If your car makes a high-pitched squealing noise when you stop, there's a good chance your brakes make that sound. Brake pads sit on top of the actual brakes to keep them safe. When brake pads wear down, the factory-included indicator meets your car's rotor. This meeting causes that annoying sound. If left unchecked, your brake pads can wear out completely, causing costly repairs and safety problems.
Once you hear that tell-tale squeal, make sure to replace your brake pads within the next couple of weeks (if you can bear the noise that long).
Steering Wheel Vibration
If your steering wheel shakes like an earthquake when you put on the brakes, you need to replace or repair the rotors. Rotors are the circular discs that brake pads clamp onto to stop your car. Unfortunately, like anything else in your engine, rotors can wear down or warp over time from heat and stress. This can happen even faster if you drive through mountainous areas often or drive through the city a lot.
A warped or uneven rotor causes that jolty vibration in your steering wheel when it comes in contact with brake pads. Talk to a mechanic about turning your rotors (e.g. shaving a thin layer to make them even again) to fix the problem.
Longer Braking Distances
Once you notice that your car requires longer braking distances at stoplights, inspect your braking system. Longer brake time (the time it takes to stop once you put your food on the brake) can signal a fluid leak in the braking system. You can easily confirm this by looking for a puddle of underneath your car when parked.
If there's no leak, your car might have dusty brakes. Most cars use steel brake pads, which create carbon dust that can make your brakes lose power. The residue that comes from normal brake usage can cause build up and malfunctioning. If this is the case, you can buy special ceramic or Kevlar brake pads to fix the problem.
Pulling to One Side
When your car pulls to one side when braking, it's not your alignment that's the problem. If debris gets into the brake fluid, it can cause uneven wear on one side of your rotors. Try draining and replacing the brake fluid to fix the problem. If that doesn't work, your brake linings have probably worn too unevenly and need to be lathed.
A Nearly Unresponsive Pedal
If you put all your leg muscles into pushing the brake down at stoplights, you have problem with your brake pads. Cars should stop fairly easily when everything is in working order, so double check your efforts next time you drive.
Do you have to step on the brakes for multiple moments to get your car to stop? This could signal that your brake pads or worn out or the hydraulic system is faulty. If it's the latter, check for leaks or have your mechanic check for air in the line. Unresponsive pedals can also happen due to more serious issues with the vacuum system or brake line. Always check with a professional if you sense something is wrong.
Knowing the signs of faulty brake equipment can prevent possible accidents and save you a lot of money in the long-run. Once you see a problem forming, go to your local brake shop to get a professional opinion and services.