How to Check Brakes on a Car


The brakes are arguably one of the most vital safety systems in a vehicle. A routine inspection of this component not only guarantees your safety but also that of others on the road. As a driver, it’s imperative to be cognizant of the state of your brakes, ensuring their peak functionality at all times. By the end of this guide, you will possess a clear understanding of when, where, and how to meticulously inspect your vehicle’s brakes. So, let’s drive right into it, shall we?

I. The Importance of Checking Brakes Regularly

“Safety doesn’t happen by accident.” This aphorism especially rings true when it comes to vehicular safety. Frequent brake inspections act as your first line of defense against potential accidents. But why, you may wonder, is this regular check-up so pivotal?

a. Safety Implications of Neglected Brakes:

Imagine driving on a bustling highway. The car in front of you suddenly halts, and you frantically push down on your brake pedal, only to feel a spongy response or, worse, no response at all. Terrifying, isn’t it? Compromised brakes can drastically increase your stopping distance, or even fail entirely, rendering accidents not a possibility but an inevitability. Regular inspections help preempt these life-threatening situations, ensuring the brakes respond efficiently when called upon.

To illustrate, let’s consider John, a diligent driver who decided to ignore a recurring squeaky noise from his brakes. Brushing it off as ‘probably nothing serious,’ he continued to drive. One evening, as a child unexpectedly darted in front of his car, John’s brakes faltered, taking a life-changing second longer to respond. That moment transformed John’s perspective forever, making him an advocate for regular brake maintenance.

b. Economic Considerations: Early Detection Can Prevent Costly Repairs:

Beyond the grave safety risks, there’s a fiscal argument for consistent brake inspections. Identifying and addressing minor wear and tear before they escalate into severe issues can save you significant repair costs.

For instance, replacing worn-out brake pads timely can prevent the metal of the calipers from grinding against the rotors – a situation that demands a far more expensive fix. Think of it as akin to seeing a doctor for a regular check-up rather than waiting for a small ailment to burgeon into a major health crisis.

II. Recognizing the Warning Signs

Before diving into the practicalities of brake inspection, it’s crucial to recognize the signs that could hint at potential brake issues. Much like the body displays symptoms when unwell, your vehicle communicates through various signals. Tuning into these signs could be the difference between a safe journey and a risky one.

a. Squeaking or Grinding Noises:

Ever heard a high-pitched squeal when you applied brakes? This isn’t just an annoying sound but a dire warning. Brake pads come equipped with a small piece called the “indicator.” When your pads wear down to a certain limit, this indicator emits that unmistakable squealing sound. Ignore this, and you might soon hear a grinding noise, signifying metal-on-metal contact. And as any seasoned driver will tell you, that’s the point of no return.

b. Reduced Responsiveness or Brake Pedal “Sinks”:

Remember Julia, the lady with the silver sedan? Her harrowing experience on a wet day taught her the importance of brake responsiveness. While trying to stop at a light, she felt her brake pedal practically sink to the floor, giving her car a delayed reaction. A brake fluid leak was the culprit. Any noticeable delay between pressing the brake pedal and the car slowing down is a critical sign.

c. Car Pulling to One Side When Braking:

A rather subtle yet significant sign. If your car sways to one side while braking, it could be indicative of brake lining wear, a malfunctioning brake fluid distribution, or debris in the brake fluid.

d. Vibrations or Pulsations When Pressing on the Brake Pedal:

A warped rotor can lead to this unsettling sensation. If you’ve ever felt like you’re pressing down on a washing machine’s active spin cycle when applying brakes, it’s time for an inspection.

e. Warning Lights Activated on the Dashboard:

Modern cars come equipped with dashboard lights explicitly dedicated to brake warnings. If this light illuminates, it’s your car’s unambiguous way of screaming for attention.

III. When to Check Your Brakes

Understanding the signs is half the battle. But when exactly should you conduct these crucial checks?

a. Regular Maintenance Schedules:

Adopt a proactive approach. Integrate brake inspections into your routine car maintenance schedule. Just like you wouldn’t skip an oil change, don’t overlook the brakes. As a general guideline, every 10,000 miles warrants a brake check.

b. Situational Checks:

Certain driving conditions can be particularly taxing on your brakes. Prolonged downhill drives, frequently navigating stop-and-go traffic, or those occasional but inevitable hard stops – these can all accelerate brake wear. After such episodes, a quick brake check isn’t just recommended; it’s paramount.

IV. Where to Check Your Brakes

The braking system, while seemingly straightforward, is an intricate symphony of components working in tandem. Familiarizing oneself with its elements not only empowers you with knowledge but also ensures thorough checks.

a. Brake Pads and Shoes:

Located in the wheel cylinder, these are often the first point of contact. Ideally, a brake pad should be at least 1/4th of an inch thick. Any less, and it’s time for replacements. Remember Paul from down the street with his classic convertible? He often boasted about the ease of manually checking the pads through the spaces between the wheel’s spokes.

b. Rotors or Discs:

These flat, shiny discs are where the brake pads clamp down to stop the wheels. While a smooth rotor is a happy rotor, grooves or rough spots can spell trouble. Sarah, an avid road-tripper, often shared tales of how she got familiar with rotors after a mountainous escapade resulted in uneven wear.

c. Brake Fluid:

This is the unsung hero of the braking system. When you press the brake pedal, this fluid activates the brake pads, which then clamp on the rotors to halt your vehicle. Ideally, the brake fluid reservoir should be two-thirds full. If you ever find it low, that’s a clear indication of a possible leak or that the brake pads are worn out.

V. How to Check the Brakes Yourself

Safety and efficiency are paramount, so let’s delve into the steps to perform a comprehensive brake check.

a. Safety First:

Before diving in, ensure your car is on a level surface. Engage the parking brake. It might seem elementary, but Alex, a seasoned mechanic, always recounts a tale of a car that rolled back during a brake check, emphasizing the importance of this simple step.

b. Gather Necessary Tools and Protective Equipment:

Gloves to protect your hands, a flashlight for better visibility, and if you plan to remove the tire, a jack and lug wrench are essential.

c. Remove the Tire (if needed):

Taking off the tire can provide an unobstructed view of the entire brake system. Always remember to loosen the lug nuts before jacking up the car, a lesson many, including our good friend Mike, learned the hard way.

d. Examine the Brake Pads:

With the tire removed, you’ll have a clear view of the brake pads. Remember the 1/4th inch rule? Ensure the pads have this minimum thickness.

e. Inspect the Rotor’s Surface:

Feel the rotor’s surface. It should be relatively smooth. Any grooves or rough patches can indicate wear and tear.

f. Check Brake Fluid Levels and Quality:

The fluid should be clear. If it appears dark or muddy, it’s a sign that it needs changing.

g. Look for Signs of Brake Fluid Leakage:

Any wet spots around the brake components could indicate a leak, which demands immediate attention.

VI. The Role of Professional Mechanics in Brake Inspection

While the DIY spirit is commendable and can often be sufficient for basic brake checks, there are intricacies in the braking system that require a seasoned eye and specialized equipment. Leveraging professional expertise can sometimes be the difference between identifying a looming problem and overlooking it.

a. Advanced Diagnostic Tools:

Remember Lisa, the car enthusiast with her sleek sports car? She often narrated how a professional mechanic detected a minute imbalance in her brake system using advanced diagnostic tools, something she might have overlooked in a home inspection. Such tools can accurately measure rotor thickness, brake pad wear, and fluid quality, ensuring nothing escapes attention.

b. Expertise & Experience:

While the signs of wear and tear can be evident, the underlying causes might be multifaceted. Sometimes, brake issues might be symptomatic of larger underlying problems. Mechanics, with their years of experience, can discern patterns and diagnose issues that might elude the untrained eye.

c. Comprehensive Brake Fluid Check:

Beyond just checking the fluid level and quality, mechanics can also assess the brake fluid’s boiling point. Over time, water can contaminate the brake fluid, lowering its boiling point, which can compromise brake performance, especially during demanding situations.

d. Calibration & Adjustments:

Post-inspection, if discrepancies are detected, mechanics can not only replace faulty parts but also calibrate the braking system to ensure optimal performance. Whether it’s adjusting the brake pad’s position or balancing the brake fluid distribution, these tweaks can enhance your car’s safety quotient.


The narrative of brake inspection is neither of fear nor of mere obligation. It’s about embracing responsibility. It’s about recognizing that every time you’re on the road, the safety of not just yourself, but of everyone around you, is quite literally in your hands (or feet). Whether you choose the DIY route or rely on professional assistance, regular brake checks are non-negotiable.

In the words of an old mechanic, George, who’s seen cars evolve over the last four decades, “If you take care of your brakes, they’ll take care of you.” It’s a sentiment that every driver, novice or veteran, should carry with them every time they turn the ignition.


  • Christian Eriksen

    Christian Eriksen is a talented and passionate automotive expert. With a deep interest in vehicles and engines, he has become a reputable source of information in writing news about the auto industry. Christian is not only a talented journalist but also a car enthusiast, always infusing his passion into every line of news and articles. With patience and in-depth knowledge of new brands, models, and trends in the automotive industry, Christian Eriksen ensures that his readers are always provided with the latest and most accurate information. He has given the automotive enthusiast community a detailed look at the world of cars, and helped build a common understanding and passion for this field. With his enthusiasm and talent, Christian Eriksen has made an important contribution to promoting the development and progress of the automotive industry.