How car brake maintenance keeps you safe and saves money (Q&A)

Lori Johnston

If your brakes are broke, you could be in for a bad break.

However, being aware of potential problems with brakes and tires and addressing those issues could help you avoid unnecessary dangers.

Pam Oakes, owner of Pam’s Motor City Tire and Auto Center in Fort Myers, Fla., frequently works with vehicle owners who get in trouble on the roads because they didn’t properly maintain their brakes and tires. She is the author of the “Car Care for the Clueless” book series and hosts a “Car Care for the Clueless” radio show on CBS stations in cities including Detroit, Boston, Seattle and Pittsburgh.

brake maintenanceOakes, a technician who is certified by the independent nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), discussed brakes and other maintenance tips with

Why drivers should never overlook car brake maintenance

What’s the most important item for vehicle owners to maintain?

The important component is the brakes. Nobody can get hurt if you can’t start the car. If you can’t stop it, people can get hurt or killed. Traffic deaths will happen because you ran into somebody when the brakes didn’t work as designed. It’s nothing to fool with. Brakes can easily be maintained by having an ASE-certified technician take a look.

How often should vehicle owners have their brakes looked at?

Every oil change. Oil change intervals are manufacturer or driver specific (your driver’s manual should note the suggested number of miles between changes).

How are the brakes examined during an oil change?

It’s a real quick peek. You take the wheel off, and the brakes are right there.

The ASE-certified technician will check the brake pad depth. There is a tool that measures the pad depth. Brake fluid condition should be checked during an oil change, along with other components and fluid levels. There is an electronic device that is inserted into the brake fluid to check for moisture -- the biggest enemy.

Some drivers may not have brakes looked at regularly because they can’t afford repairs. What would you say to those drivers?

Nobody likes to spend money on their car. They’re rather go out to eat, to the movies, play miniature golf. But people forget their vehicle takes them to those activities, to work and to soccer practice. It’s an extra family member. You have to be responsible and maintain it. You always should have a budget for your vehicle. By not maintaining it, you are setting yourself up for an accident.

It could be devastating (if an accident occurs). It could be one of your loved ones. It could be somebody else’s loved one. The consequences should outweigh the fear of the price you’re going to pay.

If the brakes are noisy, what does that mean?

It could be a series of things. Sometimes people get squeaky brakes in the morning because they park outside at night. If sprinkler water hits the brake material through the rim, you will get some noise.  Water oxidizes metal. The oxidation contact with the brake pad can emit a noise. Also, for those who park their vehicles in the garage, pool chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides will cause metal components all over your vehicle to oxidize. This, too, can make a “squeaking” when braking. I tell my customers to store those chemicals in a locked Rubbermaid box in their backyard. Not only does it prevent oxidation on garaged cars, but it will stop you from breathing those same fumes inside the house.  

What other vehicle components should be carefully watched for wear?

Tires. Check your tire tread on a regular basis. When you pull up to the pump to get fuel, turn your steering away from the pump (to see the tire tread). If you fill up on the right, turn the wheel to the left. When you get out of your vehicle, go around to the front first and visually check your tire tread condition. Does (the depth of the tread) look uniform across? If so, don't worry. Does the tread look “thinner” on one side more than the other? If so, have the alignment checked. This will help you save tires. You’re not buying tires more often than needed if you keep your vehicle in proper alignment.

What maintenance mistake should young drivers avoid?

If the car starts doing something that’s not normal to you, don’t wait. (If you get in an accident), the insurer will look to see if you’ve been maintaining that car. Your insurance cost could rise because you haven’t properly maintained your car. 

Free Insurance Quotes