Everyone who’s willing to get a little dirty can find the source of a brake problem, even if they don’t have the right tools. A good thing will happen: You’ll learn what to look for when you hear that telltale clunk. At worst, you’ll be able to tell when your mechanic is taking you for a ride. To figure out how well the brake system is working before you spend money on expensive tools, you can make a few simple observations.
Check the brake pads for uneven wear, which could mean that the brake pistons or calipers are getting stuck and can’t move. Braided brake lines, in which the tube is wrapped with woven steel mesh to keep it in place, are popular because they are both durable and look good. In case your car has braided lines, you should pay extra attention to check them out even more. Though they’re more powerful, any damage will be hard to see. They should be able to move but not be too slack. Brake lines that are too hard or slack can crack and leak. Also, check the brake fluid levels. Low levels could mean that there are leaks.
Take a look at your connections and treat them with care. Any connections that aren’t tight could show you that a part is worn or there is a leak. Leaks can be very bad for a car’s brakes. If something is wrong with the system, it means that the pressure isn’t working properly, which can cause the whole thing to fail. brake fluid is also very corrosive and slippery, which makes it easy for it to leak out of the system if there is a small hole or crack anywhere. Any parts that have been contaminated with brake fluid or other unknown liquids should be replaced. This includes parts that make the car move.
Here are some places that are easy to check for leaks and other problems. If you need help finding them, look in your owner’s manual or repair guide to see if they are there.
- It is called a “brake back plate.”
- The brake hoses
- hose for the brakes
- The auxiliary valves
- The master cylinder
A quick glance can’t tell you everything you need to know about your brakes, but it’s worth learning how to check the rest. Another simple barometer is how far the brake pedal goes. It means that the brake pad is too far away from the rotor, which could mean that the rotors aren’t even or that the wheel bearings aren’t tight. Sometimes, when the pedal goes too far down, there is too much air in the brake lines. Remove the floor mat and pull back the carpet to check how far the brake pedal goes. It’s important to keep the engine running while you measure how far away you can get your toe from the pad under your foot. Check your results against your car’s repair manual to make sure they’re in line with what it says.
Between 0.4 and 0.12 inches should be the range for brake free play (1 and 3 millimeters). If it’s less, the brakes could get hot and wear out. Following several pumps of the brakes with the engine turned off, check for free play. You want to know how far apart the pedal is when it’s at rest and when it’s depressed.
If you look at the parts and problems of the car, they might seem like they have nothing to do with the brakes. You might find that that’s not the case at all. For example, when the suspension moves, it changes the way the wheels move, which in turn changes the brakes. When you really want to check out the suspension, you have to get down below the car. The best place to look for leaks is at the boots (sheathes that cover other parts). Keep in mind that vibrations from worn suspension parts can get through to the brakes and hide the real problem. Suspension problems can also make the brakes wear unevenly or too quickly.
There is no doubt that the best time to deal with brake problems is before they happen. These methods are a good general guide, but it might be more difficult to use them if you have more mechanical knowledge.