Don’t take your brakes for granted — follow these maintenance tips

Justin Stoltzfus

Your brakes are the last line of defense between you and an accident — and auto insurance claims. Even if you’re not a mechanic, there are proactive steps you can take to make sure your brakes will do their job when you need them.

Don't take your brakes for granted -- follow these maintenance tips
Don’t take your brakes for granted — follow these maintenance tips

Brake fluid

Fortunately, according to a guide from the Michigan Department of State, modern brake systems require little maintenance. The most important thing is to check the brake fluid.

Despite its importance, brake fluid is one of the most neglected fluids in a car, according to AAA. You should periodically check the master cylinder to make sure it’s at the right level and the right color. Depending on the type of fluid, it should be clear, amber or light purple.

If the fluid is dark brown or black, according to AAA, it’s time to replace it. However, AAA and the Michigan Department of State warn drivers to never mix fluids, use an unapproved type of fluid in the brake system or allow water to get in the brake fluid. Edmunds recommends never checking brake fluid or replacing it in the rain.

Moving parts

Some brake parts will inevitably wear out with frequent, long-term use. When you push down on the brake pedal, the shoes and pads are part of the system that creates friction and brings the vehicle to a stop, according to the Michigan Department of State. Over time, they get worn down.

Some vehicles come with wear indicators installed. These indicators create a squeaking noise when it’s time for new brake pads. Your car may not have such indicators, so it’s a good idea to have your brakes inspected about once a year, according to auto repair company Midas.

Because brake pads and shoes are pushed against the drums and rotors, these parts also may need to be replaced because of wear. Other parts that may need replacing include calipers and cylinders, according to the Michigan Department of State.

Warning signs

Is something wrong with your brakes? Midas offers some common indicators of brake problems, including:

  • Squealing: This could be the indicators going off. Or it could simply be moisture in the brake pads. If the squealing doesn’t go away or is accompanied by grinding noises, take the car to a mechanic.
  • Spongy brake pedal: This could mean that there’s air in the hydraulic lines. If hydraulic pressure gets too low, your car won’t stop when you apply the brakes.

Finding a mechanic

The Michigan Department of State recommends being wary of advertised brake specials. Be sure you know what the low advertised price or the “free inspection” includes. Complete brake repairs actually may cost $1,000 or more. Be sure to get a written estimate — and if the price seems too high, get a second opinion.

Getting the oil changed, checking your tire pressure and renewing your auto insurance all may be second nature. Be sure to add your brakes to the things you keep an eye on.

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