Brake Maintenance Basics

February 21, 2012

Doing your own brake maintenance is much easier that you might assume. Learn about the 5 main brake components, costs, and a good maintenance schedule.

Brake Maintenance Needed

Doing your own brake maintenance may sound like a fairly daunting task, but when you learn how simple it is, you'll wish you'd been doing it all along. Your vehicle's brakes consist of five main components: brake pads, rotors, calipers, lines, and a master cylinder. In order to service them yourself, you'll have to know what each one of those parts does.

Master Cylinder and Brake Lines

Your vehicle's brakes operate hydraulically. That is, they use fluid to transfer the power of your foot on the pedal to the actual brakes on the wheels. The master cylinder is the starting point of that power flow. If the master cylinder is faulty, it can't exert enough power to push the fluid to the brakes, so you should always inspect the master cylinder and brake lines for damage. Additionally, inspect your brake fluid for cleanliness. Once you know your fluid is clean and the master cylinder and lines are operating properly, you should check the mechanical parts of the brakes.

Calipers, Pads and Rotors

Brake calipers, pads and rotors all work together to stop your vehicle. When you step on your brake pedal, the master cylinder sends fluid to the brake calipers which squeeze together, exerting pressure on the brake pads. It's important to inspect your calipers often for signs of wear or damage.

When the calipers squeeze, the brake pads clamp down on the rotors in order to slow your car. If your brake pads are worn, they can't make a smooth connection with the rotors and this can actually damage your rotors with rough spots and uneven grooves. Rotor repairs can be very costly so always make sure your brake pads are sized to specifications and that they're not worn down too far. Today, most brake pads come with wear indicators that will make a squealing sound to let you know it's time for replacement. It's best to replace them before you hear a squeal and check your brake rotors often to be sure that there is no irregular wear or damage.

Maintenance Schedule

Sticking to the schedule specified in your owner's manual will keep you from forgetting when it's time to service your brakes. If you are not sure when to replace your pads or fluid, a good rule of thumb is to inspect your brake pads for wear about every 12,000 miles. Many manufacturers recommend replacing them if there is 1/8 inch or less of the pad lining remaining or they recommend replacing them around every 25,000 miles. Check your brake fluid from time to time or ask that your service technician inspect it at each oil change. If the brake fluid is dirty, you should replace it. If you can't tell or you wish to replace it on a regular basis, many manufacturers recommend replacing brake fluid every 20,000 to 25,000 miles. Always remember to replace brake pads and brake fluid according to your style of driving and your specific vehicle's needs.

Brake Maintenance Cost Considerations

Brake maintenance is important for not only the obvious safety reasons, but also for your wallet.

Brake maintenance includes installing new brake pads and resurfacing brake rotors. You should expect the rates for this service to range from $60.00 to $200 depending on the type of vehicle you drive. The price of brake maintenance is a far cry from brake repair which requires replacing the pads and the rotors and can cost you as much as $900. Remember to find a qualified automotive technician and use parts specifically designed to fit your vehicle's braking system.