You may not think about your brakes often however there's a stiff penalty for that: BRAKE FAILURE!
...and NYers, you more than any other city, need to remember you have special conditions that wear out brakes
mush sooner than any city in Idaho, Nebraska, Albany, Tuscany...think "severe driving conditions."
While other systems in your vehicle can be forgiving in that they will continue to work and it won't keep your car from starting, the really scary thing to keep in mind is once your brakes go, you may not be able to stop which will certainly hurt someone, something or perhaps kill pedestrians, kids, yourself or your own family, etc.
There's no point in saying "brakes last 1-2 years" or the wear out in 10,000 miles. That's not the way it is, at least, not here in the Big Apple, NY, USA. Here are some factors that make that kind of advice dumb and dangerous for we NYers:
1) do you ride your brakes rather than adjust your speed for road and traffic conditions?
2) you live in NYC and, as we've been reminding you over the course of this blog, NYC has "severe" driving conditions. Because of the traffic, stop and go traffic, the world's largest parking lot kind of situations like the Long Island Expressway at rush hour, your not going to get the mileage out of your brakes that someone who lives in a small down where there are 2 stop signs and wide open roads obtains...just common sense right?
3) do you buy cheap brakes? You get what you pay for. Stick with a name brand, for example, like Napa brakes which we install here at 106 St Tire & Wheel for most cars at $65 per axle. Not sure if you need them? All 106 St Tire locations will be happy to help you keep our kids and your kids safer by giving customers a free brake inspection. [make an appointment for brakes]
4) is braking for your driving style jamming on your brakes or is it a slow and steady pressure that glides you to a stop? Jamming on your brakes makes your brake system stop 4000lbs on a dime. Obey the speed limit, NY, there are cameras out there tracking your speed and you will be getting greetings from NYC Finance Dept if you drive over 25 mpg in many, many areas in Queens, Brooklyn and NYC.
The above factors rather than manufacturer's recommendations are really what determines how long your brakes are going to last. It's imperative you successfully understand and adjust to this situation that NYC offers unique road and traffic conditions which affect the wear on your tires, brakes, etc. This is a key factor for NYers to keep in mind on all maintenance issues. Stop and go driving takes a toll on everything from gas mileage to tire wear to how long your brakes will last and how effective they will be in stopping your vehicle and preventing accidents.
As always, vehicle or parts failure have some warning signs, and, as the driver operating a 4000 missile-like projectile traveling at 50 or 60 miles an hour, the responsibility falls on your shoulders to make sure everyone is safe.
First step:always look and listen to the sounds your car makes. They are a clue as to what is wrong.
There are two ways to check for brake wear on disc brakes: by looking and by listening.
1) check for wear by simply looking at your brake pads through the spaces between the wheel's spokes. The outside pad will be pressed against a metal rotor. Generally, there should be at least 1/4 inch of pad. If you see less than 1/4 inch of pad, you need to have your brake pads inspected or replaced. Again, 106 St Tire will do this for you and everyone free.
2) have you heard high-pitched screeching sound when you applied your brakes? WARNING! A small metal shim, called an indicator, is giving you a warning sound that you need to replace your brake pads. You should be aware of this sound (which is loud enough to be heard while the windows are up, but not really loud enough to be heard over a NYC style radio volume or air conditioner). If you hear it regularly, quickly make an appointment with your mechanic. Make an appointment with us 24/7-call 718-446-6769 for one of our 24 hour Queens locations 106-01 Northern Blvd or 105-08 Northern Blvd open 24/7 everyday of the year except Christmas. However, there is an exception to the above. If your brakes have accumulated moisture after being exposed to water, such as from rain, puddles, melting snow or from washing it, the moisture can cause a thin layer of rust to develop on the brake rotors. This is normal. When you first apply the brakes, the pads pressing on the rust-covered rotors may cause a squeal for a few stops until the rust is worn off then the sound will disappear.
Other signs of brake problems? If you experience any of these, you should visit your repair shop immediately or don't drive your car:
1) Reduced responsiveness or fading when you step on the brake. If your brakes are not as responsive as they should be or if the pedal "sinks" toward the floor, this could be an indication of a leak in the braking system. It could be an air leak (in a brake hose) or a brake fluid leak. Take a look on the ground for a brake fluid leak which will be a small puddle of fluid when the car is parked just under the car near your wheel. Brake fluid looks similar to fresh motor oil, but with a less "slimy" texture.
2) Pulling to one side while braking. This may be a sign that the brake linings are wearing unevenly or that there is something in the brake fluid. Your vehicle may need a brake adjustment or to have the fluid drained and replaced.
3) Vibration. A vibration or pulsing brake pedal is often a symptom of warped rotors (but can also indicate that your vehicle is out of alignment; [schedule a wheel alignment]. The vibration can feel similar to the feedback in the brake pedal during a panic stop in a vehicle equipped with anti-lock brakes.
4) Grinding or growling. This loud metallic sound means that you have worn down the pads completely probably beyond replacement. The noise is caused by the two pieces of metal (the caliper and the disc) rubbing together therefore emitting a metal against metal sound. This can scratch your rotors and therefore create an uneven surface. If this happens do not be surprised if your mechanic tells you that the rotors need to be "turned" (a process that evens out the rotor surface), or even replaced.
If the vibration occurs during braking situations it is a sign of warped rotors when the anti-lock brakes are not engaged. Warped rotors are caused by severe braking for long periods (like jamming on your brakes rather than smooth even braking and if you drive in Manhattan or in bumper to bumper traffic this could easily happen), or when driving down a steep mountain or when towing as your brakes must stop tremendous weight. Incredible amounts of friction are created under these conditions. This heats up the rotors and causes them to warp. The vibration is felt because the brake pads are not able to grab the surface evenly. If you drive in these conditions, make sure to stop periodically to allow your brakes to cool off.
For many owners, maintaining the vehicle's brakes is something that is often overlooked. But keeping your brakes properly calibrated and in good working order can prevent costly repairs down the line, and, more importantly, help you avoid a collision, property damage or a loss of human life.