Picture this: you're driving through a peaceful mountain road when, out of nowhere, your brakes suddenly stop functioning. It's a terrifying thought and one that many drivers fear, but how likely is it to happen? If you ignore some common signs of braking trouble, are you likely to find yourself running downhill with no brakes to slow your descent? Although brakes are an essential safety component that you should never ignore, the consequences of deferred maintenance are more complex than a total loss of braking power.
The Basics Of Stopping Power
If you drive a modern car, then you most likely have a set of four disc brakes. Older vehicles may still use drums on the rear. Whatever the case, your car's braking system consists of two circuits – one for the front axle and one for the rear axle. Pressing the pedal applies pressure to both circuits via hydraulic fluid, allowing your brake pads to compress against your rotors and turn your car's kinetic energy into heat. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, many potential problems can occur in this seemingly straightforward system. Luckily, most of them won't cause your car to go careening off of a cliff face.
The key to this whole system is hydraulic pressure. Without hydraulic pressure, your calipers cannot compress your pads, and your car won't stop. Although most braking problems won't result in a dangerously unsafe vehicle, a loss of hydraulic pressure is a critical problem. Mushy pedal feel or a pedal that falls directly to the floor may be a warning sign of a fluid leak, and it's vital to stop driving your car immediately. Loss of pressure will prevent one or both brake circuits from functioning, leaving your car primed for that unexpectedly quick trip down a mountainous road.
Worn Out Pads
If a loss of pressure is potentially lethal, are worn out pads just as bad? Luckily, the answer is generally no. When your pads wear down, the metal backing plates will make direct contact with the rotor discs. These plates are not designed to stop your car, so your braking performance will be drastically reduced.
Additionally, the metal-on-metal contact will cause loud grinding and quickly damage your rotors. The longer you wait, the more damage you will produce. Eventually, the metal backing plates will themselves wear away and the caliper itself will be in jeopardy. A pad replacement that may have only cost a few hundred dollars can quickly scream into the four-figure range.
What's the ultimate lesson? While most braking issues will not result in an immediate loss of braking power, deferred maintenance can reduce your braking performance and lead to extensive and expensive damage. Learn more about brake replacement today.