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If you’re a daily commuter who tackles heavy traffic, chances are you'll use your brakes hundreds of times before you even get to work. But over time, these parts wear out slowly, so you may not notice they require attention until it's too late.
If you neglect your braking system, expect increased repair costs, or worse, no brakes at all. Instead, get to know the signs of brake wear and it’ll be easier to stay on top of maintenance. Plus, you save money and keep your car from getting too close to the bumper ahead of you.
What is the most obvious sign that your vehicle needs some form of brake job? That ear-piercing squeal when you come to a stop. Brake pads feature a little piece of metal called an indicator. When the brake pad material wears down to the point where less than ¼ inch is left, the metal indicator begins to touch the vehicle's rotor, letting out that squeal. That’s your cue to replace your brake pads soon.
Sometimes, indicators can rust and fall off, so there is no irritating noise to warn you. Also, many aftermarket and low-cost brake pads don’t even come with an indicator. In these cases, take this tip: Get your brakes inspected if it takes you even longer to stop, or if your brake pedal travels farther than it did a few months ago. Regular brake pad checks are a good idea. You just remove a wheel, know what to look for, then ask these questions:
The simplest answer is to replace with the pads recommended for your vehicle. If semi-metallic brake pads were factory-installed in your car, replace them with semi-metallic brake pads. Also, it’s the best choice if you regularly take on heavy loads or if you tend to brake hard. If ceramic brake pads were an original part, stick to tradition and reach for new ceramic brake pads. Another ceramic advantage: this premium pad generally lasts longer.
Rotors are a little trickier, as they can usually last through two or three sets of brake pads before they finally need to be replaced themselves. One sign is if your steering wheel wiggles in your hands when you come to a stop. If it happens, your rotors are probably "warped," and it's time to swap them out. Sometimes, instead of replacing the rotors, your mechanic might offer to "turn" them for you. This means shaving enough metal off of the rotors to make them smooth again. We suggest the better route: just replace them.
There are many options for replacement brake parts. Though it’s never a bad idea to go with what your manufacturer recommends, a variety of aftermarket parts can help you customize your brake system to your driving style. For example, if you replace your rotors often, consider switching to slotted rotors. Though more expensive, the slots distribute the heat build-up better than stock parts. Ceramic brake pads are a popular upgrade. They stop better than stock pads, produce much less dust and are generally quieter. Then there are the performance brake pads. Though superior in quality, these pads usually have a shorter life span and generate more wear on your rotors.
Lastly, to help extend the life of your brakes and avoid costly brake jobs, don’t allow your car to grind to a halt. Instead, glide to a natural stop. In the long run, it will spare you the costs of rotor replacement or towing bills. Also, don’t wait until you’ve lost most of your stopping ability. If you keep up with brake maintenance, pay attention to the signs of brake wear and choose the right equipment for your vehicle, you can be confident that you will be able to slow down like you should.