Brake Maintenance: All you really need to know about your brakes

If your brakes fail, it could be fatal. At the least, you’ll be on the hook for some brake repairs and your car will be our of service for a few days.

Regular service is not only the best way to ensure your safety --- its the most cost-effective way to keep your brakes working.

To understand what, exactly, your brakes require from you to keep working properly, you need a brief overview of your braking system.

How the modern braking system works

The brake pedal is mounted on a lever. Your foot applies mechanical force to this lever, which is transferred to the brake booster. The brake booster transfers it to the brake master cylinder, which you can find underneath the brake fluid reservoir in the hood compartment.

The master cylinder is located here, because it needs to draw fluid into the braking system and pressurize it. This sends pressure through your brake lines (which are hydraulic hoses designed for this specific purpose) to the calipers, which are at the wheel.

The calipers then squeeze together. This applies friction to the discs, slowing their rotation. The discs are fixed to the wheels, so that when the discs slow, so does the vehicle.

Wear and tear

As you might guess, this point of friction leads to wear over time. So inside the caliper and disc assembly, you have replaceable parts. The calipers have replaceable pads made of metal or ceramic that are designed to wear over time.

The discs, as well, will deal with some wear. However, with proper driving and maintenance, you won’t ever need to replace or repair your discs. The components you need to be aware of are:

Pedal Assembly

Brake Booster

Brake fluid

Fluid Reservoir & Master Cylinder

Brake lines





All of these components could, theoretically, fail. However, a few of them (typically) require no maintenance at all. This includes the pedal assembly, brake booster, and master cylinder. As far as maintenance goes, here’s what you need to know about each component:

Brake fluid

The fluid is a hydraulic medium that transfers power to the calipers. To function properly, it needs to be kept fresh and at the proper fill level. Its important to use the right fluid (which is typically called out on the cap of your fluid reservoir), which has the desired physical properties.

Keep a bottle of fluid in your trunk, and check your brake fluid at regular intervals, such as when you fuel up. There should be a fill line marked on the side of the reservoir.

The fluid will get dirty over time, and need to be changed. You can go a local mechanic or tire and brake center to have your brake system flushed. There is probably a recommended interval for this specific service; you can see your owner’s manual or call your dealership to find out what it is.

Brake lines

All you really need to know about your brake lines is that they need to be bled, from time to time. They are susceptible to getting air bubbles inside the line, which can mess with the proper functioning of the hydraulic fluid.

Bleeding is a fairly quick and inexpensive service. We recommend doing it or having it done every couple years (when you replace brake pads is a good time).

Brake pads

The pads will wear out over time, and need to be replaced. There is a metal strip inside them, called a wear indicator. It will be exposed to friction with the disc when the pads wear thin and emit a squealing noise. Other signs that your brakes may be running low are a scraping noise, a funny feel to the pedal, or a reduced response when you apply the brakes.


The discs are, technically speaking, a consumable product. However, it takes excessive friction and or heat to wear them out.

Long and/or aggressive braking sessions --- like when you’re driving fast down a mountain and constantly braking, or hauling a heavy load and not giving yourself adequate time to slow down --- can heat up your brake assembly at the wheel.

This can put excessive wear on your pads, and the heat can warp your brake discs. To fix that problem, you’ll have to get them re-surfaced or replaced.

The other thing that can damage your discs is running your pads too long, to the point where metal on metal begins to wear them down and misshape them.

Two ways to save money on your braking system

The first way to save yourself some money is to keep up on maintenance. This will help you avoid the expensive repairs that come with component failure.

The other way is to be easy on your brakes while driving. If you don’t drive aggressively, follow too closely, or put yourself in situations where you have to stop suddenly, you won’t have to brake aggressively. Your pads and discs will last much longer, because 1) you’ll be doing much of your slowing down by coasting, and 2) when you do apply the brakes, they’ll need less pressure/friction to stop the vehicle.

For example, some drivers rush quickly to the next traffic light, even though it’s red. Why not coast gently up to it, and spend less time sitting motionless while you wait for the light to turn green?

Of course, in a busy city, it might be necessary to get quickly through an intersection so that the maximum number of cars can clear the intersection every light cycle. But you can still slow down gently.

Where to get brake service and repairs

You can get service done on your brakes at most auto repair centers, as well as tire and brake centers. If you’re in the Des Moines area, you can bring your vehicle to ABC Repair Center for service on your braking system.

You can schedule an appointment with ABC by phone at (206) 0395-5300, or by filling out a contact form, which you’ll find here.

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