Do You Know How Safe Your Brakes Are? If Not, Here's How to Check


The brakes are probably the most critical system in your car that ensures your safety, as well as that of your passengers. Unfortunately, it is entirely out of sight; brake lines run under the car, while rotors and brake pads hide inside each wheel.

Who would inspect their brake components every day? If you don’t, I’m not surprised because I don’t, either. So how can you be confident that they're truly safe? You can't unless you can make it a point to test and inspect them yourself.

That might sound like a lot of work, but don’t worry. In this article, we’ll look at how you can make sure that your own car brakes are safe.

Important Guide to Keep Your Car Brakes Healthy

1. Know Your Car Brakes

There’s a lot of engineering and fluids that go into making your brakes work properly. We’re not going to go into too much detail about all of that, so you can check out our other articles for everything you need to know about brake system and brake fluids.

Just a quick run-through, your brake system is made up of a few different parts, three of the most critical are:

  • the brake disc (sometimes called a ‘rotor’)
  • the brake calliper
  • the brake pads

Any problem with even only one of these parts could undermine the safety of your car brakes. So how do you ensure they’re okay? We’ll take that up next. 

2. Learn How to Diagnose Your Car Brakes

There are two ways you can do to check on the soundness of your car brakes. The first is to put them to the test and see how they perform (i.e. by driving your car and hitting the brakes). Second, you can also perform an ocular inspection to look for visible signs of wear or damage.

Neither of these approaches is necessarily better than the other. In fact, you’ll want to combine both to ensure that your brakes are in good shape.

I’ll explain how you can perform these simple diagnostics in the next two sections.

3. Test Your Brakes

Let’s start by talking about how you can perform a brake check while driving. Don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. All you need to do is pay attention to your brakes whenever you drive your car, perhaps during your regular morning commute to work.

The symptoms that you’ll be looking for are sounds and vibrations. 

Suppose you're driving down a stretch of road and you need to come to a stop at a traffic light. If you hear a screeching sound (like metal scraping against metal) as you gradually apply the brakes, that's a sign that you have a problematic brake system. To be sure, you'll want to turn off the radio and roll down the window to listen out for such noises.

Besides that, you’ll also feel vibrations in both your steering wheel and brake pedal as you bring your car to a halt.

Here’s another extra symptom to watch out for – some car models may also light up a warning on your instrument panel as a clear indicator of a brake problem.

What do all of these point to? Well, these symptoms usually tell you that your brake pads may need replacing. In more severe cases, you may have problems with the brake disk or the brake fluid needs replenishing.

4. Visually Inspect the Brakes

While moving brake checks are essential, nothing beats an up-close and personal visual inspection. To inspect brakes this way, you'll want to make sure that your car is parked on a level surface and that you have a jack to lift it.

The only way to get close to individual brakes is to remove each wheel. Once you have it off, though, the rest is pretty straightforward.

Here’s what you’re looking for:

  • Thin brake pads – brake pads wear out after long-term use, which is why people have them replaced once they get too thin. It’s crucial to replace a thin brake pad as soon as possible, not only to ensure that your car is safe and has working brakes but also to prevent the metal parts from grinding against each other.


  • Excessive rust – rust is a regular part of life for any metal car part. Still, you’ll want to pay attention to make sure that your brake system isn’t rusting to a point where it can’t keep you safe anymore. If you think the rust is excessive, or if you’re unsure, always take your car to a professional for them to inspect it. You don’t want rusted bits of your brake system to fall off while you’re on the road!


  • Burning smell – the mechanics of a brake system depends on friction, and friction generates a lot of heat. Now, under normal conditions, a fully-functional brake system can handle all that heat and prevent anything bad from happening. But if you notice any burning smells while you're inspecting it, then that's a really bad sign.

Take your car to a workshop without delay, because this is a clear sign that your car brakes are unsafe.

When Should You Replace Brake Pads?

All parts in your car’s brake system are crucial, but your brake pads are where the ‘rubber meets the road’, so to speak. That’s where all the friction and heat happen, which is why brake pads are what you’ll be replacing more often than any other part.

Technically, you’ll only need to replace your brake pads when they get too thin. Whether that happens sooner or later will depend entirely on how often you drive. Some estimates say that you’ll need to replace them every 25,000 to 75,000 kilometres, though that will depend on the quality of the brake pads you buy for your car.

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