While no one likes to think about what can happen when vehicle brakes malfunction, it's important for car owners to recognize the symptoms of possible brake failure. Here are eight ways to tell if your car needs a brake service in order to keep them functioning well:
Steering Wheel Vibrations
If your steering wheel vibrates when you step on the brake pedal, this is probably a sign that the rotors on your brakes have worn down and it's time to get them replaced. Rotors are the discs that the brake pads clamp down and cause the car to come to a stop when you apply your vehicle's brakes. Rotors routinely get worn down because they are exposed to intense heat during the braking process.
Pulsating Brake Pedal
If the brake pedal begins to pulsate when you step down on it, this means that your brakes are simply worn out and that it's time to have them replaced. This should be done as soon as possible for the sake of your own safety, as well as that of any passengers you carry in your car.
Clicking or Knocking Noises When Braking
Most vehicles manufactured after 2005 have stainless steel clips to keep the brake pads in place. These can come loose and cause a clicking sound, and it's probably time to change the brake pads entirely if you notice this noise. If you have rudimentary mechanical knowledge, you can perform this task yourself.
Grinding Noises When Braking
Squealing or grinding noises after you step on the brake pedal is generally an indication of worn out brake pads. Slight squealing noises are usually the first sign that your brake pads need to be replaced, so don't hesitate to take your vehicle to the shop if you notice this condition — if you wait until the squealing progresses to a louder, more persistent grinding noise, that means that the brakes have ground into the rotors, and this will mean costly repairs rather than just replacing the pads.
Car Pulls to One Side
If your vehicle pulls to either side when you apply the brakes, the chances are good that your brakes are maladjusted. A competent mechanic can adjust them for you, but keep in mind that pulling to one side can also be a sign that your brakes need to be replaced. Always check for brake fluid leakage if your car begins to pull when you step on the brake pedal.
Lit Warning Lights
The ABS warning light on your dashboard stands for Anti-Lock Braking System. When it lights up, that means that you need to add brake fluid as soon as possible. Fortunately, even most mechanically challenged people can do this themselves, so check your vehicle owner's manual for instructions.
Vibrations When Braking
There are several different reasons why your brake pedal will vibrate when you step on it, including worn brake pads or brake disc issues. However, there are conditions that can make your brake pedal vibrate that aren't specific to the brakes themselves. For instance, your vehicle tires could be out of alignment, or suspension components could be worn out. It's best to take your car to the shop immediately if you notice even a slight vibration when you step on the brake pedal.
Brake Fluid Puddles
Because the operating system of your vehicle uses as many as six different fluids, it's easy to be confused about the cause if you notice puddles of fluid where your car has been parked. Brake fluid contains substantial amounts of emollients, giving it a slicker texture than other fluids used under vehicle hoods, and it will be clear to brown in color. If you suspect that your car is leaking brake fluid, do not attempt to drive it — it will need to be towed to a shop as soon as possible.
Remember that you'll almost always save money if you take your vehicle to the shop for inspection and repairs at the first sign that something may be going wrong with your brakes.