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Summer is known for bringing extra wear on cars. Now that fall is upon us, it’s time to tend to summer’s effects and prepare vehicles for winter.

Snowy weather takes its toll on cars, especially the brakes. They are arguably the most important part of a car; thus, they deserve extra attention before inclement weather arrives.

Cold Weather’s Effects on Brakes

During winter, water and snow acts as a lubricant, forcing a driver to apply more pressure to effectively stop in the same distance. This creates extra friction, which increases wear and tear on the brakes. It’s important to ensure that brakes—regardless of the type—are as efficient as possible heading into the potentially dangerous driving conditions winter brings.

Braking Systems and Self-Maintenance

Drum brakes require a lower frequency of maintenance due to better corrosion resistance compared to discs; however, they also come with more complexity. When performing self-maintenance on a drum brake, one must reassemble it carefully with its great number of parts. Consequently, drum brakes are more time consuming to work on.

Disc brakes are more efficient and easier to work on. Vehicle owners do not have to remove wheels in order to examine disc brake systems, making them the far superior choice when it comes to self-maintenance.

In order to thoroughly inspect the health of your vehicle’s brakes before winter, we recommend inspecting the following areas for potential degradation: rotors, disc brake pads, linings, and drums.

Tools of the Trade

In order to check a braking system, the following tools are needed:

  • Flashlight or lamp
  • Crank jack or hydraulic lift
  • Wheel blocks
  • Micrometer
  • Impact wrench or lug wrench (depending on your car)

Rotors

Amount of Time: 20-25 minutes

It’s not possible to evaluate how much life is left on a brake rotor simply by looking at it, so it’s necessary to remove the wheel. This gives you a clear view of the rotor in order to measure the thickness with a micrometer. (Rotor thickness minimums are conveniently cast on the rotor.) In addition to checking the thickness, you’ll also want to look for cracks, grooves, edge lips, heat spots, rust, and warping.

Disc Brake Pads and Linings

Amount of Time: 20-25 minutes

Disc brake pads are fairly easy to evaluate since wheels do not need to be removed. Shine a light through the inspection hole in your wheel. If there is less than ⅛” thickness (about the height of two stacked pennies) remaining on the pads, they need to be replaced. If the brake lining is worn down to the thickness of the steel backing plate, the disc probably needs to be reground as well.

Drums

Amount of Time: 40-45 minutes

Begin by removing the wheel and getting access to the drum. Using a micrometer, measure the inside of the drum several times. (If there are grooves present, place the measuring tool into the deepest part of the grooves.) Compare the highest number retrieved to the maximum diameter stamped on the outside of the drum. Drums that aren’t worn past legal tolerances (0.060 of an inch) can most likely be reground rather than replaced.

Knowing the health of your vehicle before winter is crucial. By performing simple self-maintenance on your brakes, you are making your car safer to drive and promoting a longer, healthier life for it. Have other questions we might be able to answer? Check out our FAQ page.