You might only realise how important brakes are when you find yourself in an emergency on the road, especially if you were tailgating a car which suddenly brakes. Hopefully, in this type of situation you would be able to brake just in time and avoid hitting the car from behind, even if it was only because the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) brakes worked so well. You’d be able to sigh a sigh of relief as you carry on, and think about what it could have been like had your brakes been defective.
The above situation, which most of us as drivers have experienced to one degree or another, just illustrates how vital good brakes are. What about in the instance where a pedestrian suddenly steps into the road some distance in front of your car? Will your car’s brakes be able to save that person’s life?
However, just pressing the brake pedal is only part of the equation – the other part is to be aware of safe stopping distances.
Let us go back to basics and determine what a brake actually is.
Basically, a brake is a mechanism that stops the motion or momentum of something. A hydraulically-operated brake works when a piston pushes a brake pad through use of a calliper against a brake disc on a wheel, and through this massive friction, causes the car to gradually stop. With the more old-fashioned brake, a cylinder pushes a brake shoe against a metal drum on the wheel, which then slows the car down.
Drivers need to be aware of the existence of two types of braking systems, namely, ABS and the AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking). ABS brakes prevent wheels from locking. Many of us may have experienced front wheels locking especially in older cars. When this happens the driver loses all control and the car may skid all over the place, hopefully not ending up against the rear end of another car. ABS brakes brake intermittently and rapidly, thereby preventing the dreaded skidding effect from happening. AEB brakes, on the other hand, use sensors which are constantly assessing the distance between them and any other object close by on the road. If any object or car gets too close, the AEB brakes brake automatically.
This is something that is often overlooked by motorists – what is the current condition of your car’s brakes? Are they roadworthy? If one is to value a car’s braking system, namely, the callipers, brake pads, and discs on the front wheels, one realises how important it really is, and even more so when you realize that it is the only parts of your car (discounting the handbrake) that can potentially stop it from crashing into something. For this very reason rather let professionals service the brakes, and not any unskilled person. As the saying goes - prevention is better than cure, so examine the brake pads at least twice a year.
The wheel doesn’t have to be removed to determine the brake condition. Often you can look through holes in the metal wheel to inspect the brake pads and brake disc.
The disc should be smooth, showing a metallic polished look. However, with time, wear and tear can cause deep grooves to appear on the disc surface. Such a disk should be replaced immediately as it will impair braking efficacy. Some mechanics have equipment for ‘skimming’ discs, while still attached to the car. You will discover that skimming has not worked or there might still be a problem with your discs, if the steering wheel begins to or still shakes quite vigorously as you try and brake at high speeds. Remember, to replace both front discs simultaneously, as this is vital for the safety of the car’s occupants.
A brake pad is the most critical component of the entire brake system. It does all the stopping when it is pressed hard against the disc. The life of a brake pad depends on how often it is used, how it is used, and the type of car. Usually, brake pads are replaced approximately every 30 000 km. Your car service booklet should give you an indication of when this should typically be for your specific car.
Brake pads must be replaced once they have been worn down to a thickness of 2 mm, or if they have been wearing irregularly. A warning sign in older cars that brake pads should be replaced, is when they start to make a screeching sound. A piece of metal inserted inside the brake pad starts to screech once the pad is worn down to far. In modern cars a sensor is typically placed within the brake pad instead and this is then reached when there is sufficient wear on the brake pad. A flashing light on the car dashboard would then go off and indicate that it is time to replace the pads.
Flexible and metal brake lines should also be inspected on a regular basis. Flexible brake lines must be replaced if they are stiff and cracked. Metal brake lines must also be checked for anything suspicious, such as corrosion marks.
We need to have a high regard for what a car’s brakes do for us, they save us from so many potentially dangerous situations. Let’s keep them in action by maintaining them on a regular basis.