Know Your Brakes

October 25, 2016

Regularly check your brakes - especially before the winter.Let’s talk brakes.

Because being able to stop your car is important. 

Because it’s almost winter 

Because, for us here in New England, winter means snow. And ice. And black ice (that tricky devil).

Did you know that the stopping distance required on ice at 0°F is twice the amount required at 32°F?

Or that tire pressure drops by about 1 pound per 10° of temperature?

But who’s thinking about numbers when you’re sliding uncontrollably toward the nearest tree, car, or guard rail. You’re more likely thinking about whether you’re buckled in (which you should be), which direction you’re supposed to turn the wheel (INTO the slide), and when you last updated your will.

It’s also when you hope that your brakes are up to par. Your brake system is undeniably your vehicle’s most important safety system. 

So . . .

  • Make sure your brakes are in good shape.
  • Know your brakes. 
  • Know how to use your brakes in winter conditions.

Get the Best Brakes

Brake systems are designed for a specific combination of rotor/drum and pad/shoe. The only way to ensure that you have the best fit for your vehicle is to buy genuine OEM brake parts. 

If you replace OEM brake pads with aftermarket pads, you may find the pads don’t last as long, they make noise, or they leave large amounts of brake dust on your wheels. If you replace OEM rotors with cheap aftermarket rotors, you may experience brake fade, vibrations during heavy braking, or premature pad wear.

Don't compromise your safety or your vehicle's performance to save a few bucks on brake pads. We've got the best brake pads and parts available for your vehicle, and we sell them at a healthy discount to make them as affordable as possible. Just order online and you'll have your new pads/parts in a few days.

Shop for brake parts now

And remember, sometimes slow and steady DOES win the race. Especially if driving conditions are hazardous or the traction between your vehicle’s tires and the road is at all compromised (and, yes, even just rain reduces traction). 

If You Need To Slow Down Quickly

AAA recommends that if you have anti-lock brakes (ABS) and need to slow down quickly, to press hard on the pedal.

You’ll more than likely feel a vibration as the wheels lock momentarily and the brake pedal vibrates and pulses back against your foot - this is normal. 

Don’t pump the pedal or remove your foot from the brake. Vehicles with anti-lock brakes have a sensor located at  each wheel that detects when the wheel stops turning and starts to skid. As the wheel begins to lock, the anti-lock system relieves the pressure just enough to allow the wheel to turn again. This allows you to steer while slowing the vehicle. Pumping the brake pedal works against the system by providing false information.

If you don’t have anti-lock brakes (no ABS), use what’s called “threshold” braking. Keep your heel on the floorboard and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.

The idea behind threshold (aka limit) braking is to keep the amount of tire slip at the optimal amount. Braking beyond the slipping point causes the tire to slide and reduces the frictional adhesion between the tire and the driving surface.

Threshold braking = heel down. You need to have your heel down, and thus be using your ankle muscles, to maintain the consistent pressure needed to control the brake pedal. If your heel is off the floor, you’re using your thigh muscles instead, which are incapable of finer muscle control.

Keep calm if your front or rear wheels lock up.If You’re Skidding

Let’s be honest. If you’re in a skid with your car (and it wasn’t intentional), it can be terrifying.

Rear-wheel skids and front-wheel skids happen the same way:

  • You apply the brakes so hard that one or more wheels lock.
  • You press hard on the accelerator and spin the drive wheels.
  • You’re traveling too fast on a curve and encounter a slippery surface.

First, stay calm. I know, it’s hard. But staying calm is critical.

Rear-Wheel Skids

Rear-wheel skids are known as “fishtailing” for a reason - your vehicle’s back end slides out either to the left or right. Just remember  - the goal is to regain control of the vehicle. So, if you’re ever in a situation where your rear wheels lose traction and you find yourself and your car oversteering:

  1. Continue to look where you want to go.
  2. Do not slam on the brakes.
  3. Steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go.
  4. Keep steering after the rear wheels stop skidding in order to avoid a rear-wheel skid in the opposite direction.

Front-Wheel Skids

Front-wheel skids are caused by hard braking or acceleration if your vehicle has front-wheel drive. 

Front-wheel drive vehicles tend to do better in harsh conditions because the two front wheels are powered by the engine. But, if your front wheels DO lose traction, you won’t be able to control the steering as well.

That said, to regain control of your front wheels:

  1. Continue to look where you want to go.
  2. Don’t slam on the brakes.
  3. Steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go.
  4. When your front tires regain traction, gently steer your vehicle in the direction you want to go.

Most Importantly . . .  Know Your Brakes

Know if your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS) or not - this will determine which braking method to use if you lose control.

And make sure your brakes are in good condition. This can’t be overstated enough.

Brakes should be inspected on a regular basis by a trusted repair facility that can measure pad and shoe thickness, check for even wear of the pads and shoes, check rotors for run out and hot spots, and check hardware to make sure that it’s working properly and is properly adjusted. They’ll also make sure that the wheel cylinders, brake lines, and brake master cylinder aren’t leaking, inspect calipers for wear, and check the level and condition of the brake fluid.

Remember, OEM brakes and brake parts are the best way to help ensure your vehicle’s optimal performance and your safety. 

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