Car Brake Maintenance: Step by Step

Educational

Oct 30th, 2019

Car Brake Maintenance: Step by Step

Your car’s braking system is the most critical system when it comes to safety. If you start noticing any of the signs translating to brake pad wear or any other brake-related issue, it’s best to get the brake system checked.

Routine brake maintenance is therefore crucial and should always be done in time to avoid causing damage to the rest of the brake system. Car brake maintenance is not as difficult as it sounds. Once you understand the mechanics of the brake system, you’ll see how easy maintenance is.

How the brake system works

To know how the brake system works, we first have to understand the various components of the system. The brake system comprises of:

  • Master brake cylinder which transfers the force exerted on the brake pedal to each of the car wheels.
  • Brake fluid reservoir which holds the brake fluid
  • Brake lines which act as channels for the brake fluid. They start near the master cylinder and stretch through each of the wheels
  • Brake rotor which appears as a spinning disc, pressed against by the brake pads to stop the car
  • Brake pads which press against the rotor surface to stop the vehicle
  • Calliper which houses the brake pads and moves them according to the action of the interior piston
  • Drum brake assembly which generates friction with the use of brake shoes to stop the car

The brake system operation is simple. Pressing the brake pedal while driving results in the master cylinder pushing the brake fluid into the brake lines. From there, the pressurised fluid flows into the wheel cylinder and activates the brake pad. The brake friction pad, in turn, presses against the rotor and slows the car down.

The hydraulic system multiplies the force that your foot applies on the pedal. If any of the components fail to do its role, the brake system will not be able to stop your car on time. So is the case if any of the parts get damaged. Worst-case scenarios can happen with brake failure. To prevent this from happening routine brake maintenance is necessary. 

Here is the breakdown of a complete brake system maintenance routine.

Before doing anything else, you have to inspect the whole system, including the advanced anti-lock brake components. Once done, you can go ahead and analyse the parts individually. The importance of this inspection is that it will tell you the exact area that is affected and which component to replace or repair.

Car brake maintenance

Tools     

  • Lug wrench
  • New brake pads (in the case of worn-out brake pads)    
  • Jack 
  • Piece of wire   
  • Brake fluid
  • Brake pad grease 
  • Sandpaper

Before starting the routine brake maintenance procedure, let your car rest for about an hour and a half if you've just come from driving. This rest time will ensure that the brake components, such as the calliper, have cooled down. 

Procedure

1. Servicing the disc brakes

  • Park your car on a flat surface. With the lug wrench, loosen the lug nuts off the wheel. It is advisable to loosen the lug nuts before jacking up the car so that the wheel will not be free to spin and the lug nuts will come off effortlessly.
  • At a correct jacking position, jack up your car and secure it using the stands.
  • At this point, the wheel is free. Remove the lug nuts and then slide away or pull the wheel off. Grip the wheel on the top part to keep your arm out of harm's way in case the jack stand fails. 
  • Completing that step will leave the rotor exposed. On the right of the rotor, you will spot the calliper, which houses the brake pads. There are two pads on each wheel, one for each side.
  • You will need to remove the bolts and clips that hold the calliper in place to detach it from the rotor. Be careful not to disturb the brake line from the calliper. Use the piece of wire you've prepared to support the calliper and keep it from weighing down or damaging the brake line.

If there are any glazes on the disc, remove them by rubbing it with sandpaper in a whirling motion.

  • Now, inspect the brake pads for any signs of damage. If you don’t see grooves or if they're nearly gone, it's time to replace the brake pad. The same is true for thinning brake pads (less than ¼ inch thickness) or pads with chipped parts.

When doing this step, use the brake pad grease to lubricate the back of the pads.

  • Callipers typically last for the entire lifetime of a car, but if you find them, you need to replace them. Likewise, when the bolts, clips, and other small parts of the calliper show signs of damage or rusting, they also need to be replaced.
  • Next, check the thickness of the brake rotor and if it has any dent or defect. If it does, you should replace it with a new one. You can tell the minimum thickness of the rotor from the stamp on it. 

2. Servicing the drum brakes

The next part is the drum brake, which is visible once you remove the wheel. Disassemble the drum to access the hidden parts of the drum mounted on the backing plate. 

  • Start by removing the dust cap. Slide off the drum but only after removing the cotter pin and nut.
  • Carefully inspect it. 

Check your car’s manual to determine the specified thickness of the brake shoe liners. Replace them with new ones if any of the front or back brake shoe liners become thinner than recommended.

  • Next, inspect the return springs, which are the parts responsible for returning the brake shoe when you release your foot from the pedal. If they are damaged or rusty, you need to replace them. Otherwise, you can keep them as they are. When removing them, use a pair of brake spring pliers to ease your work.
  • It is always hard to know the amount of wear in the wheel cylinder, so it is a sound practice to change the wheel cylinder every time you perform maintenance. 
  • First, remove the brake line and then proceed with unbolting the cylinder. To do this, remove the bolts, replace the wheel cylinder with a new one, and then bolt it back.
  • Reconnect the brake line as the last step.

3. Inspecting the Hydraulic Brake System

Unlike other brake system components that you find close to the wheel, the hydraulic part is located under the bonnet.

  • Pop up the car bonnet and find the master cylinder which houses the brake fluid.
  • Inspect the outside of the master cylinder for any leakages. Leaks reduce the brake fluid in the system, which in turn reduces the stopping power when you press the pedal.
  • If the brake fluid is not full, fill it up. Be careful not to let any particles fall into the master cylinder while you fill it up. Once done, fit the master cylinder cap back.

Look up your manual to determine how regularly you need to replace the brake fluid.

  • Check your rubber brake lines for any punctures or leaks and metallic lines for rusting. If your brake lines show these early signs of deterioration, replace them right away.

Conclusion

Routine brake maintenance is not a complicated task; still, you need to be careful doing it. Be alert and cautious in both the assembling and disassembling procedures to ensure that you don't cause any damage. Read more about brake systems, including our main article on the different types of braking systems and how to detect worn brake pads. If you need to replace any parts, save time and money by using our auto part finder.

Author: Sam O.