Vehicle maintenance is a must. Neglect your house, and eventually, its paint will peel, mold will grow, and critters will move in. Ignore your yard and the weeds will take over faster than you can imagine. Fail to pay attention to your car and it will fail to perform as it should for as long as it should. Every car needs maintenance. That is why the manufacturer prints a service schedule to remind drivers when routine maintenance items need to be addressed.
But many drivers put off car maintenance. They cannot find the time, or the cost is too high. Ironically, the longer a vehicle goes without proper maintenance, the more likely it is to break down or suffer more serious damage, both of which require significant amounts of time and money to correct. The average car on the road today is nearly twelve years old. The older the vehicle, the more need for diligence when it comes to upkeep. And yet, the older the car, the more likely its owner is to neglect its maintenance.
Of the nearly three hundred thousand cars, trucks, and SUVs on the road, the most common maintenance services that drivers put off are oil changes, tire changes, and brake service – all key components to the wellbeing of your vehicle and your passengers. The oil is the lifeblood of your engine; if it gets too old it could lead to catastrophic damage and cost thousands of dollars in repairs. The tires are the only thing between your car and the road; should they fail, your ability to maintain control on the road – to accelerate, to turn, and to stop – diminishes. And your brakes are the most important safety feature on your car; ignore those and, well, getting a four thousand pound machine up to cruising speed is one thing; getting it to stop in an emergency is quite another.
Still, five million brake jobs are neglected each year. Assuming you do not intend to ignore your brakes, here are 3 essential elements of brake maintenance that need to be addressed.
Brake Fluid Flush
Of all the possible components of a brake system, the one least likely to be at the top of anyone’s to-do list is the brake fluid. The brake system on a passenger vehicle relies on a hydraulic pump (the master cylinder) that responds to pressure applied to the brake pedal. The master cylinder exerts force against hydraulic fluid (brake fluid) inside a network of hoses and tubes that lead to each wheel. There, the brake fluid forces clamping devices (brake calipers) to squeeze a pair of brake pads against metal discs connected to the wheels. The contact between these spinning discs (or rotors) and the brake pads creates friction that is used to slow and stop your vehicle.
Brake fluid is prone to deteriorate over time. First of all, brake fluid is hygroscopic, it attracts moisture from the air. That moisture can contaminate the fluid and corrode brake system components. Brake fluid is also sensitive to heat, yet whenever you use your brakes (especially if you use them aggressively) the fluid heats up and even boils. Anti lock brakes (ABS) and traction control both rely on the brake system and create additional heat that wears on the brake fluid.
It is also possible for your vehicle to lose brake fluid. You can tell by looking at the reservoir on the master cylinder. If the level is low, it is possible (perhaps likely) that a leak is present somewhere in the system.
Brake fluid might be out-of-sight-out-of-mind, but it needs replacing every so often – every two to three years depending on the manufacturer. Unlike some other fluids that can be drained and filled, the brake system must be pressurized to remove the old fluid and install the new. This is usually done through a fluid flush procedure. Keep in mind, brake fluid is maintenance that should be done even if your car is sitting still. The brake fluid can absorb moisture even when your car is not driven very often.
Brake Pad Replacement
Perhaps the most common maintenance item for your brakes is brake pad replacement. Your brake pads contain a sacrificial friction material (usually organic, semi-metallic, or ceramic) that grabs hold of the brake rotor in the same way that someone in a wheelchair might grab the wheels to stop. The friction creates heat, essentially converting the kinetic energy of your car-in-motion into thermal energy. Over time, that friction material wears away and your brake pads need to be replaced.
Unfortunately, many drivers neglect the warning signs that their pads need replacement: a light on the dash, high-pitched squeal, longer stopping distances, or a low brake pedal. Even a low brake fluid level could be a sign that the pads are worn. If these signs are ignored, the next level of warning comes in the form of grinding noises and a failure to stop. By that point, what was a relatively inexpensive service (comparatively) has resulted in a significant repair bill due to damaged rotors and other brake system components – or a crash.
In order to cut costs, some drivers try to get away with cheap brake service, one that includes the minimum amount of time and money. Having a repair shop (or your neighbor, or your uncle) simply “pad slap” your brakes (meaning only the pads are replaced) can cause premature wear in the next go ‘round and compromise vehicle safety. A complete brake job should include inspection of the entire system, replacement or resurfacing of the rotors when needed, cleaning of the calipers, and a fresh set of brake clips and other hardware.
Brake System Service (Repair/Replacement)
Your brake pads are meant to wear out eventually. It could be as many as sixty thousand miles or as few as twenty-five thousand, depending on your driving habits and conditions, or the type of pad you use. Brake fluid breaks down and needs replacement every so often. The rest of your brake system? It is not designed to require replacement. And yet it does.
In time, most of your brake system components will need to be addressed, especially as your car ages. The rotors against which the brake pads rub do, in fact, lose some material too. They should be measured for minimum thickness every time your brakes are serviced. Your brake calipers should be cleaned and lubricated as well, but in time a caliper can seize up or develop a leak. Brake lines corrode, hoses dry out, and master cylinders fail. Related components – those that are part of the ABS and traction control systems – can also fail over time.
When a vehicle is new, the only brake system maintenance that should be necessary is a routine inspection and complete brake pad replacement service. As it ages, other parts may need attention. Delayed maintenance at any stage, new or old, diminishes your vehicle’s safety and shortens its lifespan.
If it is time for routine maintenance, or if you suspect there is a problem with your car’s brake system, instead of neglecting it, schedule an appointment for brake repair as soon as possible and invest in your vehicle.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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