How and When to Care for Your Brakes

August 12th, 2022 by

A shoe is shown depressing a brake pedal.

You should always have brake service done immediately if something seems wrong with them; otherwise, you should have service performed about every 12 months or 15,000 miles, whichever comes first. That being said, this is just a general rule, and there are many different factors that you should keep in mind when it comes to keeping your brakes in good shape. Here at Thomas Nissan of Joliet, we’re proud to offer brake service near you, and we can help you with a wide range of maintenance issues and repairs to ensure you keep getting the most from your vehicle for many miles to come.

To help you have a good sense of what you should know, we’re going to review some of the basics of how your brakes work and what you need to keep in mind regarding service for them. Just remember that things might be a bit different for your specific vehicle, so you should check your owner’s manual for more information about your car, truck, or SUV. And, as we said, if your brakes feel or sound strange, you should bring your vehicle in to have it checked right away in order to avoid a dangerous collision.

How Your Vehicle’s Brakes Work

While we’re not going to go too in-depth about how the brakes in your vehicle function, it’s worth having a basic understanding of some of the simpler aspects of them. This will make it easier to understand what might be wrong if something feels off about your brakes and to know what you’re told by a service professional whenever you need work done. Just keep in mind that there are going to be specific things you should know about your vehicle, which you can learn by checking your owner’s manual.

Essentially, you have either disc brakes or drum brakes on your vehicle, though a lot of cars have both. Drum brakes are less expensive, but disc brakes work better. At the very least, most modern vehicles have disc brakes on the front wheels because they have to work harder when you hit the brakes, and the weight of your vehicle shifts forward. A lot of trucks and SUVs have disc brakes on all four wheels in order to help provide you with plenty of stopping power.

No matter which type you have, they work in a similar way. When you press the brake pedal, you are activating a hydraulic system with brake fluid that runs throughout tubes from the front end of your vehicle to each of the wheels. The hydraulic system helps amplify the amount of force you’re using: you press relatively lightly on the brake pedal, but much more force is applied to each wheel thanks to hydraulic pressure. When people talk about a “brake line,” this is what they mean (when the hero of a movie realizes the villain has “cut the brakes,” they’re talking about the brake line).

At one end of this brake system is your foot on the pedal; at the other end are disc or drum brakes that slow your vehicle down. In addition to your wheels, which are wrapped in tires on the road, you also have a disc or drum that spins along with your wheel while you drive. When you apply the brakes, pads clamp down on the disc to slow it to a stop, or shoes press against the drum to slow it to a stop. In both situations, no force is applied directly to the wheels––the drum or disc is slowed, which slows the wheels, and you stop safely. In both cases, the brake pads or shoes do a lot of work and take a ton of abuse every day.

A mechanic is shown performing a brake service near you.

Important Brake Service

When someone says “brake service,” they’re generally referring to a few different things. The most common type of service that you should have done regularly is an inspection of the brakes on your vehicle. This is done by lifting your car up so the technician or mechanic can get a good look at the brake line and cables, as well as the disc and pads or drum and shoes. This type of inspection is often done along with an oil change or wheel alignment since your vehicle is already lifted, and it’s easy to do multiple things at once.

If anything is found to be damaged, worn down, or otherwise compromised during an inspection, then the mechanic will recommend replacing or repairing the item. In general, when it comes to brakes, you’re going to be looking at a replacement rather than anything being repaired. Usually, the brake pads or shoes will need to be replaced. They’re made to take massive, daily abuse, but they wear down over time, and your brakes will be less responsive as a result. If your brake line is damaged at all, then it might be able to be patched, or something may need to be replaced.

The other major type of brake service that you’ll need to have done sometimes is for your brake fluid to be replaced. As we saw above, the fluid is essential for the hydraulic system to work properly, letting you press the pedal and get immediate results. If your brakes start to feel soft when you press the pedal, this often means that you need to replace your brake fluid. This is typically done by completely flushing the brake line and filling it with fresh fluid that is in great condition to keep your brakes working well.

When to Have Brake Service Done

In addition to having work done any time you feel or hear something wrong with your brakes, you should also have brake service done at certain set intervals. Squeaky brakes when wet are pretty common, but if they squeak when dry, then you may have an issue. To know exactly when you should have service done, check your owner’s manual to find your maintenance or service schedule and see what it says. While it may vary somewhat from one vehicle to the next, we can still take a look at a common service interval for brake work. In this case, as an example, let’s consider the schedule for a 2020 Nissan Pathfinder:

Brake Lines and Cables – Inspect/replace as needed every 12 months/15,000 miles
Brake Pads and Rotors – Inspect/replace as needed every 12 months/15,000 miles
Brake Fluid – Replace every 24 months/30,000 miles

For the Pathfinder, other maintenance needs every 12 months/15,000 miles include oil and oil filter changes, as well as an in-cabin air filter replacement. This is why it’s easy to do multiple types of service at once since your vehicle is already up for an oil change, and it saves you time and hassle later. One very important note about your brakes, however, is that they often fall under a category of service that should be done more frequently for “severe driving conditions.” For the auto industry, this means if you make repeated short trips of less than five miles, or less than 10 miles in temperatures below freezing, drive in stop-and-go traffic in hot weather, have your vehicle idling frequently, or drive in dusty or muddy conditions.

If you fall into any of these categories, such as using your car as a delivery driver or freelance using a ride-sharing service where you make frequent stops, then you’ll need to have your vehicle serviced more often. Using the above example, a 2020 Pathfinder used in “severe operating conditions” should have the brake pads and rotors inspected every 6 months/5,000 miles, and the brake fluid changed every 12 months/10,000 miles.

A mechanic is shown performing a brake service.

Keeping Up With Your Brake Service Is Essential

Brakes are one of the most important parts of your vehicle to have working correctly. Driving is hard on your vehicle, so be sure to keep these schedules in mind and bring your car to us anytime you need service for your brakes, new tires, or anything else. We’ll help you stay safe while on the road.