Brakes have always been essential safety equipment. Yet their importance just keeps growing and growing. To understand this, you have to know everything that brakes are doing these days. In this article, we’ll discuss how your brakes are helping you drive as well as stop and why brake maintenance is so vital.
To understand how important brakes are, consider how many brake-related lights are on your dash. The regular brake light, the anti-lock brake light, and the traction control light are three of those lights. You may well have more, depending on how your manufacturer has classified the stability systems and the latest driver assistance systems.
Your brakes now have the ability to react without you, explained a mechanic at Earnhardt Auto Centers. They may respond to a sideways maneuver, whether accidental or deliberate. They may respond to a slick patch of road or a stopping car. The slowing may be imperceptible to the driver or it may be dramatic. Either way, the brakes are critical to the success of these systems.
Staying in the Lane Lines
When you are steering through a curve, your brakes may slow the faster inside wheels individually to help your vehicle remain stable. This helps the driver stay in control of the drive. In the old days, it was easy to lose control if the car took a curve at speed.
If you hit a slick spot, your car may straighten out its own wheels by selectively braking the slipping wheels. Cars once slid off the road due to these problems, but now that is much less likely. These are your traction and stability systems at work.
Helping to steer the car, a lane keeping system uses selective braking to help edge the vehicle back inside the lane lines. That braking supplements steering action that cannot do the job alone.
Some blind spot monitors have a similar capability to try and stop you from moving in front of a vehicle in an adjoining lane. A few models have a system that slows the vehicle if it senses that it is going off-road. Again, these systems are able to steer in part because they are braking individual wheels to achieve the desired trajectory.
Your driver assistance system may have the ability to brake for you. Even if you don’t have that advanced system, you may have emergency braking support. This can increase braking power when a person pumps the brakes.
A forward collision system may trigger the front brakes to slow you or all of the brakes to stop you. The related automatic cruise control will do this over and over as it maintains your speed in busy traffic. While it may do it more smoothly than a human driver, this system is totally reliant on the quality of your brakes.
Rearview cameras are being supplemented by rear braking assistance. These respond to such warning systems as rear cross traffic alert or parking sensors. As you can imagine, these are braking the rear wheels more than the front wheels, which are favored by the frontal collision driver assistance systems.
Automatic parking systems use even more targeted braking as they move the vehicle into or out of a tight spot. This requires numerous steering actions as well as individual braking actions by any and all wheels.
By now, you probably see all too clearly what is happening with your brakes. They are in constant use in a way that they never were before. Much of this usage is designed to prevent emergency braking. In that way, it may mean that brakes wear out more evenly. On the other hand, the constant use by so many different systems may cause brakes to wear out faster.
These are the reasons that now, more than ever, brake maintenance is key to driving successfully and safely. There are so many demands on each individual brake and so many systems that need brakes to be in perfect working order.
The Essentials of Brake Maintenance
Brake failure could result in the failure of any of these systems, and that’s just not acceptable. Obviously you want to do everything you can to avoid an accident situation. To do this, you’ll need to keep an eye on brake maintenance.
First, there are the brake pads. These remain one of the best automotive inventions. They have a predictable lifespan if you follow manufacturer guidelines. They may whine to indicate it’s time to replace them. Fortunately, replacement isn’t horribly expensive. This is especially true when you consider what happens if you wear out the expensive metal rotors and drums.
Drivers who live in a mountainous area or frequently travel there may need to change their brake pads more often. Likewise, drivers who emphasize performance may put more wear and tear on their brakes and need a pad replacement sooner.
What happens if you don’t replace your pads on time? Eventually the pad will give way and the mechanical parts will rub together. These drums and rotors may cost thousands to replace. That’s a good reason to make sure that pads are replaced at regular intervals.
Second, most drivers are keenly aware of the importance of engine oil, but they often overlook brake fluid. The levels should be checked by a technician regularly. Any leaks should be addressed quickly. If the vehicle runs out of brake fluid, the brakes will stick, leaving you with a huge repair bill. It may even cause you to have a one-car or two-car accident.
Third, brake fluid needs to be replaced at designated intervals. The fluid takes on metal shavings and water and other debris. As this happens, it gets thicker and thicker. Finally it becomes too thick to move. This denies vital lubrication to the brakes and results in damage to the metal parts.
Beyond maintenance, your best bet to keep your brakes working correctly is to keep an eye on your lights. If the traction, stability controls, anti-lock brake system or driver assistance light is on, you can assume there is a deeper problem that must be addressed quickly.
The case for regular brake maintenance has never been stronger than it is today. Fortunately, servicing brakes isn’t expensive when it is done in a timely manner. It is only when we ignore our brakes that we risk an expensive repair.