22 August 2023

Technical Inspection

The Importance of Regular Brake Maintenance

Think of your car as a symphony. Every part has a role to play, working in harmony to create the sweet melody of a smooth, safe ride. But, just like a symphony, one out-of-tune instrument can create chaos, and in the automotive world, that chaos can end up being life-threatening. One key player that often doesn't get the solo it deserves is your vehicle's brake system. It's more than just a pedal that brings your car to a stop. It's a complex orchestra of components diligently working to ensure your safety with every drive. If you don't consider yourself an experienced conductor, don't worry too much. With DEKRA's Multi-Point Check, you won't have to worry about the state of this particular instrument since it's one of the 35 key points we check!

In this article, we'll venture into the world of brake maintenance and explore what it is, signs that your brake system may be belting out a cry for help, the benefits of regular brake maintenance and more.

What is brake maintenance?

When we talk about brake maintenance, it's like a scheduled visit to your car's doctor, ensuring every part of the braking system is in tip-top condition and ready to perform its job without a moment's hesitation. Brake maintenance is more than just swapping out worn brake pads or topping off brake fluid (although these are important parts, too). It's about regularly checking and taking care of all the components of your brake system - from the brake pedal to the rotors and everything in between. This includes assessing brake lines for any leaks, inspecting brake discs for wear and tear, and checking up on the even less-mentioned parking brake.

Photot credit: Serjan Midili on Unsplash

Signs that your brake system needs maintenance

Recognising the signs that your brakes may need a tune-up is a crucial part of being a responsible vehicle owner. Here are some signals your car may give you to indicate it's time to have your brakes checked...

  • Squeaking or Squealing Noise: This is typically the first sign that your brake pads are wearing down. The noise is caused by a small metal shim known as an indicator, which starts making contact with the rotor when the pads are worn to a certain point.
  • Grinding Sounds: If the squeaking has advanced to a harsh grinding sound, that's usually a sign that your brake pads are completely worn away. Now, metal (from the calliper) is grinding against metal (the rotors), which can cause significant damage.
  • Wobbling or Vibration in the Steering Wheel: If your steering wheel shakes when you apply the brakes, it could mean your rotors are uneven or "warped" from excessive heat, causing your brake pads to apply uneven pressure.
  • Leaking Fluid: Brake fluid is essential for the hydraulic force needed to stop your vehicle. If you're leaking brake fluid, your stopping power could be compromised.
  • Brake Pedal Feels Soft or Spongy: If your brake pedal doesn't have the usual resistance and sinks to the floor when you press it, that could indicate a problem with the brake hydraulic system, such as air in the brake lines.
  • Car Pulls to One Side When Braking: This could indicate a brake hydraulic system issue, uneven brake pad wear, or issues with the brake hoses.
  • Burning Smell While Driving: A sharp, chemical odour after repeated hard braking can indicate overheated brakes or clutch. If you encounter this smell, it's best to pull over and let the brakes cool down. If the smell persists, seek professional help immediately.
  • Brake Warning Light: Modern cars are equipped with a brake warning light on the dashboard. If this lights up, it's a clear sign that your vehicle thinks something is wrong with the brakes.

A simplified guide to regular brake maintenance

While some of the steps below can be performed at home, others should ideally be done by a professional mechanic to ensure the safety and performance of your vehicle. If you do any of the steps mentioned below, be sure to book your car in for a DEKRA Multi-Point Check to ensure that everything is as it should be.

1. Visual Inspection

Start with a simple visual check of your brake system. Look for any obvious signs of wear or damage such as worn brake pads, leaking fluid, or warped rotors. If your wheels are taken off for a tire rotation or change, that's a great opportunity to take a look.

2. Listen Up

Pay attention to any unusual noises when you apply the brakes. Squeaking, squealing, or grinding noises are often clear signs that it's time for some regular brake maintenance.

3. Feel the Brake Pedal

Notice how your brake pedal feels when you press it. If it feels soft, spongy, or sinks to the floor, it's time to get your brakes checked.

4. Brake Fluid Checks

Regularly check your brake fluid level. If it's low, top it off with the right type of brake fluid for your vehicle (refer to your owner's manual). If you consistently notice a low fluid level, there might be a leak in the system.

Photot credit: Jimmy Nilsson on Unsplash

5. Brake Pad Replacement

If you're handy with tools and your car's brake system allows for it, you can replace worn brake pads yourself. But, if you're unsure or uncomfortable doing it, a professional mechanic is always a good choice.

6. Regular Professional Checks

Even if everything seems fine, periodically take in your vehicle for a professional brake service. A mechanic can perform a thorough inspection and detect issues you might not be able to spot yourself. If you don't know if it's necessary to visit a mechanic yet, bring your vehicle to DEKRA for a Multi-Point Check and we will guide you in your next steps.

A well-maintained brake system isn't just about replacing brake pads or topping off fluid. It's about regular inspections, prompt response to any signs of trouble, and recognising when it's time to let a professional take over. Safety should always be the priority when it comes to brake maintenance.

The benefits of regular brake maintenance

  • Improved Safety: Regular brake maintenance enhances your vehicle's stopping power, providing safer, more controlled driving.
  • Cost-Efficient: Catching brake issues early can prevent more expensive repairs down the road, saving you some hard-earned cash.
  • Longer Brake Life: Regular maintenance extends the lifespan of your brake components, ensuring you get the most out of your investment.
  • Enhanced Performance: Well-maintained brakes contribute to smoother driving and optimal vehicle performance.
  • Resale Value: Keeping up with brake maintenance can improve your vehicle's resale value, making it a more attractive buy for potential purchasers.
  • Peace of Mind: Knowing your brakes are in top shape offers peace of mind every time you hit the road.
  • Environmental Responsibility: Efficient brakes mean less drag, potentially improving fuel efficiency and reducing your vehicle's environmental impact.

How regular brake maintenance impacts road safety

Your brakes aren't just another part of your car - they're the unsung heroes of road safety and they are a part of your symphony of safety. In a country like South Africa, with its diverse terrain and bustling city streets, effective braking is not just crucial, it's a lifesaver. Regular brake maintenance ensures that your vehicle can stop quickly and safely, whether you're navigating the steep mountain passes of the Western Cape, cruising on the open highways of the Free State, or manoeuvring the traffic-dense streets of Johannesburg. Timely brake inspections and repairs can help prevent accidents caused by brake failure, offering peace of mind to you, your passengers, and your fellow road users.

Photot credit: Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Considering South Africa's unfortunately high road accident statistics, it's evident that brake maintenance isn't just an individual's responsibility - it's a societal one. Each driver maintaining their brakes to optimal conditions can contribute significantly to reducing the number of accidents and, by extension, the number of lives lost on our roads. So, by sticking to a regular brake maintenance schedule, you're not just doing your bit for your car - you're contributing to safer roads for everyone. It's a shared harmony of responsibility, where every driver plays their part, and the result is a safer, more secure driving experience for all.

Read Related Articles:

- The Advantages of Proper Car Maintenance: Roadworthy Vehicles & Long-Term Savings

- An Overview of DEKRA's Main Services

- Reducing Road Accidents: The Crucial Role of DEKRA's Vehicle Inspection in Road Safety

- An Introduction to Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)