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Gas or Brake?

I used to be obsessed with the gas pedal and now it is the brake pedal. Showing my age I guess. Sure, the hills in the Kootenays place a lot of demand on your vehicle’s engine. Most modern day vehicles easily can exceed the speed limit on any of our mountain passes. It is the downhill portion that generally raises my ire.

I really appreciate a solid brake pedal that can repeatedly scrub off speed quickly and smoothly while providing a linear feel. Is that too much to ask? I drive a lot of different vehicles and it seems that maybe it is. Most brake pedals these days are soft and less than linear in feel and, unless the vehicle is brand new, after repeated hard braking smoothness gives in to a real shudder through your hands on the wheel or the seat of your pants.

What is with that shudder under braking? I know what most of you are thinking. Time for new brake rotors. But that costs real money. So most of you just live with the shudder. Initially the shudder is not that severe and only rears its head after a few hard applications on a long hill. As time moves on the shudder vibration gets worse and occurs even during moderate braking. Eventually you give in and get it fixed.

New brakes pads and rotors and all is well again. Not for long though. How come?

There are a lot of reasons. A good brake job is a lot more than slapping on a set of new pads and rotors.

First of all your suspension and steering must be in top condition. Loose steering and suspension parts, worn shocks and less than balanced wheels and tires will cause vibrations under braking.

Choice of parts and a professional installation of those parts is necessary. Brake pad selection is always a compromise. Your vehicle came with brake pads that feel good the first time you step on the brake. They don’t make noise when you brake and if you are really lucky they don’t make your wheels dirty as they wear out. Unfortunately they may not be up to the task of a spirited drive from Rossland to Trail. They don’t like to get too hot. So give me a set of brake pads that can take a little punishment. High performance brake pads are available but they come with a small list of side effects so to speak. Generally they squeal and they don’t work well when they are cold. Yes, that first step on the brake pedal in the morning will have you feeling like a weakling or even worse they may invoke panic.

Brake rotors are a compromise as well. They were engineered for your vehicle but not by an engineer with an unlimited budget. Unfortunately even the engineer’s budget was bigger than the vehicle’s owner’s budget. The search for budget brake rotors has produced a market full of cheap brake rotors that do not perform. The last thing a vehicle in the Kootenays needs is cheap brake parts.

After you bite the bullet and have a professional brake job performed with quality parts it is ultimately the driver’s responsibility to keep the brakes operating properly.

Too much heat is the enemy. When you do get the brakes hot you have to give them time to cool off before you come to a stop and are parking the vehicle for some time. When brake pads get too hot the friction material will unevenly deposit itself on the brake rotor that it is resting against. Uneven brake pad material deposits create that vibration under braking because the rotor now has thick and thin spots. Left in this condition these thick and thin spots will unevenly heat the rotor metal and create hard spots in the rotor. The rotor then wears unevenly and now your vibration is permanent.

Time for new rotors and pads again. A vicious circle.

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