It may start out as a squeak or a clunk, but it only happens sometimes. Maybe the brake pedal isn’t quite as firm as it once was. When it rains it seems to be more sensitive to puddles, as the steering wheel is pulled as you cross, but its fine otherwise.
I don’t know how many times have I had a car come in and a visual inspection reveals worn brakes, tie rod ends, ball joints, suspension bushings, tires whose treads show abnormal wear, or brake fluid the color of old coffee, etc.
When you talk to the owners you get the impression that they expect their cars to heal themselves. They often tell me about the symptoms that they experienced, but felt that they might go away on their own.
My advice would be to listen to your car. If it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t. Feel how it is behaving and recognize when something isn’t as it should be. Be in tune and it will probably make you a better driver, too.
Unless your car has different sized tires on the front and rear you should rotate them about every five thousand miles. That means moving the fronts to the rear and the rears to the front. That promotes much more even wear in the tires and gives you an opportunity to check out a few other things. Things like your brake pads (if, like most of us, have disc brakes) and rotors. Visually inspect them to see how much pad material is left and what condition the rotors’ surface is in. If a brake caliper is malfunctioning one pad may be wearing faster than the other. Has the brake pedal felt like it was bouncing when you used it to stop the car? That could mean that the rotors are warped or have brake pad contaminants on the surface. While the car is safely on a lift have the ball joints and tie rod ends at least visually inspected for leaking or cracked and split rubber boots. Check the underside of the car for missing bolts, exhaust hangers and leaks of any kind.
Every time you get new tires have the car aligned. The technician will know right away if bushings or ball joints are worn or if tie rod threads are rusted and the jam nuts are frozen. Replacing these items are not cheap, but they will cost you dearly in tire wear as well as your personal safety. Not having your car’s alignment checked when you purchase new tires is like throwing away money.
If you have just purchased a new set of tires, had them mounted and balanced, you probably have shelled out $600 or much more. Spending another $100 on an alignment may seem like just too much more to spend, but failing to do so will mean unnecessary wear on those new tires as well as missed opportunity to discover critical suspension component wear that could really ruin your day. Alignments deserve a blog entry all of their own.
Change and flush your brake fluid once a year. You change your oil at least every 5000 miles so what is the big deal of changing your brake fluid. Doing so will not only insure that your brake pedal fells nice and firm, but it will also prolong the life of many of the components that make up your brake system.
It doesn’t matter if your car is expensive or a bargain – it needs so get periodic maintenance. There is a schedule in your owner’s manual that should be consulted. It will show you what needs to be checked and changed depending upon how many miles your car travels.
It would be nice if our cars were self-healing, but they are not. They begin to wear and deteriorate the moment we drive them off the lot. Listen to your car and feel your car – it probably has something important to tell you.