A Guide to Brake Maintenance
By Kimberly Graf. Published on December 15, 2021
Your brakes are the most important part of your car. Without properly working brakes, your car becomes unsafe. You won't be able to stop in time, or maybe even at all. But how do you go about maintaining your brake system and making sure that it's in optimal health?
The first step is to keep an eye on your brakes yourself. Make sure that you maintain a healthy level of brake fluid, and that this is checked every time you check your other fluids. Another thing you need to keep an eye on is the way your car reacts to the brake pedal being pressed. If your car used to stop with just a tap and now you need to put all your weight onto the pedal to get it to stop, chances are you need your brakes serviced.
You can check this yourself by looking at your own brake pads and determining if they're on the slim side. Your brakes are visible through the spokes on your wheels. The brake pads are the smaller piece pressed against the large rotor, or circular metal piece. If you have less than a quarter of an inch of the pad left, you need to take your car to be serviced.
Of course, there are different types of brakes depending on the type of vehicle that you have. You should check your owner's manual to see what type of brake system your car has installed in order to figure out how best to keep it maintained. Most cars have standard brakes, but some beefier models including sports cars or trucks with towing capabilities might have more heavy-duty brakes. If you want, you can always upgrade your standard brakes to the longer-lasting, more expensive ones.
But standard brakes will need to be checked about every 20,000 to 60,000 miles. This seems like a large margin of error, but it really depends on your brakes, your car, and where you drive most often. Hilly or mountainous regions wear your brakes down faster because you'll be riding them a lot to maintain speed. Flat areas degrade your pads and shoes at a much slower pace.
It also depends on how you drive. If you like to ride your brakes while driving, you're going to have to get them checked more often. A good rule of thumb is to listen to your system as well. When your brakes start to squeak or squeal when the pedal is pressed, it's a good idea to take your car in.
When you take your car into a shop for brakes, they will check that your pads and shoes are good, depending on the type of car you drive. They will change your pads if they need it, or resurface your rotors if the surfaces are jagged or uneven.
Be aware that you are the first line of defense against costly brake repairs. It's going to cost a lot more to replace a severely damaged system than to maintain the one you have while it's still working well. Spending a little now will save you a bigger chunk of change in the long run!