Brake Safety Part 5: What to Look For When Buying Brake Pads

closeup of brake disc mounted on car

When it’s time to change your brakes, you might ask yourself, there are many factors to consider.  What types of breaks should you buy? What are the brands you can trust?

Unlike foods, there are no content labels for brake pads. The formulas for brake pads are highly-guarded secrets and vary even within a single brand depending on the use of the pad. For example, a truck may need more medal than smaller cars that can use organic pads just as effectively. A particular manufacturer may offer a number of different pads for the same type of vehicle, but it is not always clear which is best. Sometimes the most expensive is not the safest.

Consider Your Normal Load and Driving Situation

Normal, certified pads should be sufficient for regular driving.  You should consider upgraded pads if you tow (boat, trailer, etc.), carry heavy loads (including passengers) or travel regularly on roads with steep grades.

Types of Brakes

There are 3 different types brakes:


These types of brakes began to be used when asbestos became a problem. They are composed of materials like rubber, glass, carbon, fiber and many more.  These are affordable and quiet but they don’t last long as compared to other types of brakes.


These brakes are made of iron, copper, steel, or other metals with graphite lubricants. These perform better than organic brakes and do a good job of drawing heat away, but they are more expensive and noisier than organic brakes.


Ceramic brakes are the newest commonly-used pad. They are made of hardened ceramic material that is combined with copper fibers. They last the longest, and they are quiet, but they don’t perform as well as the semi-metallic in colder climates. They are also the most expensive among the types of brakes.

What Brand to Use

If possible, go with trusted name brands. Sometimes, the cheap ones are not always the best. Affordability may be a factor, but keep in mind that choosing the right brake pads could save your car and your life. Your mechanic or the representative at the auto parts store should be able to explain the difference in the brands and may be able to tell you the best for your car.

Check the Warranty

Some brakes offer them, others don’t. If they do not, some retailers offer warranty programs. You will also find lifetime replacement policies with some brands. While considering price, take into account the warranty info as well.

Check the Certification

Check for Certification. Look for D3EA (Differential Effectiveness Analyisis) and BEEP (Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedures) Certifications. Make sure they reach a certain minimum Standard.


Brake Safety Part 4: How to Know When to Change Your Brakes

closeup of brake disc mounted on car

If you have ever pressed the brake pedal and the car did not begin slowing down, you know the sinking feeling you get in your stomach as you begin pumping the brakes. By taking a few steps periodically to check your brakes and paying attention to warning signs, you can avoid the cost in time and money from an accident as well as ensure the safety of others.

Here is a short-list of common signs that it may be time to change the brakes.

Strange Sounds

Listen for sounds that are out of the ordinary.  One that you need to recognize is your brake pad’s wear indicator.  Your brake pad has a small metal piece that will produce a high-pitched sound when it is time to replace the brakes.  Sometimes, it can almost sound like a bird chirping.  If you hear this sound, it’s time to check the brakes.

Squeaks, squeals and grinding are also sounds that you may hear from your brakes.  If you hear a grinding noice, your brake pads may be completely worn off.  If so, there is a good chance your rotors are being damaged.

Visual Check

Watch your warning lights on your dashboard for indicators that your brake fluid is low or that there is an issue with the braking system.  However, be sure to visually check the brake pads themselves.

If you know what to look for, you can see when brake pads need changing. The pad will appear thin.  If you are not sure, go to a car tech who will recognize not only how the brake should appear but also will have an instrument to measure your brakes for wear.

Pulling to the Right or Left

If your car seems to be pulling to the left or right while driving — especially if it happens more strongly when you press the brake pedal — check your brakes. One of the brakes could be sticking. If so, the brakes will wear down more quickly and they could damage the rotor.  (Think more expensive fix!)  Pulling doesn’t always mean it is a brake problem.  It could be poor alignment, a suspension problem, or even worn/unevenly inflated tires.


Feeling a pulse or vibration in the brake pedal when braking is NOT normal.  It could be signal of a warped rotor.  A warped rotor is a sign that something has been wrong for some time.  You should notice other signs well before this happens, but if you feel a vibration, get your car checked as soon as possible.

Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

If you care for your vehicle properly, you probably change the oil regularly.  While you (or your mechanic) are working on the car, make use of the time to check the thickness brake pads, inspect the rotors for grooves caused by the pads, and look closely at brake lines for any leaks. (There should not be even a drop of brake fluid anywhere near the wheel.)

If it is time to change your brakes, you should now how to choose appropriate brakes for your vehicle. The next article will help you know what to look for.


Brake Safety Part 3: How to Spot Problems with your Brakes

Brakes are essential for your vehicle.  You use brakes to stop, yield and even change directions when driving.  If they are not working properly,  you may be putting your family and yourself at risk not to mention the cost of an accident or insurance claim.  That’s why it is very important to have a regular car maintenance check-up which includes making sure that your brakes are in fine working order.

Know the Signs of Brake Problems

Brake problems are a common cause of vehicular accidents.  By knowing the early signs of brake problems, you can  avoid possible accidents and their consequences.

Listen for Strange Sounds

When you tap on your brakes, listen for any strange or out-of-the-ordinary sounds.  These sounds could be a sign of brake problems.

Pay Attention to Stopping Power

When you press the brake pedal, you should be able to stop quickly.  If it takes longer than normal for your vehicle to come to a complete stop, you might have a brake issue.

Look at Your Dashboard

A light on your dashboard may turn on if you have brake issues. This brings up two good points. First, the lights on your dashboard depend on sensors on your car. If those sensors are not working properly, a light may not come on. Therefore, you should not depend on your dashboard light as the sole notification of brake issues.

Second, lights on the dashboard are usually icons — small pictures meant to communicate something to you.  Pull out your user manual and learn what the lights mean.  It will help you with other car systems in addition to your brakes.

Notice Car Behavior

Remember all those parts of the braking system from the last post? If your vehicle drags to the right or left when you stop the car, there is a good chance you have a problem in one of those systems.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Brakes are not Working Properly

Cars with brake problems should not be driven and should be brought to a vehicle mechanic for proper diagnosis and repair. However, every driver has a responsibility to check their car regularly and keep it in good condition. Knowing when to change your brakes can help stop problems before they start.


Brake Safety Part 2: How Brakes Work

closeup of brake disc mounted on car

We all know what brakes do–they stop the vehicle. What you may not realize is that knowing a little bit about how the brakes actually work will help you understand how important it is to maintain your brakes.

The amount of force that you apply to the brake pedal is not actually enough to stop the car.  Brakes use hydraulics which are a system of fluid-filled pipes that multiply force and move it from one place to another.  Here’s what happens when you press the brake pedal.

  1. You push the brake pedal.
  2. The brake pedal pushes as class 2 lever that increases your pushing force.
  3. The level pushes a piston into a narrow cylinder full of hydraulic brake fluid which squeezes the fluid out of the end.
  4. The brake fluid squirts down a long, thin pipe until it reaches another cylinder at the wheel which is much wider.
  5. The fluid pushes a piston in that wider cylinder with greatly increased force.
  6. The piston pushes the brake pad bringing the pad into contact with the brake disc which generates friction (and head).
  7. The friction slows down the outer wheel and tire, stopping the car.

All this happens with a simple push on the brake pedal.  All the different parts of maintaining your brakes are to help keep the above process happening.

In the next article, you will learn about how to tell if there is a problem in the brake system.


Brake Safety Part 1: A Short History of Brakes

closeup of brake disc mounted on car

Most people don’t even think about brakes on their vehicle except when they need to be changed but consider how necessary brakes are in your life.  Your brakes help you and/or your family arrive safely at your destination. They also help you avoid the cost of accidents and claims on your insurance.  So this month, let’s take a look at:

A Short History of Brakes

We all know that brakes help you stop the car. However, do you really understand how they work? Brakes use a system of fluid-filled pipes that multiply force and move it from one place to another, but this system has a history.

Late 1800’s – 1940’s

Years ago when wheels were steel (think late 1800’s), brakes were a block of wood with a lever to hold it against the wheel. Drum brakes came out with the emergence of rubber tire. By the 1920’s hydraulics were added to a four-wheel braking system that used fluids to transfer force placed on a pedal ultimate to the brake shoes.

1950’s – Today

Drum brakes had been very popular, but because of their inadequate heat distribution, disc brakes began to be used. (You might find it interesting that though disc brakes were patented in the early 1900’s, they were not predominantly used until the 1950’s.) The problem were that disc brakes required great effort by the driver to press the brake pedal hard enough to easily stop the car. For this reason, they were dropped for a short time; however, power brakes were introduced in the 1960’s so that drivers did not have to apply as much force to the brake pedal.


Brakes are evolving much more slowly today. New technologies have emerged to aid the the same types of brakes.  We now have ABS,  electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist as well as other systems to help braking be as effective and safe as possible.  Even so, our modern-day brakes are still based on the same designs from the early 1900s.


Brake Safety:

What is ABS and What It Does for You

emergency braking car on wet road

When you are considering which car to purchase, you should factor in ABS.  Many people don’t know that ABS (anti-lock braking system) makes a difference:

  • Since ABS, there has been a 35% decrease in frontal collisions on wet roads.
  • There has been a 9% decrease in frontal impacts on dry roads.
  • In controlled test conditions, 58% of drivers without ABS strayed from their intended path after braking and only 24% of drivers with ABS did the same.

As you can see, ABS is a very good feature to have.  It comes as a standard feature on many cars, but sometimes it is an add-on. As you look at cars, think of ABS like an umbrella. It’s better to have one and not need it rather than need it and not have it.

You might have heard someone say, “I pushed the brake pedal, and they locked up!” When your wheels lock up, you skid, you can hear the screech of the tires and often you see smoke and/or skid marks on the pavement.  Skidding isn’t good, but it is especially dangerous in rain, snow or ice. When it happens, you are at serious risk for losing control of the car and having an accident.

To “unlock” your wheels, you need to lessen the pressure on the brakes until the wheels start spinning again.  If you drive a car without ABS, instead of pressing on the brake and holding it, you need to apply pressure until just before the wheels would lock up.  If the wheels lock up or you are trying to keep them from doing so, you lessen pressure on the brake and then apply it once again (which is called “feathering”).  In the midst of bad weather or bad drivers around you, it’s not always easy to do.

That’s where ABS comes in.  ABS is designed to keep your wheels from locking up when you press the brakes.  With ABS, a computer will handle all that for you using wheel speed sensors, hydraulic units and electronic control unit. All these combined make up an ABS.

ABS is very useful in bad weather or during an emergency when you need to suddenly stop your car. It takes care of feathering your brakes so your wheels don’t lock up. (The ABS use sensors to monitor your brakes and keep them from locking at a sudden braking.) As a result, you maintain better control of your car in order to avoid a wreck.