We've all been through it: you're approaching a light when the vehicle next to you gives off a high pitch squeal as they come to a stop. The driver, red with embarrassment looks away as you stare and think to yourself - "What's wrong with your car??!!!"
Well, that high pitch squealing noise is letting the driver know it's time to change their brakes!
Most vehicles today are equipped with disc brakes (at least in the front) with the main components being a caliper, rotor and a brake pad. The brake pad receives the most wear and tear. Why? A moving vehicle has a certain amount of kinetic energy. When you apply your brake pedal, the idea is to remove the kinetic energy in order to stop. Your brakes do this by converting the kinetic energy to heat, generated from squeezing the brake pads on the disc. So, as you can imagine, constant friction between the brake pads and the disc cause the brake pads to wear out.
All brakes are equipped with a squealer, also known as a "wear indicator", which lets the driver know when the brake pads have worn out - usually at about 3mm. Hence the annoying sound when someone with thin brake pads comes to a halt beside you. Brake pads are typically about 10mm thick when they are brand new. How long does it take to get to 3mm? Well, it depends. Most manufacturers estimate brake pads last anywhere between 50,000 and 120,000 km - however, there are always exceptions to this.
So how can you conserve your brakes? Here are a couple Do's and Don’ts:
Do look ahead and anticipate driving moves a few car lengths in front of you. If you see brake lights come on in the distance, chances are you're stopping too. Take your foot off the accelerator now, in anticipation of stopping. Anticipating other driver's moves is also a great practice for all around safe driving, as we discussed in a previous PumpTalk Post, "Anticipating Driver Moves".
Don't be a lead foot! Try not to be too heavy on your acceleration. It's not a race to get to the Stop sign down the road - the faster you try to make it to a shorter distance, the harder you will have to brake. According to Edmunds.com, "Stopping from 65mph rather than 55 forces the brakes to dissipate a third more energy". If you accelerate and then brake hard frequently, you can expect that you'll be paying a visit to your mechanic very quickly.
Do coast to a stop when you know you have a good distance ahead of you.
Don't put your vehicle into neutral in order to coast - you may realize that it didn't take you that long to reach your required destination. Similarly, if you are going too fast, you'll be applying your brakes harder than you typically would. (This also does not help you save on fuel - as we noted in an earlier PumpTalk Post, "Why Using Neutral May Not Help Save on Fuel".)
Do perform regular maintenance on your brakes, including brake pad inspections and brake fluid flushes. Flushes ensure that your brake fluid remains clean. With today's technology, including ABS systems, dirt or debris and even moisture can get into the brake fluid and can cause damage over time. As we have said in many of our PumpTalk posts - vehicle maintenance is key to having a long lasting relationship with your vehicle, and this applies to your brakes too!
Do you consciously try to conserve your brakes when you are driving? Can you share any tips with us?
- Julie S.