Brake Inspections: Systematic Safety

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Systematic brake inspections enable issues to be quickly identified and servicing work performed properly. PHOTO Huw Evans

When it comes to brake inspections, you can’t afford to cut corners.

Brake servicing and component replacement is one of the most frequent and [can be], among the most consistent and profitable aspects of vehicle maintenance for service providers.

Yet the key to doing it successfully comes down to the brake inspection process.

Do it right and the benefits for the business and the customer can be exponential.

Do it wrong and you end up with dissatisfied customers and lost revenue opportunities.

Consistency is key

According to Rob Ingram, who owns and operates Eldon Ingram NAPA Auto Pro in Stratford, Ont., the key to effective brake inspections is having a system in place.

A thorough inspection of all components can help determine what needs to be replaced and when. PHOTO Rob Ingram, owner, Eldon Ingram, NAPA Auto Pro

All too often, we’ve seen cases where one technician or service advisor provides their opinion on the condition of the brakes, only to be contradicted by another the next time the vehicle is brought in for service.

If, for example, during the first visit, the customer was told that the brakes had plenty of life left and then, a few weeks or a month later are told they need to be replaced, the customer often feels they are being taken advantage of.

“A lot of these kinds of things happen because there isn’t a proper system in place for brake inspections,” says Ingram.

To prevent such situations from happening, he suggests shops create a document or a checklist as part of the inspection process—whether analogue or digital—and religiously follow it every single time a vehicle comes in for service.

When it comes to actually looking at the brakes, Gary Roos, Director of Tech Relations at PowerStop brakes, says it’s important to start by inspecting the overall condition of the vehicle’s braking system.

A big factor is making sure the pads are wearing evenly.

“Look for ‘hot spots’ on the rotor, check pin bushings and caliper piston boots for cracking/holes,” says Roos.

He also advises to examine rotor thickness compared with the minimum amount required.

“From there,” he says, “more checks may be warranted based on what is found.”

Biggest causes

Uneven pad wear is often one of the biggest causes of brake problems on a vehicle and one if, caught early enough is easily rectifiable.

Customers frequently complain about vibration when they press the brake pedal and this DTV or Disk Thickness Variation is often the result of uneven deposits on the brake rotor surface.

As a result, when the pads hit the rotors, the uneven surface of the disc causes vibration.

Besides vibration, another common and potentially serious issue for braking systems revolves around corrosion.

This can be particularly problematic in the Northern U.S. and much of Canada, where local municipalities often use salt, brine, sand to melt snow from the roads during cold winter conditions.

The problem, says John Niemiera, Director of Product Management at PowerStop, is that these solutions “are oxidizers, which cause corrosion to bare metal surfaces.”

He notes that corrosion on a brake caliper can result in drag and uneven wear on the pads and rotors (leading to DTV).

Additionally, using low grade pads when performing a brake service can lead to so-called “rust-jacking,” which delaminates the friction material on the backing plates.

Digital inspections

This is why it is so important to inspect the entire brake system for corrosion on a regular basis and be able to share your findings with the customer.

Today, with the advent of tools such as digital inspections, which allow photos and even videos to be shared, it’s never been easier to do so.

Also, that brake inspection process needs to be systematic so it can be universally performed by any technician in the shop and the results generated from it are consistent.

Furthermore, the shop needs to make sure that the inspection process covers all different kinds of vehicles, including those with front disc/rear drum brakes, four-wheel disc brakes and also hybrid and electric vehicles that use regenerative braking.

“You have to make sure your inspection process is current with what’s coming into the shop and reflects the vehicles your customers are driving and that your techs are working on,” says Rob Ingram.

Regenerative braking systems on hybrids and EVs are particularly important to pay attention to, since they way they operate is different from conventional setups.

“Regenerative braking is great because it is taking a lot of the kinetic energy of the car when the driver wants to slow down and using it to recharge the batteries,” says John Niemiera.

Because a lot of the kinetic energy is recycled to charge the batteries on hybrids and EVs, the friction brakes aren’t used as frequently as on a conventional vehicle.

As a result, while pads and rotors may last longer, there tends to be a greater build-up of corrosion due to less use, so it’s something that must be considered on the brake inspection report.

Servicing: Doing it Right

Brakes are safety system, so when it comes to performing the actual service and component replacement, it’s essential to ensure it’s done properly. PowerStop’s John Niemiera says that’s why it’s important for technicians to follow several dos and don’ts.

“Do ensure proper caliper operation by making sure the slide pins greased, the caliper bracket is cleaned with wire brush; the abutment clips are replaced and that pad contact points lubed,” he says.

“Also, do make sure everything is checked to make sure the pads are snug (not too tight or too loose) and perform a burnish procedure. Also make sure the wheel rotates freely and finally, make sure you perform a test drive.”

As for the don’ts he says, “don’t back the car off the lift and toss the customer the keys.

Also, he says, “don’t perform a ‘pad slap’ brake job where the pads are replaced but the rotors are not machined or replaced.

Finally, don’t Install pads without properly cleaning the caliper bracket and lubricating contact points.”

Another common problem caused by technicians when performing a brake service is to let the caliper brackets hang loose, stretching and damaging the brake hoses.

Also; Gary Roos explains that technicians should make sure “to properly torque all bolts and lug nuts to ensure maximum performance.”

Additionally, he says, “do make sure you properly lubricate all guide pins and slides with a premium silicone/ceramic brake lubricant. DON’T over lubricate.”


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