Your brakes could be trying to tell you something – whether or not you listen is up to you. Considering that your brakes are critical to both your times around racetracks as well as just keeping you safe on the roads from day to day, keeping your brakes in good working order is something that for some reason, is often neglected. Taking care of your brakes is a lot simpler than it seems, and what’s more, your brakes will outright tell you when they need attention.
Let’s start with how your brakes work, and why bad wear can occur. Virtually all cars today, save for trucks and economy models, utilize Disc Brakes.
Here’s a handy side-view of a generic disc brake setup, from the fine folks at HowStuffWorks.
The Dark Blue rectangles are the brake pads. The way the caliper (the green part) works is by the piston (red) applying force on the caliper to push the pads against the rotor, slowing the roll speed of the car. As you brake, the friction material of the brake pads wears away until the backing plate eventually can touch the rotor.
This is an inside view of a performance Brake Caliper from StopTech that gives you a good view of the pistons. ModBargains offers big brake kits and performance brake upgrades from StopTech, R1 Concepts and Brembo.
This is an average brake pad – the backing plate is red, while the “friction material”, the part of the pad that’s supposed to get worn away is gray. As the pad material wears away, the brakes will usually begin to squeak – some pads even have a wear indicator piece that is designed to squeak when the pads are down to 20% or less. But once you wear past these, catastrophic damage to your brakes begins to occur – the metal backing plate grinds against the rotor, wearing away the rotor material while also vibrating and making a hellacious grinding noise.
Wearing through the brake pads this badly is the condition that created that horrorshow of a brake rotor shown at the beginning of this article. At the point of wear seen there, you’ve likely started to incur damage to the caliper and rotor since the pads are no longer there to wear away. Once the backing plates are worn through, now the caliper itself – and the caliper piston are what wear out. At this point, the brake caliper, brake pads and rotors will all need to be replaced – when you could’ve simply changed the pads on time and been done with it.
So, to prevent this sort of thing from happening, how can you tell if your brake pads are worn out?
I’m glad you asked – if you have a style wheel that lets you easily see the rotor and caliper, it’s easy to inspect your brakes, otherwise it makes sense to remove the wheels every few thousand miles and inspect the brakes for wear. You can inspect the brakes on the car by looking through the “Inspection Window”, an opening somewhere on the caliper that allows you to see the caliper and rotor in the sort of manner as seen below.
What’s more, the “face” of the brake rotor should be fairly smooth and shiny. If the face of your rotor looks like the bloody Grand Canyon, you’ll need to resurface, if not replace, your brake rotors.
Now that we know what to look for and to inspect your brakes every few thousand miles or before and after track days/autoX/canyon runs, but you can tell your brakes need service in other ways as well.
How To Tell If Your Brakes Are Worn Out: The Warning Signs
Noise & Vibration
If you hear a “metal-on-metal” sound, “grinding” or “growling” noises when you apply the brakes, you should stop and physically inspect your brakes as soon as possible.
If you see deep gouges on the face of the rotor, it’s time to service your brakes. If you hear a little squeak now and again, it may be worth looking at – or it could be nothing. Checking will give you peace of mind.
Pulling To One Side
If the car pulls to one side while driving straight, it could be a stuck caliper or your alignment could be off. If your car pulls to one side under braking, your car may prove difficult to control in a panic-stop situation, potentially resulting in a crash! This can be caused by the pads not wearing evenly from one side to the other or a brake caliper piston that sticks and doesn’t retract fully.
Reduced Responsiveness/Increased Brake Fade
As you wear down the friction material of the brake pad, it takes more fluid to push the piston out of the caliper far enough to grab the rotor. The fluid heats up more quickly and the increased travel results in dramatically decreased response. Often, the level in the brake fluid reservoir appears low as well. Don’t top off your brake fluid until after you’ve serviced your brakes unless you know you may have a leak.
Worn out pads or pads seating unevenly against the rotor will vibrate or cause the brake pedal to pulsate and generally are pretty darn unpleasant to drive. If your brakes make unusual noises or do anything to make you question their safety, stop, check your brakes and seek assistance. Should your brakes need a fresh set of pads, rotors or should you want to go crazy with a Big Brake Kit, ModBargains’ Installation shop, Mod Auto, has you squared away.
So it’s time to replace my brakes. What kinds of upgrades can I do “While I’m At It”?
Ah, the old “While I’m At It”, nemesis of shady-tree mechanics everywhere. Well, fortunately you can upgrade your brakes without spending yourself into a 3rd mortgage without too much trouble.
Upgraded OEM-Replacement Brake Rotors
StopTech, R1 Concepts and Brembo all offer their own lines of Stock Replacement Brake rotors. These rotors are available in Economy or Premium trims and in Drilled, Slotted, Drilled AND Slotted or “Blank Face” like OEM. Featuring improved quality metal ore for their construction, these rotors feature improved vane design and other benefits that stock rotors can’t offer. R1 Concepts E-Line and Premier series rotor sets include Pads and wear sensors where applicable.
Improved Friction Material – Better Pads
As we said, should you choose to go with R1, the pads are included, but we also offer performance brake pads from Hawk Performance, StopTech and Brembo, separate from the rotors.
Fluid Mechanics – Stainless Braided Brake Lines & High Performance Brake Fluid
One of the items least often serviced are the brake lines themselves. Made of rubber and subject to a lot of heat and environmental contaminants, the rubber breaks down and expands under braking, causing the onset of fade and reduced brake performance.
If you have any questions about your brakes, or just want some guidance on your next brake replacement, we invite you to talk with our Modification Experts.
Our Experienced Experts are all enthusiasts, who modify their vehicles themselves– so they are able to recommend the best fitment for your model and suggest what the best part for your needs might be. Call 714-582-3330 today or visit ModBargains.com to speak to a Modification Expert. Should you need somewhere to install that brake upgrade for you, ModBargains offers full-service performance installation right here at our shop in La Habra, CA on Lambert Rd at Harbor Blvd. Call 714-582-3330 today to make an appointment.
Story by Nicholas Gregson
Want to know more about brakes? Check out our other articles about braking: