Taking care of the safety features in a car, truck or sports utility vehicle (SUV) is absolutely critical, and one job that'll have to be dealt with several times over the life of a vehicle is brake repairs. It's common to wonder, though, whether something is a brake problem and if the issue needs to be addressed right away. Folks who watch out for these three signs of immediate brake trouble will get ahead of trouble before it has the chance to potentially get out of control.
Dragging or Pulling
Depending upon the distribution of wear among the four wheels, the car may feel like it's pulling or dragging when you drive it. This is an indication of a brake grabbing a bit too much when it's activated.
A Soft Brake
When you depress the brake pedal, you'll notice that it doesn't feedback with the level of resistance that it once did. If the brake suddenly goes soft right when you depress it, there's a good chance that a line or a caliper has blown out completely. At this stage, the only way to operate the vehicle is by shifting through the low gears to bring it to stop in traffic or going down hills, and even that's a dangerous proposition. Brake service needs to be performed as soon as possible.
You may end up in a different situation where a soft brake actually still consistently provides stopping power once you depress the pedal far enough. In these situations, there's usually air in the lines that's preventing the brake from activating right away. It can be tempting under these circumstances to try to nurse the vehicle until payday, but a brake that's slow to respond is still potentially dangerous.
Scratching and Grinding Sounds
Any metallic noises, especially ones that sound scratchy, are often an indication that the rotors, drums, or pads have been worn down. In many cases, when a rotor is completely worn, it will also quickly eat up the brake pad.
Fortunately, if your car has disc brakes, you can visually inspect them for scoring. When you look at the rotors, if you see one or two lines scored into them, then there's a good chance the brake pads have worn down to the point where the screws in them are scoring the rotors. If you see slats rather than a flat surface, then the rotors have been totally worn off.