common brake problems

Diagnosing Common Brake Problems

Your car’s braking system is arguably the most important system in your vehicle. It’s imperative to understand the cause of the most common brake problems and learn how to diagnose them.

If you suspect problems with your brakes, whether it’s a soft pedal or a sharp grinding sound, it’s best to address the situation immediately. Brake repairs are best left to experts, so if you don’t have experience diagnosing and repairing these systems, take your vehicle to a mechanic to have your brakes properly inspected and repaired.

1. Spongelike or Soft Pedal

A spongy feeling or soft brake pedal is a sure sign of a problem. If you have to pump the brakes for them to work effectively, or you notice the brake pedal traveling further towards the floor than usual, this is indicative of a loss of pressure in the braking system.

Most brakes systems are hydraulic, with a master cylinder that regulates the pressurized hydraulic fluid that runs through lines to the brakes at each wheel. When you hit your pedal, it activates the fluid in the master cylinder, which in turn controls the mechanical functions of the actual brakes to slow and stop your vehicle.

When the brake pedal is soft or spongy, there could be a leak in one of the brake lines. Leaks can occur where the lines meet at the wheels, where the lines discharge from the master cylinder, or anywhere in between, and aren’t always easy to spot. If the loss of pressure is caused by an internal failure in the master cylinder, however, you may not see fluid leaking externally.

Improperly bled brakes may also cause a soft pedal, with air bubbles in the brake lines hindering your hydraulic pressure. This problem may be solved through the simple procedure of properly bleeding the brakes. A more involved repair could include replacement of brake lines, either one or all. The most expensive and complicated repairs to solve this problem typically would include replacement of the master cylinder.

2. Irregular Noises

If you hear a metallic sound or screeching when you use your brakes, it could be the brake pads are worn down and need to be replaced. It can also be an indication that damaged or low quality brake pads have harmed your rotors. Warped rotors or a damaged caliper can also cause you to feel a shudder in the steering wheel when applying the brakes. While replacing brake pads is a relatively low cost and quick job, machining warped rotors or installing new rotors is labor intensive and a more costly repair.

3. Indicator Light

Lastly, if you see the brake warning light on your dashboard, do not ignore it. Immediately stop your vehicle and do not use it again until the braking systems can be properly inspected.

Check out all the brake system parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on common brake problems and brake systems, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

about author

Sarah Shelton

As a freelance automotive writer, I create articles, how-to guides, web content and white papers for online magazine site and automotive companies. I passionately believe that cars and motorcycles should be appreciated for the works of art they are, and fantasize about owning a white Ducati 899 Panigale to display in my living room. I am currently the Corvette expert at About.com, cover alternatively-fueled vehicles and technology at HybridCars.com, and hold the imaginary title of Formula One test driver on the back roads surrounding my Oregon home.

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