In the same way that your tyres, engine and even your air-conditioning system need to be maintained, so do your brakes.
The brake system on your car is made up of a master cylinder, brake hoses and the brake caliper. When you apply pressure to the brake pedal, this pressure is transferred by the master cylinder which compresses or forces the brake fluid along the brake lines, to force the brake caliper to close the disc pads onto the disc rotor.
Basically all of these components of your braking system experience wear and tear. The action of the brakes generates a significant amount of friction, and therefore heat. Brake pads will wear as a result, and you should replace them when they reach around 30% remaining. If you go below this level, you will experience a marked decrease in braking performance.
The disc rotors will also wear down – check your vehicle manual to determine the minimum thickness for safe use – less than this and you risk reduced braking performance.
Brake pads can also become glazed – stop start driving or riding the brakes causes the brake pads to become extremely hot, and the heat causes the surface of the pad to become smooth – thereby reducing the friction – you will notice squeaking brakes, and longer braking distances. If you have a traction control system in your vehicle, remember that these work by applying the brakes to individual wheels to stop wheel spin. This can also cause glazing on the brake pads. Switch off your traction control system when you are not driving in loose terrain.
The extreme heat can also cause the metal in the disc rotors to deform and become uneven. This will cause a wobble which you will feel through the steering wheel, especially is the discs on the front wheels have been affected. The uneven braking surface will also reduce braking performance and result in a longer braking distance.
Brake fluid transfers the pressure of your foot on the brake pedal in your car, to the brake pads and discs, thereby slowing or stopping your car. You should have the brake fluid replaced yearly – and in addition, you need to check the levels of the brake fluid on a regular basis – although the brake fluid is inside a pressurised and sealed system, the brake hoses, seals and fittings are made of rubber which can deteriorate over time, and some fluid may leak.
Regular attention to these items could save you a costly accident – in terms of the safety of yourself and your passengers as well as potential expensive repairs if your vehicle is damaged in an accident where you haven’t been able to stop in time.