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If they’re working properly, your vehicle’s brakes aren’t at the forefront of your mind very often. The problem with this logic is, brakes tend to be ignored until there’s a significant problem.

Arguably the most important portion of your car’s makeup, brakes are what enable you to keep your passengers, other motorists and pedestrians safe, so when they begin to make themselves known by any number of uncharacteristic sounds, feelings or smells, you’ll know it’s time to replace your brakes.

In this post, we’ll decipher some common experiences that a worn-out set of brakes will probably bring forward, letting you know it’s time to get them replaced:

 

Visual Check

Check for any signs of visual wear and tear by first looking at the spaces between the spokes of your rims. The outside brake pad will be pressed against a large metal rotor in the front wheels. Generally speaking, there should always be a minimum of 1/4 inch of brake pad visible. If there is less, you should have your brakes inspected by a licensed mechanic.

 

Reduced Responsiveness

A new feeling of either a spongy, soft brake pedal, or a hard pedal can result in greatly reduced responsiveness in your brake system for a number of reasons.

A soft pedal can mean a problem within the hydraulic system – such as air in the brake lines, failing wheel cylinders, a weak flex line, or failing calipers. When the pedal begins to feel soft, this can mean that your whole braking system is primed to fail. On occasion, it can be corrected by adding brake fluid to the master cylinder.

A hard pedal on the other hand, can mean you’re experiencing a problem with the power assist mechanisms, either vacuum or hydraulic. A vacuum booster allows the driver to exert less force when compressing the brake pedal, making the action of braking easier on you. As well, a hard pedal can mean an obstruction on route from the pedal to the master cylinder, like a worn or disconnected connecting rod.

 

Smell

If you notice a burning smell under braking, you have a serious problem on your hands. Overheating brakes smell terrible, and can mean that your brake system is burning your brake pads. As a general rule, overheating and smelly brakes can create a slippery residue on your rotors and pads, making your ability to stop greatly reduced. This is one of the components to brake fade.

 

Pulling

Sometimes when you slam on the brakes you’ll experience the car pulling to one side or the other. This can mean that your rotors are worn out, and the brake pad is grabbing onto the rotor harder on one side of the vehicle than the other. This can also mean that you’re experiencing a failing well cylinder or a faulty brake caliper. This results in uneven wear on your pads and rotors. Sometimes this type of sensation means a simple adjustment to even out the braking system across both wheels, and other times it can mean that you will need to replace all braking components.

 

Grinding/Vibration

If you’re constantly hearing the sound of metal-on-metal, there’s good chance your brake pads are so badly worn that the base pad is grinding on the rotor. This is bad for a number of reasons; first, because your braking power will be severely reduced, and secondly because your rotors are quickly being destroyed further overtime you press on the brake pedal. At this point, it may be beneficial for you to have your vehicle towed to a certified mechanic’s garage, rather than driving it there.