Q:

How do you diagnose brake problems?

A:

Quick Answer

Diagnosing brake problems varies widely by the symptoms the brake system is displaying. In general, troubleshooting may take the form of road testing, checking brake fluid, listening for specific noises and testing for specific activity.

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Full Answer

In the case of any unusual brake symptoms including low pedal travel, noise or a brake light indicator in the dash, the first step is always to check the brake fluid level and quality. Low brake fluid may cause unusual pedal travel or cause the brake light indicator to stay on as though the parking brake is set.

If the brake pedal feels spongy or does not maintain pressure when it is depressed, the cause is likely air in the system for the first issue and potentially a defective master cylinder for the second. The first issue is easy to fix, but the second is an unsafe situation that requires a mechanic visit. A bad master cylinder may also cause excessive brake pedal travel. Master cylinders require replacement if defective; they cannot be repaired.

Brakes that grab and pull the car to one side may indicate a bad disc or worn brake pads. Worn brake pads may also make a squealing sound when the brake pedal is depressed. A grinding sound is the second level of wear and means that the metal part of the pad is coming into contact with the disc or drum.

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