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By Don Patten

Don Patten is a leading expert in automotive education. His text book Automotive Service Basics published by Prentice Hall is used in automotive instruction courses world wide.

It takes a lot of energy to stop a moving vehicle and the brakes have to do this under extreme and harsh conditions each and every time. Every stop brings you closer to needing a brake repair as the parts are constantly wearing. There is only so much life or use built into the brake system. When it starts to fail, stop and have a complete brake inspection. Replace or repair any parts as needed.

When should this happen? It is hard to place a mileage on brake repair. As with all mechanical things, the more often the system is used the sooner the repair will be required. Delivery vehicles could need brake repairs several times a year while long distance travel vehicles could go over 100,000 miles before any repairs are needed.

A complete brake overhaul involves disassembly of each brake system component and either replacement of parts or repair. This can be expensive and require a skilled repair technician. Some machining work is required on parts such as drums and rotors.

Don't risk your life, vehicle, or passengers by continuing to drive a vehicle with failing brakes. The problem will not get better and the cost of repair will not decrease. In fact you may damage your car if you can not stop in time.

A word of caution! Always use the correct brake fluid when servicing the master cylinder. DOT 3 brake fluid is recommended for most vehicles. DOT 4, and 5 is made but not recommended for all vehicles. They are considered a special use product at this time. Consult your owner's manual when in doubt.

Below is a list of the ten most common warning signs that your brakes may be in need of repair. There are others so just remember that any change from normal should be checked. It always helps to tell the technician exactly what the change is so he can reduce the troubleshooting time.


== 1. Anytime the brake warning light comes on. This usually means a loss of hydraulic pressure in one of the two systems. Often the brake pedal will travel further than normal.

== 2. Any changes in pedal action or height. A spongy pedal or a hard pedal are two signs to look for.

== 3. Any noise each time the brakes are applied. Many brake systems have a built in warning device that makes a noise when the brake linings and pads need replacement. To drive further may damage some more expensive parts.

== 4. Anytime the vehicle dives or pulls to one side when the brakes are applied. This could mean failure of the brake system on one wheel.

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== 5. Anytime a visual inspection reveals brake fluid streaks down the sides of the tires or puddles around any brake parts. Lines can rust out and hydraulic parts can fail.

== 6. Anytime a wheel locks up when the brakes are applied. This can be a mechanical or hydraulic failure at the wheel. It can also mean a failure at the other wheel.

== 7. Anytime the anti-lock brake warning light comes on. This could be a mechanical, electronic, electrical, or hydraulic failure in the anti-lock system.

== 8. Anytime brake fluid has to be added on a frequent basis. This system is closed and should not require large amounts of fluid. Some fluid will have to be added to disc brake systems as the brake pads wear.

== 9. Anytime it takes longer than normal to stop the vehicle. This could be brake pad and lining problems or power booster failure. Drums and rotors could also be damaged.

== 10. Anytime the brake pedal goes to the bottom and the pedal has to be pumped in order to maintain brake pressure. This could be a master cylinder failure.

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