Have Your Brakes Weathered Winter's Wrath?

Cold winter weather alone won’t damage your brakes, but constant exposure to moisture and corrosive road salts can act like sandpaper on brake parts, reducing their performance and longevity.

How can you tell of your brake pads damaged by winter’s wrath? Get a spring check-up before your next road trip.

Snow and water will get into your brake pads as you drive on wet streets or through a storm. Problems start when the temperature drops below freezing, which can cause your brakes to make grinding and squealing noises, according to Wagner, a manufacturer of brake parts.

Wagner says accumulated moisture can create a superficial layer of rust on brake pads, but that build-up typically sloughs off after applying the brakes a few times while driving.

Brakes that grind, squeal or thump, however, require expert inspection as soon as possible, the company said. As ignoring small issues can often turn into a major repair bill.

Squealing often doubles as a brake’s death rattle, but it’s not the only way of telling that the system is failing or in need of attention. Reduced stopping power--taking longer than usual to bring the vehicle to a full stop--is another giveaway that your brakes need attention.

Brake manufacturers and driving safety experts offer the following advice about what to ask for during your post-winter brake inspection:

  • Wear and tear. Have your mechanic look for pad wear, leaks, a worn or scratched brake disc.
  • Mileage. Consult the owner’s manual. Longevity varies by how and where you drive. For example, stop-and-go city wears out brake pads faster than freeway driving.
  • Quality parts. Use replacement brake pads that meet or exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations. Pad quality varies depending on their composite materials—metal fibers, rubber compounds, silicate and resins.
  • Brake discs. Extremely worn brakes can scratch or gouge the disc and reduce braking effectiveness. Most brake replacement involves smoothing out the rotor surface to improve braking.

Below are some tips for removing ice, snow and road salts from your wheels, courtesy Adam Bateman of Wizards Polish.

  • Rinse snow and road salt off brake parts, wheel wells and undercarriage to prevent corrosion.
  • Clean your wheels every other week, especially if you live in snow. At a minimum clean wheels every time you wash the vehicle exterior.
  • Choose a cleaner that is acid-free. A general rule: If it is safe to use on vehicle paint, it is safe to use on wheels.
  • Cleaning your wheels during the winter is less about making your car look great and more about preventing corrosion and rust from taking hold. Yet, great looking wheels enhance the appeal and value of your vehicle.