When behind the wheel, your safety depends on the proper functioning of your brakes.
It’s important to understand, however, that critical brake components deteriorate with time. Two items that require regular inspection are the brake pads and the brake fluid.
Brake pads wear down due to friction and usually need to be replaced about every 30,000 miles or when there’s one-eighth or less of the pad lining remaining. When brake pads are nearing the end of their lifespan they let you know by emitting a high-pitched screeching noise as you brake.
Over time, brake fluid absorbs moisture and contaminants that make it less effective. It should be replaced about every two years or every 20,000 miles. However, recommendations vary by manufacturer (check your owner’s manual).
Leaks can sometimes occur but it’s uncommon that your car’s brake fluid levels will suddenly drop. The most obvious sign of a leak is a puddle under your car that has the consistency of vegetable oil. Your dashboard warning light coming on is another clear indication. Generally, a leak will also change the feel of your brake pedals—they’ll feel squishy or spongy when you pump on them.
Verify that your brake fluid levels are in order by checking the brake fluid reservoir under your hood. Needless to say, a leak requires immediate attention.
While these are the two parts of the brake system that typically require the most attention, issues with other parts (the rotors, calipers, brake shoes, etc.) can certainly arise. Some signs of these other types of brake problems are grinding, clunking noises and vibrations when braking. If you notice these things, get your car inspected ASAP!