Without a doubt, brakes are one kind of auto part that you take for granted; all you have to do is press your foot on the pedal and your car stops. Most people don’t give their brakes a second thought until they notice a problem, but this is an area of car maintenance that should not be overlooked. You don’t have to know how to bleed brake fluid to take care of your brakes, but you should know what to look for before your car needs a major repair. Here are three telltale signs that it is time to replace your brakes.

Stop, Look, and Listen

Have you heard a loud squealing or grinding sound when you apply your brakes? That sound isn’t a signal to turn up the radio or close your windows. It’s telling you that your brake pads are worn out, and you may even have to replace your rotors. You don’t need to rush right out to get auto parts on sale, but you should pay attention to see if it is a consistent noise or just an occasional one you hear when your car is cold or damp. If you hear that loud noise constantly, you should schedule a visit to a mechanic or brake specialist.

Eyes Down

Another clear sign that something is amiss in the brakes department is a small puddle of fluid under your car. Your brakes could have a leak, and you should always check the pavement under your car to be sure you are not leaving behind anything more than condensation. Brake fluid is not as shiny or slimy as oil, but it can look similar. Look for a light yellowish color, although brake fluid can also be dark. Again, you don’t want to ignore any leak, especially if you are not sure of the source.

Go By Feel

You can usually tell if something is wrong with your brakes if your car feels funny. Here are a few things that you may notice about your brakes:

  • Does it take you longer to stop?
  • Does your car shudder or pull to the side when you brake?
  • Does the brake pedal feel soft or spongy when you apply it?
  • Can you detect a burning smell when you slow down?
  • Is your car vibrating or wobbling when you stop?
  • If you stop short, does your car bounce?

Any of these unusual feelings could be an indication that your brakes need some attention.

How Obvious

Your car has another clear way to tell you it’s time for a brake job: an indicator light. If your dashboard light comes on, you can’t ignore the problem any longer. Keep in mind that regular maintenance should include replacing your brake fluid every two years or so, as well as flushing out the brake line to get rid of any trapped air or old fluid. If you do not know how to replace brake pads and rotors by yourself, find a mechanic you trust to take care of the repair for you. You can expect to replace your brakes about two to three times over the life of your car, depending on how much your drive or how hard you brake.