Brake Care 101: How to Make Your Brakes Last

How to Make Brakes LastYou can make your brakes last a long time or you can wear them out quickly. The choice is yours. Done judiciously, the following money-saving driving techniques won’t clog traffic and few other drivers will notice.

If your brakes wear rapidly and these tips don’t help, the problem is with your car, your mechanic, poorly chosen or installed brake parts, or others who drive the car (teenage boy in the house?). The problem could be one of simple geography, if you happen to live in the mountains.

Avoid High-Speed Braking and Coast When Possible

Stops from high speed are the mortal enemy of brakes. And a little more speed hurts more than you can imagine. Stopping from 65 mph rather than 55 forces the brakes to dissipate about a third more energy. (Warning: scary math formula coming.)

The car’s motion is called kinetic energy. It’s calculated by multiplying half the car’s weight by the square of its speed. Brakes sacrifice their lives by turning energy into heat. A little less speed means a lot less kinetic energy — and brake material — needs to be transformed into heat.

Coasting is a surprisingly easy way to get rid of a lot of brake-killing speed. During one 24-hour race, a brake failure forced me to drive about 45 minutes without touching the middle pedal. I quickly perfected the art of coasting. If you know you’ll have to stop at the end of a freeway off-ramp, coasting from 70 down to 50 before you brake will significantly reduce brake wear. Time lost will be little or, if cars are queued ahead, none.

Pay Attention to Habits and Predict What’s Going to Happen

Memorize places where other drivers inappropriately slow down. Examples include hills which come as a shock to people who have been driving that same road for 10 years, and gentle freeway bends that many mistake for hairpin turns. Often, you’ll have to coast down to their pace. Plan ahead and you might be able to change lanes around them. They’ll re-pass you on the next downhill or straightaway, but you will have used less brakes and gas.

Look far enough ahead and you’ll be able to correctly time stoplights, notice traffic backing up or see cars slowing on an incline that’s just become visible. Look beyond the next traffic signal; check out the one after that and, in urban situations, the next and the next.

To test how far ahead you look, draw a thin line at eye level on your windshield with a dry erase marker. On level roads, keep your focus above that line and use peripheral vision to position the car within your lane. Then erase the line before a cop asks you why it’s there.

Many drivers brake just because the guy in front did. And the first driver touched his brake for no good reason. It’ll take a bit of practice to learn to coast when others brake inappropriately, especially if you weren’t looking far enough ahead.

Check Your Brake Fluid Regularly

Brake fluid needs to be periodically changed. In mechanic-speak it’s called bleeding and flushing. Renew your brake fluid, especially if you have an older vehicle or one you purchased used. You gain nothing if you save brake material but the insides of the system rot away.

Flushing the brake fluid will make the internal components last longer and the brakes work better. Brake fluid naturally attracts water.

In an emergency stop or after repeated brake applications, this moisture boils and severely reduces braking effectiveness. Moisture also promotes internal corrosion, which ruins critical rubber seals.  Some vehicle manufacturers recommend renewing brake fluid every couple of years.