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Car brakes

When we push our vehicle's brake pedal we expect it to slow and eventually stop. A lot of the time we don't pay any attention to why or how this might happen but it is important to understand how this crucial element of the vehicle works.

Ever wondered how you can stop a car weighing many hundreds of kilograms with the tip of your shoe or just your big toe?

The braking system takes the force applied from your body via the pedal and magnifies it through a series of fluid filled lines to the wheels. Friction is the key element at play when brakes are being used to slow a vehicle. Friction is generated when the brake pads rub against the surface of either a disk or drum brake. The tyres also use friction, but apply it to the surface of the road to slow the vehicle or bring it to a complete stop. Too much force applied to the brake pedal too quickly and the tyres will be over powered and skid.

Tips for better braking

  • Avoid braking and turning at the same time. This is particularly important in loose, wet or snowy conditions. Turning while braking can cause the car to slide (understeer), not turn as well or not slow down as much. If you need to stop quickly, don't be afraid to use your brakes, even mid-corner: If your vehicle is fitted with an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), push the pedal as far down and possible. If your vehicle does not have ABS, brake moderately hard (70%) and avoid steering sharply.

  • Apply the brakes smoothly. Applying the brakes in a smooth manner is essential to maximising the braking potential of your vehicle. In a controlled braking situation the key is to apply the brakes quickly and deeply, while applying pressure with the left foot against the footrest to stabilise your body. As the car starts to slow, you can progressively and gently ease off of the brakes to keep them at the point of maximum efficiency. However in an emergency, it's better to brake too much than too little.

  • Practice emergency stopping in an empty car park. Start by intentionally slamming on the brakes (skidding), then reduce your braking force until you have a good sense for your maximum braking potential. Roll down your windows and start at one end of the car park. Accelerate to a safe speed (50-60 km/h is a good guide) and apply your brakes as hard as you can. You should hear a good deal of screeching (if you do not, your vehicle may be equipped with ABS, or your brakes may need service). Continue until you are able to apply your brakes while only hearing a small amount of squealing. This is the point where your tyres' rubber is being twisted and contorted but not over powered, this is the absolute limit of your tyres' traction, and the quickest way to stop.

  • Avoid using your gearbox for quick stops. The transmission in your car is design to accelerate the vehicle not for heavy or sudden braking. The gearbox is not a component of your vehicles braking system. However, it is a good practice to use your gearbox for maintaining or decreasing speed on long downhill stretches (often referred to as engine braking i.e., a lower than usual transmission gear). The heat generated is absorbed by the engine and removed efficiently by the coolant, radiator, and fan; this prevents overheating of the brakes which can reduce their effectiveness at stopping.

  • Focus on where you want to go, not what you want to avoid. It's very difficult to steer away from something that you're looking directly at it. Many people have a tendency to focus on what they are worried about colliding with. Instead, concentrate on where you want the car to go.
This is particularly important in loose, wet or snowy conditions. Turning while braking can cause the car to slide (understeer), not turn as well or not slow down as much. If you need to stop quickly, don't be afraid to use your brakes, even mid-corner: If your vehicle is fitted with an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), push the pedal as far down and possible. If your vehicle does not have ABS, brake moderately hard (70%) and avoid steering sharply.

Brake warning signs

If you suspect your car has a brake problem, whether it's weak brakes, a mushy pedal, grinding sounds you need to get it repaired as soon as possible. NRMA car servicing can help diagnose your braking problem and suggest repairs in order to maintain the safety of your vehicle, book online at NRMA car servicing or call 1300 223 544.

These are some of the tell tale sign of brake problems.

1. Brake pedal goes too far down to stop

If you step on the brake pedal and it feels like it's going too far down before you start to slow, you might have the following problems:

  • Low brake fluid level: Check your brake fluid. If it's low, top it off to the mark on the side of the reservoir.

  • Contaminated brake fluid: Even though brakes operate in a closed system, contamination can still occur. Even the smallest hole will allow air to enter the system, water from condensation can also occur. NRMA car servicing can test your brakes and suggest repairs. Learn more about the lifespan of your brake fluid

  • Worn bake pads: Brake pads usually include an inbuilt "screamer" that tells you your brake pads are worn to a point that they need replacing. If you have low brake pads replace them as soon as possible. Avoid any brake issues with a regular brake inspection.

  • Faulty brake booster unit: Finally, if your brake booster develops an issue it can cause brake pedal issues. To check you will need a special vacuum measurement device that connects to the brake booster. If it's faulty, you'll have to replace it.
2. Brake pedal too firm

If you step on the brake pedal and it feels like you are pushing against a rock then your brake pedal may be too firm. This symptom points to a few potential problems, all of which need to be fixed as soon as possible.

  • Vacuum problems: Your brake booster may have a vacuum leak somewhere in the system and won't have enough negative pressure to do its job (assist with the braking). Check the vacuum system for leaks. If you find none, your brake booster will need to be checked and possibly replaced. NRMA MotorServe trained mechanics can take care of this check if you want to be sure.

  • Brake line obstruction: It's possible for something to block brake fluid from reaching a portion of the system. It could be as simple as a loose piece of rust or a pinched brake line. NRMA car servicing can inspect your brakes, test the system and replace damaged brake lines as needed.

3. Brake pedal goes to floor

You probably don't need to be told that this is a serious problem. The solution though could be quite simple. If you step on the brake pedal and goes all the way to the floor, it could be a case of the following;

  • Low brake fluid level: Check your brake fluid. If it's low, top it off to the mark on the side of the reservoir.

  • Air in the brake fluid: Even though brakes operate in a closed system, contamination can still occur. Even the smallest hole will allow air to enter the system. NRMA car servicing can test your brakes and suggest repairs

  • Faulty master cylinder: A faulty master cylinder will cause your brakes to have no pressure. Master cylinders cannot be repaired and will need to be replaced, contact your local NRMA car servicing for assistance.

4. Weak or spongy brakes

Even though your brakes still work, they might seem weak. They may take longer to stop, or you get less braking power when you apply the brakes suddenly. The pedal may also feel more "squishy". Potential causes may include:

  • Low brake fluid level: Check your brake fluid. If it's low, top it off to the mark on the side of the reservoir.               

  • Contaminated brake fluid: Even though your brakes operate in a closed system, contaminants can still work there way into the works. Air can enter the system through the smallest hole, and you can end up with water in the system from condensation and other means. There's not really any way to check for this, but bleeding your brakes will remove the bad stuff and replace it with new fluid.

  • Worn brake pads: Brake pads usually include an inbuilt "screamer" that tells you your brake pads are worn to a point that they need replacing. If you have low brake pads replace them as soon as possible. Avoid any brake issues with a regular brake inspection.

5. Brakes grabbing or pulling

Your vehicle's brakes should activate in a smooth manner. They should also activate evenly to each side of the vehicle when you push the pedal. If your brakes suddenly grab, or your vehicle pulls to one side, you may have one of these problems:

  • Worn or contaminated brake pads: Your brakes may very worn, worn unevenly, or have become contaminated. Have your brakes checked by a professional; you may need to replace your brake pads.

  • Worn brake disc: have your brake discs inspected. If one or both appear worn or warped, they can cause your brakes to grab suddenly or pull unevenly. You may need to have the surface of your disks or drums machine back to a flat surface. If there is insufficient material left on you disks or drums to machine you may need to have them replaced. Note: Brakes should always be done in pairs (Front/Front and Back/Back), so don't try to skimp.

6. Pedal vibration

If you apply your vehicles brakes and feel a vibration through the brake pedal it can take some time to trouble the problem. Here are a few common issues that can cause the pedal to vibrate when braking. Note: if your car is equipped with ABS (most are these days), the pedal will seem to vibrate when you brake very, very hard. The system does this to keep them from locking up. This is normal.

Otherwise, check these causes:

  • Contaminated brake pads: If your pads have become contaminated with oil or another substance, they can vibrate as they grip the brake rotor. You'll need to replace your brake pads.

  • Worn brake disc: have your brake discs inspected. If one or both appear worn or warped, they can cause your brakes to grab suddenly or pull unevenly. You may need to have the surface of your disks or drums machine back to a flat surface. If there is insufficient material left on you disks or drums to machine you may need to have them replaced. Note: Brakes should always be done in pairs (Front/Front and Back/Back), so don't try to skimp. 

  • Tyres require alignment: If your cars tyres are out of alignment it can cause your vehicle to vibrate, mainly through the steering wheel and brake pedal. A wheel alignment is an easy and cost effective way to fix this. Wheel alignments are available at NRMA car servicing book online now or call us on 1300 223 544 to book.

  • Worn suspension: your vehicles suspension may be contributing to the vibrations you feel through the pedal, the easiest way to diagnose the issue is to take it to a professional like our trained mechanic at NRMA car servicing. That way you can be sure your vehicle is thoroughly checked and safe.
7. Brakes dragging

The same way brakes apply when you put your foot on the pedal, so should they release when you take it off. If they don't, it is called "dragging", this can cause brake overheating as well as premature wear to brake parts. Check these potential problems:

  • Seized brake piston: A seized piston may not relax and release the pressure that allows the brake pads to retract. A seized piston will cause the brakes to remain on, even slightly at times.

  • Hand brake fails to release: If your hand brake doesn't fully release, the hand brake will be on a little bit all the time. Since it is controlled by a cable, you may need to lubricate the cable ends and the parts associated with the cable. If the cable is still sticking, it may be frayed inside and will need to be replaced.
8. Brakes squealing or whining
Brake pads usually include an inbuilt "screamer" that tells you your brake pads are worn to a point that they need replacing. If you have low brake pads replace them as soon as possible. Avoid any brake issues with a regular brake inspection.

 

  • Brake pads vibrating: Your brake pads are supplied with a thin metal gasket that sits between the brake pad and the piston. This absorbs the vibrations, that can increase in volume to the point of squealing. If they are missing, replace them. There are also special anti-squeal lubricants you can apply to quiet them down.
9. Brakes make a clunking sound

Sounds that go "clunk" are generally not good sounds. The same goes for brakes. If you hear a "clunking" sound have it checked out immediately. A clunk generally means something is loose, broken or worn.

  • Something is loose: If any of the bolts that hold your brakes together or attach them to the suspension are loose, the brakes will clunk as they shift slightly when you apply the brakes. Have your bolts and nuts inspected and tightened to the correct tension to be sure everything is tight.

  • Worn or broken suspension components: Any number of worn suspension parts can cause vibrations. Worn ball joints or steering rack, worn tie rod ends, a faulty wheel bearing or upper strut bearing, and even a bad front strut could cause it. Take your car to a professional like our NRMA car servicing staff and you can be sure it is checked and fixed correctly. Book online now or call us on 1300 223 544 to book.


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