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AUTOtips: Causes of Brake problem ... Check out these pointers

Published:Sunday | August 11, 2019 | 12:00 AMPaul Glenroy Messam - Automotives Writer

“A car without good working brakes is like a plane without good landing gear. There is nothing else that can bring the motor vehicle to a stop except the brakes,” says Dereck Gentles, an auto mechanic with over 40 years’ experience in the motoring world.

“It must be noted that pressure on the brake pedal forces brake fluid in the master cylinder (the container for brake fluid) through brake lines to the wheel cylinder to stop the car,” Gentles adds.

One part of the dual master cylinder connects with the front wheels, the other with the rear wheels. It is wise to keep the brake fluid in the master cylinder at the proper level.

Here are some early warning signs of brake trouble:

- Low brake pedal level: power brakes less than two inches from the floor, standard brakes less than three inches when pressed hard.

- Uneven pull to the right or left when the brakes are dry.

- Grabbing or a sudden braking action.

- A ‘spongy’ feel to the brakes.

- Squealing noises.

- When there is a need to pump the brakes or push harder on the brake pedal to slow the car.

Here is a list of possible brake problems.


1. The overheating of linings.

2. The overheating of drums or brake fluid during prolonged or frequent high-speed stops.

3. Burned or glazed brake linings.

4. Inferior brake linings.

5. Brake drums worn or machined too thin.

6. A slow fluid leak in the hydraulic system.


1. Improper adjustment.

2. Insufficient master cylinder free-pedal adjustment.

3. Broken or weak brake springs.

4. Worn front- or rear-wheel bearings.

5. Sticky wheel cylinder pistons.

6. Grease or brake fluid on one or more brake shoe assemblies.

The brake pedal is spongy

1. Air in the lines.

2. The brake shoes or disk brake pads are not seated properly.

3. The brake drum is worn or machined too thin.

4. Improperly adjusted brakes.

5. An improper free-pedal adjustment.

6. A plugged breather hole in the master cylinder cap.

The brake fails suddenly or intermittently

1. There could be a brake fluid leak somewhere in the hydraulic system that results in a drained master cylinder.

2. Excessive brake application or dragging brakes, causing the brake fluid to boil and turn into a vapour.

3. Defective internal components in the master cylinder.

4. The master cylinder is disconnected from the brake pedal.

5. The brake linings are saturated with water.

Brakes lock up wheel

1. Moisture on linings – this is usually temporary in damp conditions.

2. The linings are torn loose from the brake shoes.

3. Broken brake springs.

4. A broken rear leaf spring.

Brake pedal vibrates when brakes are applied

1. One or more brake drums are out of round.

2. The sides of the brake are not parallel.

3. Broken brake spring.

The brakes pull to one side

1. Brake shoes or pads are wrongly installed or badly out of adjustment.

2. A bent or restricted steel or flexible hydraulic brake lines.

3. Loose front wheel bearings.

4. A loose steering mechanism.

5. Uneven tyre inflation or tyre tread.

6. Air in the lines.

Brakes squeal

1. Loose backing plates.

2. Worn brake linings.

3. An out-of-round brake drum.

4. Weak or broken brake springs or faulty disk brake caliper mechanisms.

5. Loose front- or rear-wheel bearings.