If you're researching your car's brake system, most articles will tell you the same scary facts up front: By the time you discover your car has a brake problem, it's usually too late. Fortunately, the brake system is pretty simple, and it's easy to learn how to check the condition of different brake components.
You car's brakes are dependent on pressure and friction -- that's what makes the wheels come to a stop. When you step on the brake pedal, that pressure has to move quickly to the four corners of the car, carried around by fluid-filled brake hoses and brake lines. Generally, the metal brake lines get more attention; they're even available in dressed up and high-performance variations. But the simple rubber brake hoses are just as important to your car's safety.
Though brake hoses should last about six years, they're under a lot of stress. It's important to inspect them on a regular basis, so you can catch potential problems before the entire system fails. If there's a leak or crack in a brake hose, the loss of fluid will cause a drop in pressure (in other words, the brakes won't be there when you need them). Another danger of leaky hoses is that brake fluid is corrosive, so drips can cause damage elsewhere on your car.
Finding one faulty hose is usually an indicator that the whole hose network has been damaged or compromised, because they usually wear out at a consistent rate. If your testing turns up any damage, be prepared to replace all the hoses at once [source: BrakeQuip].
On the next page, we'll discuss where to find the brake hoses and how you can prepare yourself for an in-depth testing session.
Locating All of the Brake Hoses
It's relatively easy to spot shiny metal brake lines, so follow those to the less obvious hoses, which are tucked out of the way behind the wheels, attached to each set of brakes. You'll probably have an easier time finding the brake hoses if you jack up the car enough to remove each wheel in turn, and if you really have trouble spotting them, you can always check your car's service manual.
Once you've found the hoses, a good visual inspection will help you familiarize yourself. Any of the following indicates wear: chafing or cracking, drips or wet stains, bubbles, blisters, and bulges. Make sure the hoses are mounted properly and securely. Look for and follow two lines printed along each hose. Wavy lines indicate the hose has twisted -- it either has too much slack or its mounts and fasteners might be failing.
Next, feel the hose. (Make sure the car hasn't been running recently, so you're not grabbing hot parts.) A good hose is strong but not stiff, firm but not brittle. Very soft hoses are too weak to work well and probably decaying; hoses that are too hard can't cope with a car's normal operations for long, and they're likely to crack or burst under stress.
Even if everything looks good so far, you're not done yet. Grab a friend for the next part of the brake hose test.
Testing Brake Hoses
Surface deterioration and other signs of obvious wear mean the hose is bad from the inside out, but a clean exterior doesn't guarantee you're good to go. Even if your preliminary inspection comes up clean, you should complete a more thorough test. Though you can visually inspect brake hoses yourself, you need a friend to help you check the pressure.
One person should start the car and pump the brake pedal to build up pressure in the system. This is an important step, because pumping the brake simulates how the hoses function when you hit the brakes while you're driving. Then, the second person can inspect each brake hose. As pressure builds, any flaws or damage in the hose will be much easier to detect. A good hose will retain its shape, size and surface appearance. If the hose swells or shows other signs of weakness, it's time to replace them all. Since brake failure can happen suddenly, it's important to replace faulty hoses as soon as possible, before the car is driven again.
Whether you're eager for more in-depth automotive knowledge or simply want to review general concepts, keep reading. The next page has lots more information to help you find everything you need to know about your car's brakes -- and then some.
- 5 Signs That You Need Your Brakes Checked
- How Brake Failure Works
- How Brake Lines Work
- How to Check Brake Fluid
- How to Check Brake Pads
- How to Use a Brake Riveting Tool
- How to Test Vehicle Stopping Time
- Is brake flushing really necessary?
- How should your brakes feel under foot?
- Is it bad if your brake pedal goes to the floor?
- What tests work for diagnosing brake problems?
- What do the brake warning lights mean in my car?
More Great Links
- BrakeQuip Brake Hose Manufacturing Systems. "Checking and Testing for Faulty Brake Hoses." (Oct. 24, 2010)http://www.brakequip.com/pdf/shop_poster.pdf
- Raybestos Brakes. "Training." (Oct. 30, 2010)http://www.raybestos.com/wps/portal/raybestos/c1/jY7LDoIwEEW_xQ8wHcq04FJQaimWQsXXhrAwhkTFhfH7xUdMMAadWZ6cnEu2pP1Tda331aVuTtWBrMmWl45hkWLUBVhEAFLlQMVSwTzlLd_wUmOCbhArO0XrsDzgBuF5f9lcyZRqCgK1D5SNTKoZh5Hj_bBX97W8DJWfLCZiFiJam-Yuzdx3_c6VmLBYWul7KLXJGPO6vG_9g_fs-9afQtf_5IXp9kUSUhVg5FCc87EXFm3qxfWsOe7I-VisoZa1HI4HN-xTZhw!/dl2/d1/L2dJQSEvUUt3QS9ZQnB3LzZfQ0s4TFRER0hDNDRTU09SM1VQMzAwMDAwMDA!
- Sullivan, Kevin. "Brake Diagnosis." Autoshop 101. 2008. (Oct. 7, 2010)http://www.autoshop101.com/forms/brake07.pdf