Picture this, you’re driving down the road and you press down on your brake pedal because you need to either slow down or come to a stop. While pressing on the brake pedal, all of a sudden you hear a grinding noise coming from somewhere. Next, you immediately take your foot off the pedal and the grinding noise goes away only to come back again when you press down on the pedal a second time. This is one of the many telltale signs to have your brakes serviced.
Before we begin with the list of telltale signs, it’s important to not confuse a grinding noise mentioned above with a grinding noise caused by surface rust on brake rotors. Surface rust can accumulate overnight especially after a rainstorm. The grinding noise caused by surface rust buildup typically goes away after applying the brakes a few times. When the grinding noise is consistently present when applying the brake pedal is when brake service is required.
Although brake linings last longer with advances in material, the amount of time between removing and replacing brake linings (pads or shoes) can vary depending upon how many miles are driven and the driving severity of those miles. For example, brake pads will have a lifespan anywhere from 30-60k miles for a typical commuter driving 12,000 – 15,000 miles per year. If the miles include severe stop-and-go traffic or hilly environments like San Francisco, you can expect a shorter lifespan for brake linings. Whereas driving in the midwest where it’s flat and less traffic (depending on the city) or you drive less than 10,000 miles per year, brake lining will have a longer lifespan.
Here are the 5 telltale signs your car needs brake service.
1. Noises When You Apply The Brake Pedal
A high pitched noise is typically a telltale that you need to have your brakes inspected. Squeals can occur when the vehicle is in reverse or under hard braking when the noise appears. Be careful though, some squealing can be normal vibrations that are amplified by the brake rotor. It’s important to have a certified technician to inspect your brake system.
As mentioned above, this could be either a telltale sign you need to have your brakes serviced or you are dealing with temporary surface rust on your rotors. If the grinding noise does not go away, it’s time to have your brakes serviced.
2. Dashboard Brake System Indicator Lights
Brake Light Is On
A “brake” light could indicate your vehicle is low on brake fluid. As the brakes automatically adjust nowadays, the fluid fills the lower part of the system with more fluid to make up the space for the adjustment. Check your brake system fluid level (owners manual will tell you how). Adding a small amount of brake fluid may rectify the issue. As a precaution, have a certified professional inspect your brake system for a leak. If you see fluid on the ground near one of your wheels, do not drive your vehicle. Instead, have it towed to a trustworthy mechanic. Openbay makes it easy to find a quality local shop, schedule service, and pay securely – all from your desktop or phone.
Some vehicles are now equipped with sensors that can tell you when the brake pads are low. Some operate based on the mileage of the vehicle, and some operate with an actual sensor on the brake pad itself. Obviously, a brake pad sensor is more accurate, but make sure to have them checked at the next service to be safe. A low brake pad warning typically is not an emergency, but more of an alert that the pads may need to be replaced soon.
3. You Feel Vibrations
Do you suddenly feel a vibration coming from the front of your vehicle when stepping on your brake pedal? This typically means your vehicle’s brake rotors might be warped. A small vibration is nothing more than an annoyance to the driver, but a shake can get progressively worse. Warp brake rotors can also cause your brake pads to wear unevenly. If you are experiencing any vibrations when pressing down on a brake pedal, have your brake system inspected. The cost to replace rotors is relatively inexpensive depending on the vehicle.
4. Soft Brake Pedal
When applying brakes, if your pedal is a bit softer than before or getting closer to the floor that could be a sign you either have a leak, have air in your brake lines or something severely wrong with your master cylinder. In either case, have a certified technician inspect your brake system immediately.
5. Vehicle Pulls to One Side When Braking
For vehicles equipped with brake pads (as opposed to brake shoes), a brake caliper’s piston presses the brake pad against a brake rotor to slow down a vehicle or bring a vehicle to a dead stop. There are cases where a piston may be stuck or encounter another issue where pistons are not operating in sync with one another causing unbalanced action. This can cause a vehicle to pull to one side or another when the brake pedal is applied. If you are experiencing the vehicle pulling to one side, it’s time to have a certified technician inspect your brake system immediately.
All of these telltale signs are better addressed sooner rather than later. Staying in tune with your car and checking out a problem early can help you save time and money in the long run by taking care of the issue before a more expensive repair is needed.
Is your car trying to tell you something? Openbay, the online automotive service marketplace, makes it easy to take care of problems when they surface. And with the Openbay Peace-of-Mind Guarantee you can be assured you’ll receive quality service, or we’ll make it right.
Written by Rob Grant, Automotive Operations Manager at Openbay. Rob is an ASE Certified Technician and frequent contributor to this blog, specializing in all things automotive service and repair.