Biggest Brake Problems Every South African Needs to Know About

Being a bit of a “speed-freak” is all fair and well (when driving within the limitations of the law, of course), but slowing down that speeding mass you’re paying huge monthly installments on is much more important. Any driver’s safety depends on consistent, reliable deceleration, or in other words, working brakes. This component helps to keep your car pointed and moving – or not moving – in the right direction.

Like any car component, brakes slowly wear out as the km’s climb, eventually getting to the point where they become a safety hazard. To avoid dangerous situations behind the wheel, you should always be on the lookout for these tell-tale signs of brake failure.

We list the most common brake-related problems you should be on the lookout for to avoid dangerous and compromising situations on our roads.

Common Brake Problems

  • Worn-out brake pads: This is likely to cause the braking distance to increase and may cause a metal-to-metal grinding on the disc surfaces. If a brake pad gets cracks in its surface – caused from overheating the pad – then they will squeak or squeal when stopping. If the pads and discs become overheated, your stopping distance will be increased. Once you hear a squealing sound on a regular basis, it’s time to replace the brake pads.
  • Warped or damaged brake discs: The brake rotor surface needs to be flat to keep contact with the brake pads. If the brake disc surface is warped from heat damage it will cause the brake pedal to pulsate up and down and the vehicle to jerk when stopping. If a disc is overheated, its surface will be discoloured, and this hardens the surface and the brake pads will not be able to grip them. This will cause a vehicle to delay stopping times – sometimes drastically which may lead to brake failure.
  • Brake fluid leaks: A leak in the braking system is usually a hydraulic issue. If the brake pedal goes to the floor, it can usually be traced back to a leak. A leak in the brake line will result in a loss of brake fluid, and eventually the brake system may fail altogether. Leaks should be addressed immediately, a pool of brake fluid on the garage floor or a low brake pedal are all symptoms of this problem.
  • Sticking calliper: The calliper and calliper brackets hold the brake pads and force them against the rotor to stop the vehicle. Calliper pistons can become stuck in their bore, and when this happens the car will usually pull to one side when the brakes are applied or the pads and rotors will be overheated or worn down too fast. It will also affect performance under acceleration as the brake is sticking. A sticking calliper is more than a nuisance, it can be dangerous and should be repaired immediately
  • Brake fade: If the vehicle is taking longer than normal to stop it is probably due to brake fade. In most cases this is a short-term problem but it can turn into a long-term issue. As an example, driving down a mountain road will heat up the brakes making the pads and rotors less responsive. Once the brakes cool down they should return to normal functionality. As time goes on brake fade can become permanent and then it is time to replace the brake pads and rotors.
  • Smoking brakes: Smoking brakes are a very dangerous situation and condition. Overheated brakes or brakes that are smoking means the brake pads have been burned or something is leaking onto the brakes. If this happens, the pads will develop a glaze, which can severely affect performance. If axle seals are leaking onto the brakes it will ruin the brake pads and rotors.
  • Brake light: If the brake light on the dash illuminates it can indicate a serious issue with the braking system. In most cases it indicates a problem with the hydraulics and the vehicle should be inspected and repaired as soon as possible. It is never safe to drive if the brake light is illuminated. The light also doubles duty to let you know the parking brake is on in some vehicles.
  • Handbrake / emergency brake on: This may seem silly, but it happens more often than you would imagine. It is pretty easy to forget to release the emergency brake, and this will cause performance issues as well as damage to the brake system. If the car seems to be accelerating slowly or you hear a squealing or grinding noise check to make sure the parking brake is not engaged.

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