A few years ago, my wife had an Acura Integra. I loved that car because it was sporty and fun to drive. In fact, I used to take her car to run errands instead of mine. One day while I was driving, I approached a stop sign. I applied pressure to the brake pedal, but the car didn’t slow down. I panicked and pressed with all of my might. The car eventually stopped after a few seconds of my standing on the pedal. I took a deep breath as I tried to calm myself down. I didn’t want to think about what could have happened if a another vehicle were entering the intersection at the same time.
It turns out that I had a faulty master cylinder. The mechanic told me that this was a common problem in Integras. When he started talking about calipers, rotors, and brakes shoes, I realized how little I knew about my car’s brake system.
“Just fix it, okay,” I said. The mechanic shrugged his shoulders and got to work. A couple of hours later, my car was fixed and I was out of several hundreds of dollars. That expensive lesson taught me to do a better job of maintaining my car, especially the brake system.
Because of this scare, I taught myself how to do basic brake maintenance such as changing my brake pads. However, I never delved much further because I didn’t want to deal with brake fluid (it’s highly toxic and combustible), nor did I trust my rudimentary skills to handle a bigger job.
However, my basic knowledge came in handy when I had trouble with the brakes on my Chevy Tahoe. I took the vehicle to a shop that specialized in brakes to get some repairs. The mechanic told me to sit in the lobby while he inspected my brakes. He returned 30 minutes later to retrieve me.
“I have bad news,” he said. “Your brake system is totally shot. You’re lucky you haven’t had an accident already.” He led me into the shop where I saw my vehicle sitting on four jack stands with all of the brake components dismantled and spread across the floor.
The mechanic shook his head and turned to me, “It’s in bad shape. I can get you back on the road for $800.”
His lies and unethical tactics angered me. I knew that this job should have cost no more than $300. I instructed him to reinstall my brake system because I was taking my business elsewhere. He continued to give me the hard sell until I threatened to report his shop to the Better Business Bureau. Because I took the time to learn about my brake system, I saved $500.
As a dad, I had to educate myself about auto repair. Not only to save myself money, but also to keep my family safe. I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Bill Butler (manager) and Jason Mcmeans (technician) at my local Sears Auto Center. I was impressed by their knowledge, professionalism, and ethics.
“We will never lie to a customer,” said Butler. “Integrity and honesty are highly valued in my shop.”
Not only did they give me a thorough education about brakes, they also shared four signs to look for to identify brake system problems:
If you hear strange sounds such as grinding, scraping, or screeching when you apply the brakes, you could get them checked.
“Many parents come in here saying that they just started hearing sounds from the brakes in their kids’ cars,” said Butler. “After a thorough inspection, I often have to let them know that the sound has been there for several weeks. Their child never heard it because the radio was too loud.” Lesson: Turn down the radio and listen to your car. If something doesn’t sound right, get it checked out.
Vehicle Pulls to One Side
If your vehicle pulls to the left or right while brake, you may have worn brake pads, a warped rotor, or worn bearings (see infographic).
“In addition to not stopping properly,” said McMeans. “Your vehicle could potentially hit the vehicle in the lane next to you compounding an already dangerous situation.”
Problems with Brake Pedal
Some of these problems include brake pedal feels soft or spongy; having to apply extreme pressure to the pedal before brakes engage; brakes grab at the slightest touch to the pedal; or vibrations in brake pedal.
“When you notice changes in how your brake pedal behaves, it’s definitely time to have your brakes checked,” said Butler. “These could be signs of low brake fluid or worn pads.”
Leaking Brake Fluid
If you notice brake fluid leaking from your car, you probably have damaged hoses. As I mentioned above, brake fluid is toxic and requires careful handling.
“Simple maintenance can prevent worn out hoses,” said Butler. “Bad brake fluid can seriously affect the integrity of the hoses and other components of the brake system. Get your hoses checked regularly and repair defective ones immediately.
If the brake light is illuminated on your vehicle’s dashboard, it is a definite sign that there is a problem with your brake system.
“When someone tells me that their brake light is on, the first thing I check is the brake fluid. Brake fluid can get contaminated and cause problems with the brake system,” said Butler.
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But don’t wait until you notice any of these problems to get your brakes check. Butler recommends a brake fluid exchange at every other oil change along with a quick inspection of the brake pads and shoes, rotors and drums.
As parents, we are often carrying precious cargo. Maintaining our brake systems is one simple action we can take to keep our family safe while on the road.
Join the conversation: How much do you know about your brake system? Have you ever had a serious problem with your brakes?
Disclosure: I’m a paid member of the Sears Rules of the Road & Road Warrior program. Each month I will share expert tips and deals for different car maintenance topics. All opinions are my own.