All About Brakes – Troubleshooting

In the first installment of this miniseries, we soaked up all there is to know about brakes and the car’s braking system. We learned about the influence of the condition of the tires and suspensions in the braking capacity and we were waiting to know the most common problems that can plague our brakes, and how to detect and solve them.

Today we get fully into that subject, and we are going to do it in a concrete way so as not to extend the exhibition excessively. It should be said, first of all, that when faced with a brake problem, the most important thing is to go to a specialist. Therefore, the goal is for us to learn to detect the symptoms that something is wrong. We begin.

Excessive pedal stroke

The causes may be related to the brake fluid (leaks in the circuit, the air in the system, or brake fluid in bad condition or with a very low level) or the pads if they are very worn. in that case, it is recommended to replace the pads, and if it is something related to the brake fluid or the hydraulic system. Typically the system will need to be cleaned or bled and the brake fluid refilled.

Spongy pedal

This can have various causes, the most likely being problems with the hoses, the caliper piston or the caliper itself, which is seized. It could also be due to air in the hydraulic system, or because the brake fluid is poor or mixed with water.

Pedal too hard or offering too much resistance

The most likely causes are that the pads are dirty or stained with grease or brake fluid, that there is a problem in the caliper piston, problems with the brake fluid (we see that this can be the cause of several problems), problems with the pills (that are crystallized). It could also be because the brake discs are damaged, and if so we should replace them. Another cause that we must not rule out is that the brake booster has failed, and hence it costs us more to activate the pedal.

The pedal seems to have less travel

Parts that cause moving parts to extend or retract may be faulty, for example the master cylinder piston is not able to snap back into place properly. It gives the feeling that the pedal does not easily return to rest . In that case, the simplest thing is to take the car to the workshop and have it checked well (although in reality, whenever we talk about brakes it is advisable to take the car to a specialized place).

One wheel (at least) locks

It will depend on the wheel or how many are blocked, but it is a symptom that some part of the system is not working properly, or is seized, blocked or swollen. It could also be due to a bad brake pad or the handbrake cable being hooked, which would still be working when the parking brake was released.

Brake pedal vibrates or pulses

Without confusing the vibrations with those that are felt when the ABS kicks in, we may have warped discs or worn (or loose) wheel bearings. It can also be something more general and that we have to replace both brake pads and discs. It can also be due to poorly balanced wheels, or a ball joint in poor condition.

Loss of hot braking ability

Pads of poor quality or that make poor contact, it may even be due to the discs, which are very thin (although in series cars this does not have to be the cause, but if we change them). It can be simply fading, due to the excess work we require from the braking system, which loses efficiency with temperature. In that case, it is advisable to use more engine brake, or simply cool the brakes.

The car rocks to one side

Problem of more complex determination. It can be due to multiple causes, including that the pads on one side are dirty or soaked in grease or brake fluid. The pads of the entire axle should be replaced. The pills may have crystallized. It can be due to a tire pressure problem , bad ball joints, bad shock absorbers, disc problems, and many other causes. In case this is detected, it is advisable to go directly to the review, and have a detailed account of the problem detected.

Squeak is heard when braking

Again, many possible causes. From dirt on the pads (dust, metal particles …), that are very worn or of low quality, that the pads rub against the caliper or that some part is missing. It can also be the cause of the discs, which are in poor condition. Again, when faced with these symptoms, it is convenient to go quickly to have it taken a look.

The objective of this post is not to detail with all precision all the possible causes and all the possible solutions in the braking system. It is more the intention of knowing what we can notice when we press the brake pedal and what it may be due to, and the logical thing is that when we notice something that is out of the ordinary, we go to check the car in a specialized workshop. With the brakes, as with the tires, you don’t play around.

If the slightest loss of effectiveness is noticed when braking, we must bear in mind that we have to pay, and if we play to prepare the car and use low-quality spare parts, we are falling into a serious error because we can find unpleasant surprises to time to stop when we need it most.