One thousand-and-one. That last sentence took about one second to read and this sentence will take about four seconds. In the five seconds it took you to read those two sentences, nothing much has happened. After all, you are sitting in front of a computer screen. At 60 mph, however, a lot can happen in five seconds. You will have traveled some 440 feet in your vehicle and during that time someone could cut you off, a blowout could occur, an accident could happen right in front of you, the car could spin out on a patch of ice, or a child on a bicycle could cut in front of you.
Any of the above scenarios could be called a panic situation that demands immediate braking and a quick, sure stop. The problem is that there is no such thing as immediate braking. The time it takes to see the hazard, recognize it, and react can take anywhere from half a second to two seconds or longer, depending upon visibility, your alertness, and physical ability. Before the vehicle can even begin to stop, you’ve just traveled between 44 and 176 feet! And depending upon road conditions, the type of vehicle you are driving, and its mechanical condition, you could travel a few hundred feet more before the vehicle comes to a complete stop. Even if you have tip-top reflexes and are driving a brand new vehicle under perfect conditions you’ve still traveled over 300 feet.
Kind of sobering, isn’t it? And what happens if the brakes don’t work properly? You go even farther and probably hit whatever hazard is in front of the vehicle. In fact, the Car Care Council says that brake failure is the leading mechanical cause of highway accidents. Apparently, a lot of drivers do not heed the warning signs of impending brake trouble until it is too late. So, here are a few tips that will help you stop safely and alert you to possible brake problems:
Stopping safely— Although braking systems are much improved over those of just a few years ago and cars stop more quickly than they used to, many drivers haven’t educated themselves to new braking procedures that maximize stopping potential. Many new vehicles come equipped with anti-lock braking systems (ABS). This braking system is designed to prevent skidding and help drivers maintain steering control under hard braking conditions. With ABS, the driver presses the pedal and keeps it depressed until brakes are no longer needed. This allows the ABS to modulate braking pressure and keep the wheels from locking up. This is different from standard braking systems where the driver needs to pump the brake pedal with the foot to keep the wheels from locking up. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? The problem is that many people just aren’t aware whether their vehicle has ABS or not. It’s easy to tell if your vehicle has ABS by looking at the instrument panel when you first turn the key. If a red ABS light flashes, your vehicle has anti-lock brakes. If there is no ABS light, you’ve got regular brakes. Still in doubt? Consult the owner’s manual or contact the dealer, or ask your mechanic.
Pulsating pedal — If the pedal pulsates under your foot as you come to a normal stop, such as at a traffic light, you’ve probably got warped front rotors and need to have them repaired. On vehicles equipped with ABS, you may notice a rapidly pulsating pedal under hard braking. This is normal and is the car’s way of telling you that the ABS system is activated. But if you feel the pulsating during normal slow speed stops, get the brake system looked at by a professional as soon as possible.
Pulling to one side — If the vehicle pulls to one side when the brakes are applied, you may have a sticking front caliper. This can be extremely dangerous during inclement weather driving conditions and should be fixed immediately. Sometimes, though, the pulling is caused by uneven tire pressures, so check the air pressure before deciding the brakes are bad.
Squealing and grinding — Brakes aren’t supposed to make noise as they operate. If you hear a grinding or squealing sound when the pedal is applied, it is time for new brake shoes or pads. Get it done right away. Postponing service is not only unsafe, it could raise the cost of repairs.
Brake warning light — If the brake system warning light comes on while you are driving, it usually means you haven’t released the parking brake fully or have lost hydraulic pressure in one or both of the brake circuits. Check the parking brake first and if the light is still on, get the vehicle to a brake specialist quickly. we recommend slowing down, pulling over to the side, calling a tow truck.
Mushy pedal or no pedal — If the pedal feels mushy or falls to the floor, you’ve got a hydraulic problem that needs immediate attention. Don’t drive the vehicle. Call a tow truck and get the vehicle to a brake specialist immediately.
Brake maintenance — Except for occasionally having the brakes professionally serviced, brakes systems don’t really need much attention from the consumer. All you really need to do is check the see-through brake fluid reservoir to make sure fluid is at the proper level and top up with the correct type of brake fluid as needed. Your owner’s manual, car dealer, mechanic, or auto parts professional can tell you which type of fluid your vehicle use