If you are like many people, you trust that your car will start and run when you need it to and that's about as far as your automotive knowledge goes. In that case, you are in the right place. The purpose of this site is to help people like you to understand the basic care, maintenance, and signs of needed repairs when it comes to your car. The pages on this blog are filled with car care information and tips to help you recognize when your car might need repair. Use the information here to better understand your car and to identify those times when you should probably call a mechanic.
Braking problems can be frustrating and frightening at the same time. Many vehicle maintenance issues can turn into costly expenses, but issues with your brakes can also pose a severe hazard to yourself, your passengers, and other drivers on the road. One common complaint experienced by motorists is a "mushy" or soft brake pedal feel.
Problems with braking feel are usually the result of issues with your braking hydraulics. In most cases, one of these three underlying problems is likely the source of trouble. As with any problem with your braking system, you should always contact a shop as soon as you notice that something is amiss.
1. Insufficient Hydraulic Pressure
When you press down on the brake pedal, the resistance you feel comes from pressure in your car's hydraulic system. Modern vehicles use vacuum-assist devices (commonly known as brake boosters) to make pushing down on the pedal easier and more comfortable. Without this assistance, you would experience a significant amount of resistance on the brake pedal.
Even with help, your hydraulic fluid still helps maintain your brake pedal's firm and confident feel. If you notice that your pedal suddenly feels soft or goes right to the floor, it may be due to insufficient pressure in the system. Check and fill (if necessary) your brake fluid reservoir, and then schedule an appointment with a brake shop to find the cause for your low brake fluid levels.
2. Improperly Bled Brake Lines
Air bubbles trapped in your brake lines can produce similar symptoms to low fluid levels or insufficient hydraulic pressure. This air prevents the brake fluid from flowing to your calipers in a smooth, continuous motion, which ultimately results in a pedal feel that's softer and less linear. Your car has a sealed braking system, but moisture or improper bleeding procedures can still allow air to enter.
Bleeding brakes isn't a challenging procedure, but it's much more comfortable with a helper and with the car securely raised into the air. For this reason, it's best to trust a shop to perform this service unless you are confident in your abilities. If there are no additional issues, then bleeding your brakes should restore their previous feel.
3. Fluid Contamination
Brake fluid "wears out" as it absorbs moisture, but it can also become contaminated from debris. Although there's no way for outside contaminants to enter your system, degrading braking components and hoses can deposit tiny particles in your fluid. As is the case when air enters your system, this contamination can result in a brake pedal that feels spongy, soft, or non-linear.
Because fluid can become contaminated over time, you should plan to replace your brake fluid every few years at a minimum. If it's been a while since you've replaced your brake fluid, then this simple procedure may be enough to fix your mushy brake pedal feel.
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