Brake Repair and Brake Maintenance
Drum Brakes, Disc Brakes, Emergency & Parking Brakes
Most vehicles have either disc brakes on all 4 wheels, or disc brakes on the front wheels and drum brakes on the rear wheels, and all vehicles have an emergency or parking brake. We do brake repair and brake maintenance on all, disc brakes, drum brakes and emergency brakes.
Disc braking systems use brake pads that are attached to the frame of the car, and a rotating disc, the rotor, that is attached to the wheel. When you step on the brake pedal the calipers push on the brake pads, causing them to squeeze the rotor. The friction between the brake pads and the rotor will slow down and stop your vehicle by converting your vehicle's kinetic energy into heat. Your brake system is designed to dissipate this energy before it heats up too much and causes damage. You may find that your front brakes wear out before the rear brakes because the front brakes do most of the work. Front brakes are usually vented to carry away the heat from braking quickly.
Drum braking systems use brake shoes that are attached to the frame of the car, inside a rotating drum that is attached to the wheel. When you step on the brake pedal a piston pushes the brake shoes into the inside of the brake drum. The friction between the brake shoes and the drum will slow down and stop your vehicle by converting your vehicle's kinetic energy into heat.
Both disc brakes and drum brakes are intended to slow your vehicle and stop it. The emergency or parking brake has two purposes. It can be used as a backup brake if the main braking system fails because the emergency brake is controlled by cables and levers that are a totally separate path from the main braking system's hydraulic brake lines. It is usually used as a parking brake, just to keep your vehicle from moving while parked.
Brake Pad Materials
There are several main types of brake pads: metallic, ceramic, organic and carbon. The type of brake pad depends on what materials are used to create the brake pad friction surface. The different materials are used in different braking applications. We usually suggest replacing your brake pads with the type of pad that the manufacturer recommends, but sometimes we suggest alternatives if the vehicle owner is having a problem with the manufacturer recommended type of brake pads.
The friction surface of metallic brake pads is made of a mixture of graphite, iron, steel and copper, and you can see the different types of particle when you look at it. Metallic pads are the most common because they last a long time, work well and cost less than the other types. The main problems with metallic pads are that they can cause the brake rotors to wear out early, they are noisy and dusty, and they don't stop you quite as quickly in cold weather until they warm up.
The friction surface of ceramic brake pads is mostly ceramic fibers, but they also contain fillers and bonding materials and sometimes copper. Ceramic pads are usually found on sports cars that are designed to be driven aggressively because they perform much better than other types of brakes, but they aren't found on most other vehicles because they are quite expensive. If your current brakes are too noisy, dusty, or you need better braking performance we might suggest switching to ceramic brake pads, if you don't mind the extra expense.
The friction surface of organic brake pads is made of more environmentally friendly materials like rubber, resin, glass, and kevlar. They create less pollution during use and when they are finally disposed of. These brake pads are softer, which makes them quieter, but also makes them wear out faster. They are most often found on small cars. Larger vehicles and sports cars work the brakes hard and they would probably wear out organic brakes too quickly.
The friction surface of carbon brake pads is carbon fiber. Carbon fibers are even better than ceramic at dissipating the heat caused by braking, which is why this type of brake pad is used on some of the highest performing sports cars and for heavy duty braking applications like tow vehicles. Carbon fiber brake pads are rarely found on standard passenger vehicles because they are so expensive.
Signs of Brake Problems
Brakes wear out and they should be inspected regularly to prevent brake failure which can lead to dangerous situations or even accidents. If you notice a decrease in braking ability, noises or burning smells coming from the wheels, or you feel a pulsing in the brake pedal when braking you should have your brake system inspected immediately.
Brake Failure Modes
Most of the brake problems that we see are caused by the brakes wearing out. Frequent braking, high performance driving and towing heavy loads may wear out your brakes early.
Eventually the friction material on your brake pads or shoes will wear away. Many brake pads, but not all, have wear indicators which are small metal tabs that make a squealing sound when the friction material is worn down. If your wheels squeal when you brake, or only when you aren't braking, bring your car in and we will inspect your braking system. Actually, if you hear a squealing noise coming from one of your wheels you should have your car checked over because you might have even more serious problems.
If your brake pads don't have wear indicators, or if you just ignore the squealing noise, more wear may damage your brakes and cause a more expensive repair instead of just routine maintenance of the braking system. The brake pad is riveted to the brake pad backing plate, and these rivets will start grinding grooves into the rotor when too much of the friction material is worn away. Rotor damage may start just a couple of weeks after the wear indicators start squealing. If you keep driving even the rivets can get worn away, and the brake pad backing plate will start grinding away on the rotor. Damaged brakes won't stop you as well, and once the rotors are damaged they will have to be replaced in addition to the pads, increasing the cost of your brake repair.
Sometimes the brakes are damaged by working them harder than they were designed to be used. Your brakes can be easily overworked by long, steep mountain descents. You can save your brakes by gearing down and letting your engine slow your vehicle. Overworked brakes heat up because they are converting your vehicle's kinetic energy into heat faster than they can dissipate the heat. Sometimes brakes get hot enough to boil the brake fluid making the brakes "soft" or "spongy" and decreasing your braking ability just when you need it most. Your brakes will recover when they cool down. Sometimes the brakes get hot enough to crack the friction material in the brake pad or warp the rotor or brake drum. You might notice that your brake pedal pulses when you brake. This is caused by a warped rotor or drum, which must be replaced.
Occasionally the braking system develops a leak, maybe a joint in the brake line loosens up, or a rock hits the brake line and makes a small hole. When you lose enough brake fluid your brakes will stop working. If you are losing break fluid, give us a call and we will arrange for a tow truck to bring your vehicle to our shop. It is very dangerous to drive without brakes. Your vehicle does have an emergency brake, and it will stop your vehicle, but emergency brakes don't work very well.
Improper vehicle maintenance can cause brake problems too. Our mechanics are all ASE Certified so they know the proper way to maintain and repair your car. Your rotors can be warped by an inexperienced mechanic tightening your wheel lug nuts too tightly. Some mechanics don't properly lubricate the brake components, or they don't replace worn brake components when replacing the brake pads or brake shoes. This can cause excessive wear of the pads and shoes so they have to be replaced sooner than expected. Our mechanics will look for these problems when they inspect your braking system and give you a full report.
Brake Service Qualifications
Our mechanics are ASE Certified by the National Institute For Automotive Service Excellence, so they have been trained to diagnose and fix your braking problems, and to recognize when your vehicle needs work to keep it running efficiently and safely.
Brake Inspection Recommendations
We recommend having your brakes checked every year. Many customers have their brakes inspected with every other oil change. If you join our Car Care Club we will inspect your brakes for free once a year when you have your tires rotated.
Manager at Fort Collins Muffler & Automotive