When it comes to safety of your vehicle, brakes are probably one of the most crucial parts of your vehicle to take care of. You never want to be in situation where you need to brake suddenly and your brakes do not perform, impacting not only your safety, but the safety of those around you.
According to Les Richardson, Vice Chairman of the Tyre, Equipment, Parts Association (TEPA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), this is also one item you don’t want to skimp on. With over 130 suppliers of brake components, some of which are non-SABS approved, motorists should be cautious of ‘cheap’ deals. “You definitely get what you pay for and motorists would be far safer to only purchase from a reputable accredited parts retailer or fitment centre, and having them fitted by a qualified technician at an accredited workshop.”
The most common form of brakes used in modern cars are disk brakes and pads. Regular usage causes these to become worn with time. Not monitoring their conditions can lead to costly repairs and even the risk of malfunctioning on the road.
Vishal Premlall, national director of TEPA says brake repair cost will vary depending on what needs to be done. The golden rule however is if you hear any brake noise such as screeching, squeaking or grinding, you should immediately have your brakes checked by a professional. Many fitment centres will perform a basic brake check to determine the extent of the problem which is far preferable to leaving the issue and ending up with an unsafe car and an expensive problem to fix.
Richardson explains what needs to be done to keep brakes in top working order.
• Replacing brake fluid
Unlike Europe where it is recommended that you replace your brake fluid every year, in South Africa you only need to do this every second year and it should be done within this time period when servicing your brakes.
Richardson explains that brake fluid is just like any other hydraulic fluid and is prone to collecting contaminants or simply breaking down over time. “Your brake pads could reach an operating temperature of over 400 degrees. This heat can transfer to your fluid in the immediate vicinity of your brake components and can cause the brake fluid to “boil” and develop bubbles which over time can create even more bubbles and even water droplets. The air inside the bubble is compressible and results in a spongy feeling in your brakes”. He says simply topping up your brake fluid is not good enough. “You need to replace your brake fluid from time to time. These Brake fluids come in different classifications, called DOT Ratings, which differ in performance requirements, so you need to ensure you buy the right fluid for your vehicle. This can usually be found in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.”
• Bleeding the brakes
This entails removing some of the fluid that contains air pockets or bubbles in the system. It is essential when completing a brake service to ensure that the fluids are “bled” to remove these air bubbles. Ensuring you use an accredited workshop will again ensure this is done correctly.
• Brake squeal – time for pads and drums to be replaced?
A standard brake problem is worn pads and drums. Because brakes use friction to stop the car, as time wears on, so do the brake pads and over time you will need to replace these. “The surest way to know when to replace your brake pads, besides the obvious brake warning light, is when you start to hear them squealing whenever you apply brakes. What is happening is as you apply brake pressure from your foot, a small vibration results from the friction between the braking components and the steel of the drum or disk. This is exasperated by contaminants that are caught up between components like brake dust and bits of road debris that get caught in between”.
At this point it is wise to take your vehicle in for an inspection. If the problem is left too long you may end up having to replace the drums and/or discs as well. This can change your problem from a relatively inexpensive fix to a much more expensive option.
• Skimming – Why do we need to skim our brake discs when replacing brake pads?
Skimming is the process of removing the uneven outer layer of the steel brake disc. This removes the contaminants and heat marks that have been deposited onto the disc. Your discs may have become warped or slightly curved (could be caused by driving through a puddle with hot brakes and this sudden contact with cold water can cause the disc to contract unevenly). The warped disc manifests itself by a vibration or pulse felt in the brake pedal when applying the brakes.
The steel of the disc is porous and so absorbs some of the brake pad material that improves the friction coefficient and this needs to be removed before applying a replacement brake pad that may consist of a different material. “Remember some brake supplier warranties may be voided if the brake disc is not skimmed before fitting new pads,” cautions Richardson.
The disc should never be skimmed more than the minimum thickness indicator marks which is indicated normally by a cut out in the outside rim of the disc. “If these discs are too thin they may be prone to warping, overheating or worse, complete failure,” he says.
Premlall concludes, “Taking care of your brakes makes good financial sense and a qualified professional will be able to advise you on the recommended brake fluid, the correct specification brake pads or shoes as well as the minimum thickness recommended for your brake discs. Besides the obvious indicators outlined above many vehicles have indicators on the car’s dashboard that warn you of brake pad issues. Check your manual to know more about what each indicator means and ensure you don’t ignore the warning signs.”