Brake Safety Part 4: How to Know When to Change Your Brakes

closeup of brake disc mounted on car

If you have ever pressed the brake pedal and the car did not begin slowing down, you know the sinking feeling you get in your stomach as you begin pumping the brakes. By taking a few steps periodically to check your brakes and paying attention to warning signs, you can avoid the cost in time and money from an accident as well as ensure the safety of others.

Here is a short-list of common signs that it may be time to change the brakes.

Strange Sounds

Listen for sounds that are out of the ordinary.  One that you need to recognize is your brake pad’s wear indicator.  Your brake pad has a small metal piece that will produce a high-pitched sound when it is time to replace the brakes.  Sometimes, it can almost sound like a bird chirping.  If you hear this sound, it’s time to check the brakes.

Squeaks, squeals and grinding are also sounds that you may hear from your brakes.  If you hear a grinding noice, your brake pads may be completely worn off.  If so, there is a good chance your rotors are being damaged.

Visual Check

Watch your warning lights on your dashboard for indicators that your brake fluid is low or that there is an issue with the braking system.  However, be sure to visually check the brake pads themselves.

If you know what to look for, you can see when brake pads need changing. The pad will appear thin.  If you are not sure, go to a car tech who will recognize not only how the brake should appear but also will have an instrument to measure your brakes for wear.

Pulling to the Right or Left

If your car seems to be pulling to the left or right while driving — especially if it happens more strongly when you press the brake pedal — check your brakes. One of the brakes could be sticking. If so, the brakes will wear down more quickly and they could damage the rotor.  (Think more expensive fix!)  Pulling doesn’t always mean it is a brake problem.  It could be poor alignment, a suspension problem, or even worn/unevenly inflated tires.


Feeling a pulse or vibration in the brake pedal when braking is NOT normal.  It could be signal of a warped rotor.  A warped rotor is a sign that something has been wrong for some time.  You should notice other signs well before this happens, but if you feel a vibration, get your car checked as soon as possible.

Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

If you care for your vehicle properly, you probably change the oil regularly.  While you (or your mechanic) are working on the car, make use of the time to check the thickness brake pads, inspect the rotors for grooves caused by the pads, and look closely at brake lines for any leaks. (There should not be even a drop of brake fluid anywhere near the wheel.)

If it is time to change your brakes, you should now how to choose appropriate brakes for your vehicle. The next article will help you know what to look for.


Brake Safety Part 3: How to Spot Problems with your Brakes

Brakes are essential for your vehicle.  You use brakes to stop, yield and even change directions when driving.  If they are not working properly,  you may be putting your family and yourself at risk not to mention the cost of an accident or insurance claim.  That’s why it is very important to have a regular car maintenance check-up which includes making sure that your brakes are in fine working order.

Know the Signs of Brake Problems

Brake problems are a common cause of vehicular accidents.  By knowing the early signs of brake problems, you can  avoid possible accidents and their consequences.

Listen for Strange Sounds

When you tap on your brakes, listen for any strange or out-of-the-ordinary sounds.  These sounds could be a sign of brake problems.

Pay Attention to Stopping Power

When you press the brake pedal, you should be able to stop quickly.  If it takes longer than normal for your vehicle to come to a complete stop, you might have a brake issue.

Look at Your Dashboard

A light on your dashboard may turn on if you have brake issues. This brings up two good points. First, the lights on your dashboard depend on sensors on your car. If those sensors are not working properly, a light may not come on. Therefore, you should not depend on your dashboard light as the sole notification of brake issues.

Second, lights on the dashboard are usually icons — small pictures meant to communicate something to you.  Pull out your user manual and learn what the lights mean.  It will help you with other car systems in addition to your brakes.

Notice Car Behavior

Remember all those parts of the braking system from the last post? If your vehicle drags to the right or left when you stop the car, there is a good chance you have a problem in one of those systems.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Brakes are not Working Properly

Cars with brake problems should not be driven and should be brought to a vehicle mechanic for proper diagnosis and repair. However, every driver has a responsibility to check their car regularly and keep it in good condition. Knowing when to change your brakes can help stop problems before they start.