You can tell a lot about a brake's condition by the way it feels. A good brake system should be firm (not hard) when you push down on the pedals. Any other sensation means that you have a malfunctioning brake. Here are three ways you can use your brake's sensations to diagnose its problems:
Pedal Is Spongy
Brake pedals should be firm. A brake pedal that feels spongy or soft can be caused by different problems, but the main one is the occurrence of air in the brake system. Air can be introduced into the brake system if the fluid is extremely low or leaking. The solution is to bleed your brakes (remove air from the brake lines), something that should be handled by a professional mechanic since improper bleeding may just introduce more air into the brake system.
Pedal Is Hard
Automotive brakes use power assists so that drivers don't have to use all their force when stopping. The power assist can either be a vacuum or hydraulic type. If the assist fails, then the brake pedal will be extremely hard to push.
Power assist failure in a vacuum brake system is commonly caused by the loss of vacuum, for example, if the brake line has a split. If it's a hydraulic brake, then the most likely culprit is fluid leakage or low fluid.
Note that your brake will still be working if the hard pedal is caused by power assist failure; it will just be hard. If it is so hard that it doesn't press at all, then the problem is mechanical (for example, a broken connecting rod).
Pedal Is Pulsating
A pulsating brake pedal, especially if it is jerky and shuddering when you brake, is probably caused by a warped brake rotor (part of the brake system that comes into contact with the brake pads to stop the car). The vibration is caused by alternate grabbing and slipping of the rotor due to the warping. This is the most likely cause, but it can also be due to a loose brake parts, bent axle shaft or loose wheel bearings.
A professional diagnosis is essential, because the necessary fix depends on the cause of the pulsations. For example, if it is the loose brake parts, then tightening them will solve the problem. As for the warping of the rotors, resurfacing may be enough to flatten them.
The brake is an essential part of the car. A malfunction here deserves the attention of a professional mechanic, like those at Soundside Automotive. Don't risk driving with a damaged brake because you never know when you may need it.