Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/2/2002 (5350 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Prairie climate is hard on brakes. During the summer, dust and sand wear the brake pads and rotors quickly. The bitter cold of winter causes rubber brake hoses to crack and seals to leak. The moisture of spring and fall causes metal parts to rust and moving parts to seize. Often a driver is not even aware the brake system is not working properly until they are required to make a sudden stop. Then it may be too late!
Inspecting the brake system is an easy task. Just stop in at almost any repair shop. Many offer a brake inspection service free or at very low cost. They know that some cars need brake work, so providing free inspections brings the work in and they make some money. There are clear specifications for the wear allowable on brake pads, brake shoes, rotors and drums. If they want to sell you some work, ask for the measurements on your parts and the specifications. If they can't tell you, go elsewhere.
You can do the brake inspection yourself, but removing all the wheels to look at the brakes is not my idea of a fun way to spend a weekend, so why not leave this part to a repair shop equipped with a hoist. If the vehicle does need work, then you can decide if you want to do it yourself or have a repair shop complete it. Remember that the brake system is the most important safety system on your vehicle. If you don't have the knowledge to ensure a complete repair, leave it to the professionals.
During a brake inspection, a technician will check the thickness of the brake linings. The linings are the friction materials that press against the rotor or drum to stop the car. The linings should have a minimum thickness of one millimetre above any metal backing or rivets. This is about the thickness of a dime. Replace the linings before any metal shows through. Metal rubbing on the brake rotors or drums will quickly destroy them in only a few kilometres.
Technicians also check for wear or grooves in the rotors and drums. If the machined surfaces are smooth, with only small grooves, they can be reused. Rough or worn surfaces must be remachined. This is commonly called "turning" the rotors or drums. Only a specified amount can be machined from these parts before law requires them to be replaced.
Another part of the inspection involves checking all mounting pads and moving parts for rust or binding. A properly operating brake system not only has to stop the wheel when the brakes are applied, but must also release the wheel when the pedal is released. After releasing the brake pedal, turn each wheel one complete turn. After that, the wheel should turn with little resistance. If a wheel is difficult to turn, there may be seized or binding parts.
Don't forget to look for brake fluid leaks. The rubber hoses connecting each wheel to the rest of the brake hydraulic system should be inspected for cracks, worn spots or bulges. Hoses with any faults should be replaced immediately.
Check for leaks at the brake master cylinder in the engine compartment. Look for wetness or bubbled paint at the bottom and rear of the master cylinder. Brake fluid is a quick paint remover, so bubbled paint indicates a leak.
Don't forget to check the brake fluid level in the master cylinder. If the fluid is low, top it up with new brake fluid.
Don't let your brake system go unnoticed and neglected. A few minutes spent checking your vehicle's brake system can save your life and the lives of others.