Stopping distances are often considered the bane of the driving test, but the reality is that all drivers should develop a deeper understanding of their stopping distances and those of other road users alike. Driving with worn out brakes (and tyres, for that matter) makes an immense difference to a car's stopping distance at any speed.
Brakes slow or stop vehicles by converting the kinetic energy of a moving car's engine into heat through friction. They work best when they're clean and properly adjusted. This is why replacing worn brakes/choosing the right brakes and maintaining them is essential to safe driving.
This guide may help you gain a better understanding of a vehicle's braking system, choose the right brakes, and extend their lifespan.
Why you should never ignore your brakes
A brake is a mechanical device designed to slow or stop the motion of a vehicle. As one of the most important safety features of a vehicle, they help you stop quickly and safely in emergencies, and are a key factor in preventing collisions. They are also one of the most important components to maintain – brakes not properly maintained means a driver can quickly lose control of the vehicle with little warning.
In order to be safe, you need to make sure your brakes are properly maintained, and that you're familiar with the braking system in your car.
1. Consequences of not maintaining brakes
Worn brakes can have serious repercussions, starting with further damage to the braking system, and a potential accident. Your vehicle will likely experience the following signs and symptoms:
- Rotor damage – When brake pads wear down past a certain point, exposed metal on the pads grinds (and screeches) against the rotors every time you brake. Worn pads that squeeze the rotor generate heat from grinding metal-on-metal can also warp and crack the rotor.
- Longer stopping distance – The more worn down your brakes become, the harder it can be for them to stop your vehicle.
- Drifting and brake slipping – When the brake pads do not engage or disengage the rotor as designed and the pads aren't able to grip both sides uniformly, your car tends to pull to one side when you brake.
- Vibrating – A brake system that is in good working order will brake smoothly. Excessively worn brake pads or damaged brake rotors can send vibrations throughout your car.
- Tyre wear – The tendency to put more pressure on the brake pedal due to worn brakes can wear tyres down faster and lead to uneven tyre wear.
- Unnecessary expense – Brakes pads are inexpensive to replace. Rather spend the money replacing them before you have to fork out a lot more for discs and rotors.
Understanding a braking system
Brake pads are made out of flexible material that fits between the brake disc and wheel hub in modern vehicles. The friction created by the braking action forces brake fluid through small holes in the pad, which comes into contact with the disc, slowing or stopping it completely. The pads are attached to calipers on each wheel using bolts that can be accessed by removing a cover plate on each side of the vehicle.
What are the types of brakes
There are many different types of brakes available on today's vehicles, but all of them work on the same basic principle: using friction between two surfaces to create resistance and thus slow or stop motion. Some braking systems use hydraulic fluid under pressure to operate the brakes, others rely on mechanical parts such as cables or rods attached directly to the wheels.
2. Drum brakes
Drum brakes are used primarily on older cars and trucks; they operate by forcing brake shoes against drums attached to each wheel hub. Drum brakes provide good stopping power but don't last very long before needing replacement.
3. Disc brakes
Disc brakes operate similarly to drum brakes, except that instead of shoes on drums, there are pads made from metal or ceramic material that press against flat discs attached to each wheel hub. Disc brakes provide better stopping power than drum
How to choose the right brake pads and discs
To experience smooth and safe driving, it's a good idea to have some knowledge of how to maintain and choose your brakes. In case something goes wrong with them, you'll be well prepared to handle the situation.
The type of brakes you need depends on the make and model of your car. Different vehicles require different types of pads because their braking systems are different, for example hydro-boost or vacuum-assisted, which are not compatible with each other.
Choosing the right brake pads and discs is about more than finding something that simply fits your particular vehicle. What you want are brakes that will work well and last for a long time.
What to consider when buying brake parts:
- What kind of driving do you normally do?
- How much can you spend?
- What is the warranty?
- How do the brakes handle noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH)?
It's also important to determine how much wear and tear your brakes are likely to experience over time.
Knowing when to replace your brake pads
Check your brakes every time you change your oil or when your car's brake warning light comes on. If you notice any squeaking or grinding sounds take your car to a professional as soon as possible for a proper inspection.
4. What is "brake fade"?
When the efficiency of your brakes starts to decrease, there are two common reasons why this happens:
- If the brake fluid has leaked out, there is not enough pressure to apply force against the brake pads and discs. This means they cannot slow down as they're meant to, and in extreme cases, won't slow down at all!
- Dust and dirt reduces friction between the brake discs and pads making them wear out more quickly.
Brakes are the most important safety feature on your car, they should be checked and maintained regularly by a professional to ensure they work at peak efficiency. Getting your brake system inspected and brake pads changed in time can help you get the most life out of all its parts as well as avoid expensive and preventable brake repairs.
If you suspect your brakes need replacing soon, pop in to your nearest Supa Quick fitment centre where you can get a free vehicle safety check* which includes testing your brakes’ stopping ability and checking for noise and vibration.
*Note that the safety checklist varies from dealer to dealer.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational, or entertainment purposes only. It must not be construed as advice, legal, financial, or otherwise. We do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of this information.