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Lets check those brakes

Published on July 4, 2011 under Humble Mechanic

Hi everyone,

I wanted to talk about checking brakes.  This is something everyone can do, with almost no tools.  The only thing you might need is a flashlight.

Before you get started I need to tell you a few things.  This is a basic visual inspection,  just a check.  If you have an issue with braking, then further inspection will be needed.   DO NOT DO THIS AFTER YOU JUST DROVE THE CAR.  The brakes get really hot and it burns like hell if you touch hot brakes(trust me).  If you have any question about what you are looking at, post it in the comments and I will help you out.

I also want you to know what you are looking at.  I am going to have you check 4 main parts. Brake discs(or rotors), Brake pads, Brake lines, and Brake fluid.

Lets start with fluid.

Open the hood.  Ususally the brake fluid resivoius is at the back of the engine bay, inline with where the brake pedal is.  If you don’t see it, check the owners book, it will tell you what the cap looks like.  Open the cap and shine you flashlight in.  You want to check the level.  Be sure its at the full mark.  Look at the color.  When new the fluid is yellow.  It turns greenish after time.  If its Black, get the fluid flushed .  Be sure to use the correct fluid. VW uses DOT 4+ fluid.

Ok, the fluid is good. Lets move to the wheels.

Start in the front, you’ll see why soon.   Look through the rim.  You will see a silver disc, that is the brake rotor.  It should be a nice silver color.  Look for any rust build up on the outer edge, some is normal, but  you don’t want your pads trying to clamp down on rust.  If you see a blueish tint, your brakes are getting too hot and need further inspection.  I like to run my fingernail up and down the rotor, like the hands of a clock @ 12:00, to check for any scoring or grooves that are forming.

If your rotor is good, now lets move to the pads.

Pads are the friction matieral that clamp down on the rotor to stop the car.  The brake pads are the part that will wear the quickest.  The pads are housed in the brake caliper and might be tricky to see.  The caliper is usually at the 9 o’clock or 3 o’clock positions.  This part is kinda tricky.  Follow the rotor around until you come to the pad.  The pad will look like its sitting on the rotor. Its actually barely riding the rotor to keep water off of it.  If the part that rides on the rotor is narrower than a quarter, replace them, NOW!

If you can see any of the lines, just check and make sure they are not wet with fluid.

Most cars will have a wear indicator of some kind for the front brakes.  Volkswagens have an electric sensor built into the pad.  Other cars like Honda have “squealers”. They will make a heck of a noise when its time to get replaced.  Please do not rely on these systems to keep you safe.

Well, time to move to the rear wheels.

One of 2 things will happen here.  If the rear brakes looks like the front, just use the same method as the front.  If you don’t see a rotor or brake pads, there is nothing to check.  Your brakes are drum style brakes, and the drum needs to be removed.

Well, you did it.  A quick and easy inspection.  How did it go?  How long did it take?  Please post in the comments how it went for you.

 

*Remember, If you are not 100% sure, get your brakes checked by a professional.  I am not responsible for any misdiagnosis, or errors that are made*

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5 Comments

    1. Humble Mechanic

      Jeremy,
      You can totally do a brake flush yourself. Its really easy, it just takes some time. You don’t want to drain the fluid out, you basically want to push the old fluid out using new fluid.
      Keep the following in mind.
      1) This is a safety system, if you not 100% sure, its worth paying to have it done.

      2) Air is the enemy in a brake fluid system. Any air in the lines makes the brake pedal soft and the brakes will function poorly.

      3) Different cars use different fluid, make sure you get the right “DOT #” fluid.

      Jeremy, this is a really awesome topic, I am going to do a blog strictly about brake fluid and some ways to flush brakes. I should have that posted tomorrow!

      Thanks for reading and keep the questions coming..

  1. Wes McClain

    Regarding Brakes:

    I recently had a tire blow out and had to go to one of those National Tire and Battery (NTB) places to get a new tire. While getting the new tire–the technician mentioned that I needed four new brake pads—which they estimated to cost a lot of coin for parts and labor. I decided to go to this highly rated place around the corner—and the guy claims I only need to get front brake pads and the associated parts—which drops the cost about 50%. The NTB guy had mentioned that I needed to get all 4 done at the same time—which I doubted. What is the truth? How much should this cost to do?

    Wes

    1. Humble Mechanic

      Hey Wes,
      Great question, when it comes to brakes, the “NEED” for replacement can be subjective. I believe that every manufacturer has a wear limit for their brakes. VW says the pads must be replaced @ 2mm of pad left. That is the absolute, must replace measurement. That does not mean that you should only replace the brakes when they are worn to that amount. Not only that, the condition of the brake rotor can play a role in the need to have brake work done. These are some of the things that I consider when inspecting brakes.
      1) How much pad is left~obviously this the the most important
      2) How many miles have the brakes been on the car
      3)How does the customer drive~ a more aggressive driver will need brakes more often. I can usually tell by the amount of brake dust on the wheels
      4) When is their next service. This is the big one. If a customer services their car every 10k miles, I need to make sure the brakes will last at least that long.

      I am glad that you got a second opinion. Hopefully the great job the shop you took your car to just earned a customer for life!

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