carbon-ceramic, or some other combination of materials. Although the carbon-ceramic brakes will last longer, they cost more. The carbon-ceramic materials will be found in more expensive cars.

Brake pad harness – The brake pad harness is also made of different materials depending on the brand. If the compound is made of more durable materials, the brake pads will have a longer life cycle. Although the soft compounds perform better in urban environments, they melt when exposed to high heat.

Brake calipher – The brake calipher squeezes the brake pads against the brake rotor when you are trying to slow down or come to a stop. When the brake calipher is damaged, it starts to stick, which causes the vehicle to vibrate. Over time, the vibrations get worse. As you travel at higher speeds, the shaking is accompanied by a burnt odor. You can tell which wheel has the damaged calipher by smelling around each wheel.

You Treat Your Car Like Badly – Most vehicle owners understand that a vehicle must be inspected and serviced from time to time, as referred to as routine maintenance. For those who don’t, the likelihood of problems that cause the brake problems is extremely high. If the vehicle is not inspected routinely, small problems can escalate to major problems that are much more expensive to fix. This is also true for vehicles which sit for long periods of time.

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A lot of our readers have the Auto Maintenance and Repair Manual printed on their garage wall and 92% of them haven’t visited the auto repair shop in the last year because they know what to do to avoid problems. All it takes is giving your vehicle a little attention every few thousand miles and you’ll never spend money at the workshop again.

When to Change the Brakes

As a vehicle is continuously driven and accumulating miles some of the parts eventually wear out. Actually, all auto parts are subject to wear and tear over time. The more you drive the car the more wear and tear you can expect. Here are the most common signs that you need to change your brakes:

Brake warning light – Some cars come equipped with a brake warning light on the dash. Most times, the brake warning light activates when the brake fluid is low or leaking, the brake pads are worn, or the brakes themselves need to be replaced. The light will also activate for a bad speed sensor. If the brake light stays on continuously, there is a problem. The brake switch should move into the right position when the brake pedal is depressed.

Check Engine Light (CEL) – When the brake light goes bad, the check engine light (CEL) may activate. Other circuits involved may also trigger the Check Engine Light (CEL). This may also mean that there is more wrong with the braking system than the brake light. Since you press the brake to disengage cruise control, many of the issues with the brake system also involve the components of cruise control.

Abnormal behavior from brake pedal – When the brake pedal is depressed, the force transfers to the brakes using brake fluid. The brake pedal may feel mushy when you press it. The pedal may also sink all the way down to the floor or start to vibrate. You may also hear a grinding metal noise.

Thick brake pads – The thickness of the brake pad changes over time. If the brake pad is wearing down, the thickness will be significantly reduced. If the brake pad is less than a quarter inch thick, it is time to change it.

Rust – Water, salt, debris and aging can cause rust and undesirable build up in the braking system, especially when the braking system is on the rear wheels. The rotors can also become rusted. The symptoms of this problem include noise, rusted back plates, and sticking calipers. The emergency brake may also be malfunctioning.

Master Cylinder – The brake master cylinder is needed for your braking system to work. Although these types of parts are generally built to last for the lifetime of the car, they don’t always last.

How Long Will It Take to Change the Brakes?

The average brake pad replacement can take between 30 minutes and 1 hour to complete. For 1.5 to 2 hours, the brake pad replacement can include the resurfacing of the rotors on common disc brakes.

Any automotive part can malfunction and some must be replaced. When doing a brake job, it does not only mean changing the brake pads. It means removing rust from contact areas, cleaning off dirty grease, and apply new lubricant to make sure the parts can move about freely. The amount of time it takes to change the brakes on the average automobile depends on many things:

Type of vehicle – The maintenance and repair times vary between vehicle years, makes, and models. Newer cars are more sophisticated and may require more disassembly. The parts for the braking system on older cars may be more difficult to find.

Condition of brake system – If only the brake pads are to be replaced, the brake job can be simple and quick. However, if the brake system is rusty, greasy, or has worn out parts, the brake job will take much longer.

Who is doing the repair – First, it depends on whether a professional is changing the brakes or if the car owner is doing it. Obviously, the professional will take less time to complete the brake job. The brake job could take an hour or two or it could take all day depending on who is doing the job.

What tools are available – Again, a professional will have a hydraulic lift, whereas the do-it-yourselfer may have only a basic jack. The more primitive the tools, the longer it will take to complete the job. If the car uses 4 corner discs which don’t need special compressors for the back, the brake job will go much faster. The job may be completed in as little as one or two hours.

Are there OBD2 Codes for Brakes?

The automobile with an internal combustion engine is complex with many systems and requirements. The healthy system operates smoothly and quietly on the road. When a component malfunctions or the requirements are not met, your car shows symptoms. There are OBD2 codes for the braking system in your car. It may be a good idea to check the codes before you change the brake pads. If there are additional problems, you can address them all at the same time.

If your parking braking system has problems, you certainly can use an OBD2 Scanner (view on Amazon) to pinpoint the problem. The OBD2 scanner may give the codes that are most likely related to the brake system as well as other developing problems. Here are two codes that are thrown for multiple problems in the braking system:

Error Code P0572 “Cruise Control/Brake Switch A Circuit Low” – This code means there is a problem with the brake switch, the cruise control system, or both. The code is usually thrown when there is low voltage detected or the brake switch may need adjusting. Cruise control is typically disabled, the brake lights will not come on, and the check engine light may come on. The P0572 code is generic, which means it means the same thing for all vehicles manufactured after 1996.

Error Code P0573 “Cruise Control/Brake Switch A Circuit High” – This code means that there is an electrical problem somewhere that is affecting the brake switch A. Some of your wires could be corroded or damaged. The wires have to be examined and tested for the voltage. This code could also be a problem with the cruise control switch. The P0573 code is generic, which means it means the same thing for all vehicles manufactured after 1996.

These generic codes are not the only trouble codes that could be thrown because of anything associated with your brake system.

Can I Drive Without the Brake Job?

No. A significant positive relationship has been found between the brakes, the brake lights, and rear end crashes. When the rotor or brake caliper are a part of the problem, the condition worsens the more you drive. The braking system is a part of your security when driving an automobile; the security of knowing you can stop the car. When that security is gone, driving becomes dangerous. If you have problems with your braking system, find out what you can do to get it right:

Pull over – Driving with brakes that are about to go out is dangerous for you as well as others in traffic. Don’t drive your car when the brakes needs to be replaced. Pull over into a repair shop and get those pads replaced. .

Use an OBD2 Scanner – If you think your brakes are about to go, use an OBD2 Scanner (view on Amazon) to pinpoint the problem. The scanner will give the codes that are most likely related to the noises you hear when driving.

Get an inspection at a mechanic shop – You can make sure that your brake system is working properly by having regular maintenance checks perform on your car. If you don’t have an OBD2 scanner, your mechanic shop does. When you take your car in for regular inspections, ask them to check your brake system. If you have observed symptoms of a failing brake pads before your car is due to go again, take it in anyway.

Have your car regularly serviced – Regular maintenance includes checking your brake system as a form of preventive maintenance. If you don’t have your vehicle serviced regularly, problems can develop and build up over time. Have your vehicle serviced as recommended by the manufacturer and make sure checking the brakes is a part of the service.

Be Safe

Ok, you’re all ready to go now. You’ve done the repair work and your brakes are as they should be. More importantly, you are driving safe.