Changing the oil or coolant is one of the common vehicle maintenance options that you know is good for your car. But what has to be done about brakes? Do they go on working forever or do car brakes need to be cleaned?
If you drive in normal conditions and your brakes function well without loud noises, you don’t have to clean your brakes. However, any loud noises or poor braking should be a warning to check your brakes and get them serviced.
I’ll explain what the common warning signs of bad brakes are and the best methods to fix these issues. We’ll also look at the reasons why cleaning can be beneficial to brakes and how to do a clean yourself.
What Are The Signs Of Bad Brakes?
Whether you have disc or drum brakes, the vehicle’s diagnostic systems may warn you when they’re having issues. This can take the form of a red or yellow indicator on your dashboard lights.
The other common sign is a squealing or grinding noise. Brake pads themselves have steel in them which are only exposed once the brake pad is worn down. Hearing this sound is almost certainly a sign that you need to get your brakes serviced.
As brakes wear down through use, waste material will build up inside the brake drum and may cause squealing when applying the brakes. You may even notice this squealing gets worse or better depending on how hard you press the pedal.
Sometimes rocks or road debris can kick up into the brakes. This can mean you hear a sort of grinding sound when you press the brake pedal. Sometimes you may have to remove the brake calipers to remove this trapped debris.
If you notice your steering wheel vibrating or spinning when you apply the brakes, this could be a bad rotor. The rotors are the discs upon which the brake caliper presses the brake pads to engage the brakes.
This rotor can get warped or bent due to abuse or usual wear and tear. Rust can also accumulate on the surface. To get smooth braking you need a smooth and even thickness rotor. This is why during brake servicing a rotor is made true by using a specialty lathe.
If when you press the brake pedal it is very soft and the brakes seem ineffective, this could be a sign of leaking fluid. You can check the master cylinder which is the power source for your brakes for leaking fluid or check the brake fluid reservoir.
Fixing brake fluid issues is generally not something you can do by yourself. You can top up brake fluid with a compatible replacement but a full flush is best left to an expert.
Finally, if a vehicle pulls to one side upon breaking this is a sign of a failed brake system. This is generally due to one set of brakes on a single wheel failing in a material way, such as the caliper becoming seized or other serious failures.
Further, if you detect a strong chemical odor after repeated hard braking this could be a failure of the brake pad. If after driving you notice that certain wheels are letting off these types of smells, this is a sign of that braking unit being the issue.
Do Car Brakes Need To Be Cleaned?
Lubrication is an important part of effective braking. As the brake lubrication gets removed via driving on wet roads, through corrosion or damage from road projectiles, their chance of operating properly drops significantly.
Insufficient lubrication can result in the brake pads getting stuck so that it is like you are driving with the brake pedal constantly activated.
While it will depend on the driving conditions, generally you want to be checking your brake pads at least every two years. This figure will go up in wet or high salt driving conditions. Extreme heat can also lead to the bending of the rotors.
Road salt will often cause excessive rust buildup in the brakes. The brake pads will end up sticking and wear out prematurely.
There has been a trend to use lightweight brake components in newer vehicles. While these allow the vehicle to be sold for cheaper, they tend to overheat easily and get corroded prematurely, requiring more frequent clean-ups.
Vehicles have many different configurations of brakes. Drum brakes, being fully covered by the drum, will usually last longer without servicing. It is not uncommon to have drum brakes on the rear axle only which means you should check the front disc brakes more often.
Whether you should service the brakes or replace them is a hard question to answer. If the brake pads are worn and making the squealing noise, the replacement will likely be the best option. Trying to fix bad rotors or discs is impossible given certain types of damage.
How Do You Clean Brakes?
During a service, the mechanic will start by disassembling the brake unit completely. This will allow the individual parts to get fully cleaned as well as helping pad and rotor deglazing. Deglazing refers to removing the glaze off rotors which occurs when they have a high amount of use.
After that, the brake calipers as well as the sliders and other moving components will be checked. A specialized cleaner is used and a full disassembly is performed to make sure no grime or dirt is left behind.
If the various components look to be in good shape then it is reassembled. Worn-down brake pads and bent rotors should be the two major areas to check that the brake is working as designed. Liberal amounts of lubrication should be used and be visible after service.
An experienced mechanic would likely be able to accomplish this in two hours on the average vehicle for all four wheels.