Signs of Brake Wear and/or Brake Failure

Brake Rotors
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Brakes are kind of a big deal, aren’t they? If you can’t stop your car reliably and consistently, you run the risk of causing an accident, risking your safety, etc. The trouble with brakes is that it’s hard to know when they need to be replaced, at least without pulling off your wheels to take a look.

Here’s a quick review that will explain a) what to watch out for and b) what to do if you suspect your brakes are having a problem.

Signs That Your Brakes Need A Repair

If you feel or hear something that doesn’t seem normal, it’s a very good idea to pay close attention whenever you stop your vehicle. In particular, you want to notice the following:

  • A Sinking or Slow To Respond Brake Pedal: If your brakes do not grab as quickly as they used to, or if stepping on the brake pad seems like stepping on a soft, slowly deflating balloon, there may be an issue with your brake system’s pressure. Sometimes this issue can be solved with new brake fluid or a brake bleed. Sometimes a new master cylinder is required, or there’s a leak in the system. Regardless, this is a problem that requires immediate attention.
  • Grinding Noises: If you’re starting to hear grinding noises when you apply the brakes, it’s likely that the brake pads are worn or dirty. You’re hearing that grinding sound because the pads aren’t evenly engaging with your vehicle’s discs or drums, which means that you may need your pads/rotors resurfaced, or perhaps even replaced. It’s a good idea to get your car checked out sooner rather than later.
  • Squealing or Whining Noises: Typically, squeaking, squealing, and whining  is indicative of a brake pad that’s worn down to the wear indicator. Most brake pads include metal tabs that start to make noise when the pads have worn down to the end of their life. However, these noises can also be caused by non-OEM brake pads, which are often formulated differently than OEM pads and therefore don’t behave the same (you can learn more about the differences between OEM and non-OEM pads here).
  • Vibrations During Brake Application: If you’re feeling strange vibrations when you apply the brakes, it could mean that your brake rotors need resurfaced, that your pads are contaminated, or even that your brakes aren’t engaging consistently or correctly. Most likely, your brakes need resurfaced, but it’s hard to know for sure…which means you need to get your vehicle checked out right away.

Generally speaking, any brake problem deserves your immediate attention. Most shops will do a free brake inspection, so there’s no reason to wait to have a brake problem checked out.

Brake Repair Tips and Suggestions

Some brake repairs – like brake pad replacement – are fairly easy. You just need tools and time. Other brake repairs – like resurfacing rotors, caliper rebuilds, master cylinder replacements, etc. – require experience and specialized tools. Therefore, the best brake repair tip I can offer is don’t bite off more than you can chew.

The second brake repair tip I have is to use OEM parts. I know it sounds self-serving for a company that sells OEM parts to make that recommendation, but we have good reasons for making that recommendation:

  1. Brake pad formulation is as much of an art as it is a science. Different companies use completely different pad materials and mixtures, and then design the whole brake system basically around those pads. If you change from OEM pads to after-market pads, your brakes aren’t going to function the same way.
  2. OEM brake pads are designed for normal use. OEM pads generally offer the quietest operation, generate the least amount of brake dust, function even while cold, and combat fade from repeated use. Unless you’re racing your vehicle (in which case brake pads designed for racing should be used), OEM pads really are the best option.
  3. After-market pads can damage your rotors. Some after-market brake pads contain materials that your OEM rotors aren’t designed for. For example, if you put a metallic pad on some vehicles, those pads will ruin the brake rotors. Other after-market pads use softer material than OEM pads, which can melt off the pads and “cook” onto the rotors. This cooked-on residue can require resurfacing and/or replacement.
  4. Some after-market pads contain asbestos. Asbestos brake pads aren’t illegal in most states, despite the serious health risks posed by the material. Some after-market companies use asbestos because it’s very cheap, and because consumers are unaware of the material’s presence.

NOTE: None of the OEM brake pads sold by Toyota contain asbestos.

Finally, if you’re looking for a deal on OEM Toyota brake pads, you can search for them on our main site here.

Written by Tom Blackman