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The brakes are the most important safety system on your vehicle. Proper auto care and prompt attention to suspected problems will help ensure that your brakes perform as designed.

Have the brake system inspected at every oil change service. A typical inspection includes a fluid level and condition check, an inspection of the brake pads and/or shoes for wear, and a visual check for fluid leaks. The brake fluid level naturally falls as pads and shoes wear, but a drop below the minimum marking on the master cylinder reservoir could indicate a system leak.

Warning lights

Vehicle instrument panels have one or more brake system warning lights. Basic descriptions of common warnings are provided below, and may indicate the need for brake repair. Some warning lights still use letters, but most are now symbols. Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for more specific information. Always address a red warning light immediately and a yellow warning light as soon as possible.
  • A BRAKE light can indicate the parking brake is applied, the brake fluid level is low, or there is a loss of pressure in one of the brake system hydraulic circuits. If the parking brake is off and the fluid is above the minimum level marking on the master cylinder reservoir, take the vehicle immediately to a shop for diagnosis.
  • An ABS light indicates the anti-lock brake system has been disabled due to a problem. The brakes will still operate normally and the vehicle is safe to drive, but it should be taken to an auto repair shop for diagnosis and repair.
  • A brake wear indicator light tells you the brake pads or shoes are worn and need to be replaced. The sensor that triggers this light must often be replaced at the same time.

Brake noises

Some disc brake pads are fitted with mechanical wear indicators that rub against the rotor when the pads are worn. When the brakes are not applied, this creates a high-pitched squeaking or chirping noise to let you know the pads need replacement. If applying the brakes causes a loud grinding or scraping noise, a brake pad is likely worn to the point where its backing plate is making metal-to-metal contact with the rotor. Take the car in for service immediately.

A light coating of rust may form on the brake pads and rotors of vehicles parked overnight (or longer) in humid climates or seaside locations. This can cause a noise similar to metal-to-metal contact when first applying the brakes the next day. If the noise goes away after a few stops there is no cause for concern.

Other symptoms

Make an appointment with an auto repair shop for brake system diagnosis if:

  • The steering wheel shimmies when applying the brakes
  • The car pulls to one side when applying the brakes
  • The brake pedal pulsates when applying the brakes
  • It takes extreme brake pedal pressure to slow the vehicle
  • The vehicle does not begin to slow immediately when the brakes are applied

Time-based services

Most brake services are performed as needed, but fluid replacement is often specified at two- or three-year intervals. Brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means it attracts and absorbs water. Moisture in the fluid can corrode internal brake system parts, including expensive anti-lock brake system components. Moisture also lowers the fluid boiling point, which can lead to brake “fade” under heavy-duty use.

Finding Quality Auto Repair

AAA recommends that you plan ahead for vehicle service by finding an auto repair shop and technician you can trust before you need them. provides information on nearly 7,000 Approved Auto Repair facilities that have met AAA’s high standards for appearance, technician training and certification, insurance coverage and customer satisfaction. AAA regularly inspects every Approved Auto Repair facility and surveys their customers to ensure ongoing performance. In addition, AAA members receive special benefits that include auto repair discounts, an extended 24-month/24,000-mile parts and labor warranty, and AAA assistance in resolving repair-related issues.

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