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Focus On: Brakes

Most motorists get their vehicle serviced and MOT’ed once a year and don’t spare a thought to the general wear and tear and maintenance for the rest of the year, other than to occasionally top up on air, oil or fluids. A vehicle is, however, only as safe as its least safe parts – so it is good to be aware of the different elements that may be subjected to more wear and tear, so that you can flag it up with your mechanic if you notice anything unusual.

Brakes are undoubtedly one of the unsung heroes of the engine. After all, you push a pedal and the car stops – what more do you need to know? This week, we look at exactly how your brakes work, and how often you should think about replacing them.

Why do brake pads need replacing?

Have you ever been cycling and, for whatever reason, put your foot down to stop the bike instead of using the brakes? Did you notice how hot your foot got? Brakes work by counteracting the force moving your vehicle forward. This causes friction and, eventually the force stopping your vehicle exceeds the force (momentum) moving it forward, causing the vehicle to stop. As brake pads contract against the brake rotors repeatedly over time, the brake pads will wear away and, eventually, they will become so thin that they are unable to work properly and safely.

How often should brake pads be replaced?

As a general rule, brakes should be replaced every 40,000 or 50,000 miles but they should be looked at every 12,000 miles. The wear and tear on your brakes will depend on the type of driving that you do and the type of driver that you are. If you tend to ease off the accelerator before braking, if you drive long distances rather than traffic-laden start-stop journeys, and if you ease onto the brake instead of doing an emergency stop at every traffic light, your brakes will last longer.

What are the warning signs?

Aside from being aware of roughly how many miles since your brake pads were checked and since they were last replaced, as well as your general driving style (sedate versus rally driver), there are some warning signs that should not, on any account be ignored:

  1. You notice a grinding sound coming from your brakes.
  2. You notice fluid under your vehicle after it has been parked.
  3. Your brakes start squeaking when you compress the pedal.
  4. You notice that your brakes are a little sluggish, or it is taking you longer than normal to stop.

If you notice any of the above, check with your local garage to get your vehicle booked in for a quick check and don’t head out on any long journeys; it is just not worth the risk. For more tips and advice, or for help finding a local garage that you know you can trust, follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

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