All There Is to Know About Getting Your Brakes Serviced

August 11th, 2023 by

A shoe is shown pressing down on a brake pedal.

Moving fast is great, but with all that speed, you also need means of slowing—and, ideally, stopping. You’re here today because you want to learn a thing or two about your brakes before bringing your vehicle in for its routine brake service.

The underpinnings of what makes brakes stop a vehicle are multi-faceted, so while you simply seem to press one pedal at your feet, it’s not actually that simple. Thus, fixing your brakes is something you shouldn’t do yourself; it’s not a luxury like an air conditioner, so breaking your brakes could be the most detrimental thing you could do to your car—particularly if you don’t realize you’ve done something wrong.

We’ll give you a rundown on what you need to know about your brakes, rotors, and brake fluid, along with some signs your brakes need servicing. Lastly, we’ll tell you the best ways to get said servicing, so let’s begin our chat about what you should know about brakes…

How Your Brakes Work

Most vehicles nowadays have what’s known as disc brakes, which are powered by hydraulics. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any vehicles with drum brakes; vehicles like the Volkswagen ID.4 have drum brakes, as do more cost-effective vehicles in today’s market, like the Nissan Sentra. Drum brakes are the oldest commonplace braking method of the two, and the reason for their existence is to help wheels last longer than the preceding method of stopping a car.

Before the drum brake came to fruition, the wheels of a car had no protection between themselves and what was being used to stop it; in the days before pedals, the driver had to do this with their hands by pulling a lever that would initiate contact between a small block of wood and the rear wheels—hence the given name of Wooden Block Brakes. It’s a lot like your average bicycle if you’ve owned one: one where you stop the wheel by pressing the handle, and it moves a small obstructing object over the wheel, grinding with such pressure that your effective kinetic energy is converted into heat against the obstruction.

The drum, on the other hand, resides within the wheel. When the vehicle is braking, the drum takes the old wheel’s job as the proverbial punching bag for the brunt of the resistance force and pressure used to bring the vehicle to a stop, expanding and making contact with the wheel like the block once did. Obviously, vehicles eventually omitted the lever in favor of a brake pedal, and this pedal was connected through a network of cables that transferred the resistance caused by your foot pressing down on the pedal into the cables.

Disc brakes are similar but also opposite in many ways. Disc brakes are far larger than drums and spin alongside the wheel at the same speed nestled inside. The larger size of the disc over the drum was an important milestone because it allowed more bombastic vehicles in the following years to excel and become genuinely faster, which is something drum brakes would have faced a severe uphill battle against.

How does the disc brake work? The easiest way to explain it is this: when you press down on the brake pedal, the disc comes into contact with a rotor via a caliper, which is a metal frame fixed onto the rotor, and uses something called caliper slide pins to push the brake pads onto the rotor, and by extension, the wheel. Much like drum brakes, disc brakes are connected via a network of brake lines, but this would all be for nothing if it weren’t for the advent of brake fluid.

Disc brakes work in unison far better than drum brakes, as the braking pressure is sent to the calipers by way of the hydraulic pressure of the brake fluid. This brake fluid is ushered through the network of brake lines and allows every wheel to stop in sync with one another. This network of brake lines spans the front and rear of the vehicle, and if you’re buying a modern-day vehicle, there’s a strong chance you’ll have a hydraulic disc braking system.

A rusty disc rotor and brakes are shown.

How Do You Know If Your Brakes Need Servicing?

Now comes the big question: how do you know if your brakes need servicing? Or, if you know your brakes are working as intended, how long should you wait before you visit a technician and get them looked at? Firstly, several key factors may signify you’re due for a trip to the technician. If you bought the vehicle in working order, the feeling of applying your brakes becomes second nature. Brakes should feel firm, tight, and audibly silent—the latter of which is a strong indicator that something may be amiss with your braking system.

Often, you’ll be the one to notice your brakes are acting strange rather than any technician, whether that be requiring more braking pressure to get the vehicle to stop or perhaps you feel a slight grinding sensation when you’re applying your brakes. Indicators like these shouldn’t be ignored, as these issues usually precede larger ones.

The sound your brakes make may also include a grinding sound, a squeak, or a whine. You may notice your brakes may sound a tad squeaky on a rainy day when you begin driving, and that doesn’t mean there’s a problem; brakes are easily exposed to water, which can make them squeak. Brake sounds you can’t explain will require further explanation from a technician.

Listen to the Manufacturers

Your brake lines aren’t something to be messing with, so if you feel your brakes aren’t in working order, you ought to get them looked at. Aside from possible damages, most manufacturers recommend you flush and replace your brake line fluid around three to five years apart. We’d argue it’s more around one to two years, or once you’ve driven around a few dozen thousand miles. This time frame is subjective, too, because if you notice your brakes making a weird sound or not feeling as they should, you should get it looked at immediately.

If you don’t flush and change the brake line fluid, the fluid can get backed up; this creates a choke point within the brake line. Although hydraulic brake lines aren’t as susceptible to bursting as what you’d find on a drum brake, it’s from malfunctions such as brake line fluid choke points that can burst your line.

A mechanic is shown performing a brake service on a vehicle.

Only Trust Certified Technicians With Your Brakes

Flushing and replacing your fluid is one of the easier tasks when servicing brakes, but that doesn’t mean you should go about it yourself. Brakes aren’t something you should work on unless you’re a trained professional. Brakes and their components are susceptible to many forms of damage and malfunctions that shouldn’t be taken lightly. For example, caliper slide pins have the potential to get stuck, and this can prevent your brakes from functioning at all.

If you need to get a component like your caliper slide pins looked at, it’s something you should only visit a technician certified in the brand you’re driving, such as a certified Chevy technician at McCluskey Chevrolet. Caliper slide pins, brake pads, rotors, brake fluid, hydraulic brake lines—all of these are best left to the professionals, so if you need your brakes serviced or haven’t gotten them looked at by a certified technician in a while (or ever), then you need to do so for the betterment of your car and the safety of yourself and others.

Posted in Brake Service