Summer Has Arrived!

Time to Maintain Your Vehicle’s Brakes

Warm weather and (hopefully) some vacation days mean that summer is the ideal time of year to inspect and maintain your braking system. Brakes are sensitive to temperature shifts as well, and those long, hot summer days can accelerate wear and tear on different parts of your brake assembly.

If you have a free afternoon or two this summer to dedicate to vehicle maintenance, use these pointers to stay on top of your brake upkeep, ensuring they stay in good shape for longer.

Cleaning the Wheel Hub

Because the wheel hub sits outside the brake assembly, it can collect grime and debris more quickly than other brake components. Any time you wash your car, it’s a good idea to hose down the wheel hub and towel dry it to get rid of any excess particulates stuck to it. However, dirt isn’t the only thing you’ll have to contend with.

Since wheel hubs are exposed to the elements and adjacent to the braking assembly, they can get very hot. This combination can lead to corrosion and a significant amount of rusting. Surface rust on the wheel hub isn’t usually a big deal from a safety or performance perspective. To prevent long-term, deeper corrosion though, you’ll want to use steel wool to buff your wheel hub and remove moderate amounts of rust. Be sure to check both sides—rusting is more apparent on the inner side of the wheel hub, and this is also where you’ll want to focus your buffing efforts.

Checking Your Brake Fluid

Because brakes are a hydraulic system, you need to ensure that braking fluid levels and braking fluid pressure are optimal. Low brake fluid pressure can cause a number of problems, from brake fluid leaks to slower braking and even drifting. Brake fluid is usually located in a reservoir attached to the master brake cylinder. You can’t just unscrew the container and take a peek at the fluid levels, though. If your car has an anti-lock braking system, you might need to pump the brakes a number of times to build up pressure before opening up the brake fluid reservoir. Clean the rim of the reservoir thoroughly with an absorbent rag before opening it. Any contaminants entering the reservoir—especially solids—can interfere with your brake effectiveness. Once you’ve wiped the rim down, unscrew the reservoir and check inside. If your brake fluid pressure levels are adequate, there shouldn’t be more than a half-inch gap between the opening and the top of the brake fluid. Observe the color of the brake fluid, too. Brake fluid tends to darken with age, so if your brake fluid is very dark, it’s likely old and will need replacing.

Replacing Worn Brake Pads

This, of course, is the repair that most people think about when they hear “fixing your brakes.” In a disc-braking system, the brake pad clamps down on the rotor, exerting force to bring your car to a halt. This generates a lot of heat and puts immense strain on your brake pads, wearing them down over time. Brake pads are disposable and need to be swapped out every 35,000 miles or so, and even more often if you live in a crowded urban environment. To swap out brake pads that are wearing thin, start by jacking the car’s wheels and elevating the vehicle. You’ll want to remove the tires and the hubcap, detach the calipers, and remove the brake assembly. If the old brake pads are less than a quarter-inch thick, you should swap them out for new ones. When it’s time to replace them again, your brake pads will give you a clear auditory cue: loud squealing every time you apply the brakes.

Inspecting Your Brake Calipers

Your car’s calipers are more durable than brake pads, but they don’t last forever either—they’ll need periodic servicing. They shouldn’t need to be replaced quite as often, but it’s always a good idea to give them a thorough look every time you service your brake pads.


After removing the hubcap but before replacing the brake pads, you’ll need to detach the calipers. This is a good time to inspect them for wear and tear. Calipers are subject to a great deal of corrosion, and rust often builds up on the surface. To prevent the piston from sticking and causing difficulties with braking, you should clean off any rust you find with steel wool before it penetrates to deeper layers of the brake assembly.

The piston seals on the calipers are made of rubber and are particularly vulnerable to corrosion as well. Over time, the rubber hardens and can flake or develop holes. If this happens, you might experience a braking fluid leak. If your piston seals are leaky or corroded, you’ll want to replace the entire caliper assembly as soon as possible.

Checking Your Brake Rotors

It’s important to give your rotors a look as well when you’re servicing your brake assembly. If your rotors are unable to distribute heat evenly, they’ll develop spotting and ringing around thermal hotspots. If your calipers have been wearing on them improperly, uneven braking pressure can cause “dishing,” where the rotor becomes concave on one side. As with other metal parts in your brake assembly, rotors are subject to corrosion too.

Once you’ve opened up the assembly, give your rotors a thorough inspection for signs of any of these problems. If they’re damaged or worn down, detach the rotor from the wheel studs. If there’s extensive rust buildup, you might have to give it a whack with a hammer to loosen it. Then swap in the new rotor and replace the assembly.


High temperatures and humidity mean that your brakes are especially susceptible to wear and tear during summer months. That means summer is an excellent time to give your brake assembly a once-over. When you have some free time, jack your car up, open the assembly, and see if everything’s working as it should.