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Brake Health Check: Be Prepared Before Your Summer Road Trips

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Remote mountain passes, the Scottish highlands, touring, track days, epic road trips, North Wales, the Lake and/or Peak Districts, etc.

All words which strike fear into the hearts - and minds - of those of us who rely heavily on our vehicle’s brakes. Which in turn vouch for the occupant’s safety. Which refers to a significant percentage of us.

All of the above are all well and good to look at/drive through, until you realise your car’s brakes will take an absolute hammering

Despite this - coupled with the fact that road trips are ace - it’s the time of year when we’re all planning our summer sojourns.

And with the UK’s airports and railways facing continued chaos, even more of us will be forced into our cars, and head off on some last minute staycations. Providing we can still afford the fuel to fill our vehicles up prior to setting off, that is.

For others - petrolheads, primarily - the lure of the country’s race circuits will be calling them. A temptation too strong to resist for those of us with petrol coursing through our veins.

Track days are hugely popular during the summer months and reel in the unsuspecting. Something we received a timely reminder of recently when one of our returning customer’s booked in their Lotus Elise ahead of a track day, to make sure the braking system was up to the impending challenge.

Don’t Leave Your Brakes To Chance On This Summer’s Road Trips

All of which comings and goings mean that our vehicle’s brakes will be put to serious levels of road (and track) testing as our cars and campervans tackle some of Great Britain’s more challenging roads. Think the aforementioned Lake Districts’ and North Wales’ more extreme mountain passes, the Peaks of Derbyshire and the Scottish Highlands.

Each terrain encountered en route providing a stern test for our vehicles’ brakes on the subsequent descents.

Arguably the most integral part of a car’s braking system are the pads. Therefore it stands to reason that these should be the most frequently replaced components of the braking system. Specifically if the pad friction material has worn down to a thickness of 3 millimeters. Or whatever the vehicle manufacturer suggests in terms of a recognised safe minimum thickness.

Typically front brakes have a recurrent habit of wearing down before rears. The explanation being a simple one, as front brakes traditionally handle a higher percentage of braking loads.

Particularly on front-wheel drive cars.

How Do I Actually Know My Brakes Might Be An Issue?

Thankfully there are a few early warning signs which will alert you to potential brake issues further down the road. So, to ensure that the existing brakes will cope with a summer of heavy travel usage - or if not, rectify the problem ASAP - we’ve drawn up a check list of tell-tale signs to keep your spidey senses peeled for when applying the brakes.

| Grinding |

A grinding noise is what plays out, symphonically, should the friction material perish on heavily worn brake pads. So much so that the metal caliper is exposed. This grinding will eventually lead to brake disc damage, so needs to be addressed ASAP.

| Squeaking/Squealing |

Wear indicators are actually ‘a thing’. These are designed and manufactured to alert drivers that the brake pads need replacing by squealing when worn past a certain marker. Otherwise squealing may occur as and when the brake caliper has stuck and the brake pads remain semi applied to the disc.

| Sponginess |

Best described as when you experience unresponsive brakes which feel - for want of a better word - spongey. Essentially this warns the driver that air has physically entered the brake lines, and is subsequently stopping the brake fluid from flowing through the system.

| Pulling |

Should your vehicle start to pull to one side or the other, reasonable suspicions can point towards a seized brake caliper. Hydraulic or mechanical components such as calipers which begin to seize up require replacing at your first convenience. So as to guard against anything more untoward playing out. An inspection carried out by our team of technicians can identify if a seized caliper is the culprit.

| Pulsating |

Excessive heat can compromise brake disc functionality and lifespan, which can lead to warping. Tell-tale signs to look out for include a frequent pulsating sensation feeding through to the driver when the foot brake is applied. The physical pulsation is the direct result of a distorted disc, which no longer presents a flat surface area when the brake pad makes contact.

| Dashboard Light |

Thanks to the marvels of microchips, critically low level brake fluid levels are flagged up when this comes to bear. Which is very informative/handy. This in itself could suggest a brake hose leak, which is amongst the most likely of underlying reasons.

| Soft Brake Pedal |

From a lack of brake fluid in the reservoir to the far more dangerous master cylinder fault, when you hit the brake and your foot travels all the way down to the floor, then you know you need to call Houston. Or rather, WCCNeston. As this indicates a serious braking system fault. In the event that a brake pedal is so soft and ineffective that it ventures all the way to the floor beneath, an immediate brake inspection should be sought.

And Don’t Sit Back And Rely On Your Handbrake To Bail You Out

Did you know that a high handbrake poses its own problems?

If you feel that your handbrake requires pulling up beyond the normal degree to secure the vehicle, then it may need adjusting. As a general rule of thumb in modern vehicles, anything upwards to 6 - 8 clicks is considered a worry. What’s more, if a handbrake reaches the end of its natural travel, this constitutes an automatic MOT fail.

What Would A Vehicle Brakes Check-over Typically Include?

Three core brake areas are examined when you book in your vehicle with us to run a brake health check.

| Brake Pads |

The first port of call in a brake service check is to ensure that your brake pads are still up to the job they were designed for. Specifically, to stop your vehicle promptly and safely. Brake pads are prone to perish due to the very nature of the remit. They routinely counter extreme temperatures and physical pressure each and every time we apply the brakes. Pads clamp on the rotors to allow your vehicle to come to a halt. And while they’re designed to go the distance, constant wear and tear inevitably leads to them diminishing in durability and effectiveness.

| Calipers |

These are structures which house the pads. And although brake calipers are manufactured to offset certain stresses placed upon them, their seals are prone to hardening over time. Due to the rubber consistency of them. In addition to this, moisture trapped near the calipers turns to steam, leading to corrosion.

It’s broadly recommended that you replace your calipers every 5 - 10 years, however not everyone knows exactly when they were last replaced. That being said, there are a few signs to look out for which are indicative of wear. Your vehicle pulling to one side, for example. Another being the observing of uneven wear on brake pads.

| Brake Fluid Checks |

Every time you depress your car’s middle pedal, brake fluid compresses the pistons in the calipers. This process facilitates the brake pads to clamp down on the rotors, fundamentally stopping your vehicle in its tracks. This might sound a bit science-y, but when your vehicle’s brake fluid becomes over 2 years old it begins to lose its effectiveness. Thanks to something we call its hygroscopic properties. Which means it absorbs moisture over time.

Historically issues tend to arise when this moisture contaminates, often paving the way for your car’s braking ability to be severely affected. Which is why Volkswagen Audi Group manufacturers recommend that owners arrange to change brake fluid every couple of years.

Any issues with brake fluid can be followed by potential brake failure in some instances. So, it’s vital to periodically check your brake fluid is at peak pressure and to determine that there’s no leaks. Which is the bit where we come in. Not least because brake fluid is a corrosive material, and not something you wish to be handling yourself.

What Other Key Aspects Are Covered When We Check Your Brakes?

Our team performs a thorough check of your vehicle’s complete braking system, including the up-close-and-personal scrutiny of brake pads, discs, shoe and drum wear and measurements.

The overall condition of calipers and wheel cylinders are also inspected, whilst elsewhere we turn our attention to brake hoses and pipes, to determine whether or not there’s any signs of leaks or corrosion.

Brake analysis also extends to handbrake testing, which envelops cable and linkage assessment.

Braking Good!

FOOTNOTE: As an interesting aside, if you want some REALLY significant stopping power for your vehicle, then we’re also in the business of fitting bespoke performance brakes, courtesy of a specialist company located not far from us.

Nutexa Frictions Ltd has designed and engineered a range of brand new big brake kits, which we’ve already started fitting to customer’s VW Audi Group cars (and Veedub Transporters).

Get in touch with us today to find out MUCH more about ALL things brakes…..

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