Winter is just about the worst time for your brakes to fail you. Your car is likely equipped with the most advanced braking technology on the market, but that doesn’t change the fact that brakes wear down over time and at some point, you’re going to want them to be checked and maybe even changed out. Having the best brakes means having the safest car, and in slippery, icy weather, you want to be able to rely on your brakes 100%. If you haven’t had your brakes checked in a while or just want to make sure your car is prepared for the upcoming season, here are five signs that your brakes need to be checked.
1. Are your pads worn down? Most Kia vehicles use a disc brake system, not unlike that used on a bicycle. When you depress the brake pedal, pads clamp down on your rotor, creating friction and stopping the progress of the wheel. These pads are integral to the braking system and they are one of the first elements to be worn down (the rotor being the second). The more wear they get, the less effective they are at stopping the motion of the rotor, and therefore at bringing your car to a stop.
But how do you tell if your pads are worn down? The good news is that you can probably tell just by looking at them. If your wheels have hubcaps, take them off and look through the spokes of the wheel itself at your brakes. You can see the metal rotor and the caliper that holds the pads. While you might not be able to actually get a measuring stick in there to see how thick they are, they should be at the very least a quarter of an inch thick. Your thumb is about an inch long, so use it to estimate.
If your pads are any thinner than a quarter of an inch, it’s time to get them in and changed. If you can’t see the rotor, caliper, and pads through the spokes of your wheel, you might need to take the wheel off (in the same way you would if you were changing a tire), to get a good look at the inner workings of your brakes. Use this time to check out your rotor and see if it is still smooth and hardy-looking. If not, it might need a change, too.
2. Your brakes are making noises. We’ve all heard it, that tell-tale squeal of brakes. Whether it happens only when you have to stomp on your brakes or just when you slide to an easy stop, this is the noise of too-thin pads screeching across the rotor. This is one of the number one ways to tell whether or not your brakes need some attention—they’ll ask for it. Next time you are driving around town, turn down the music and listen for that squeal. If you hear it, make an appointment with our service department to get your Kia’s pads looked at.
Another sound to listen for is a loud grinding noise. If you hear a grinding noise when you brake, it means that your pads are completely worn away and the calipers themselves are gripping the rotors. This can be extremely dangerous for you as the driver and for your brake system on the whole.
3. Your car is pulling. Does your car pull to the right or left? Are there certain curves on the drive home where you can just let the car turn itself, but you have to work to keep it straight? This may mean that you are having trouble with your brakes. While you might find it endearing right now that your car seems to have its own agenda and places that it wants to be, it could mean that there is undue friction on one of your rotors.
If there is a caliper stuck against one of your wheels, it can cause the car to lilt to one side. Uneven brake pads is another culprit, as is uneven pressure from the calipers. While pulling doesn’t always mean there is a problem with your pads, it is one of the most common reasons a car drifts from center.
4. Your car is shaking. If you hit the brakes and the car rattles to a stop, this might not mean that you have a problem with your brakes. In fact, if you have to stomp on your brakes to keep from slamming into a car that’s just cut you off, many antilock brake systems will jolt or pulse by their nature.
Antilock brakes rapidly grab and release the rotor in order to prevent a dangerous lock up during an emergency stop, so some pulsing is normal. What isn’t normal, however, is shaking, rattling, or pulsing during a normal stop. This could indicate that your rotor has been warped and needs your attention.
5. Your car is slow to respond to the pedal. If you have to press your pedal all the way to the floor pad before you can feel the brakes engage, you likely have a serious problem, from pads that are worn through, to low brake fluid, to a leak in the fluid system. If you are leaking fluid, you can probably tell by the color and consistency of the oil that leaks onto your driveway (it looks like olive oil).
If your car is too quick to respond to the pedal, you might still have a worn rotor or just low-quality brake fluid. Additionally, if you have to really press for even the slightest amount of traction, it’s possible you have something wrong with the brake lines. If you are having any of these problems, the best plan of action is to contact your Kia service department for maintenance.