The need for brake repair can be signaled by a warning light on the dashboard, a spongy-feeling brake pedal or sustained high-pitched squealing noises coming from the wheels. The following information will help you understand the basic characteristics of a disc-brake repair job (some characteristics of drum-type brake repairs are similar).
Most brake repairs are maintenance-related: brake pads are designed to wear out gradually over time, and the rate of their wear is determined primarily by how often the brakes are used. For example, stop-and-go, urban/suburban commuting is relatively hard on brakes (especially compared to highway driving), so it may lead to more-frequent brake servicing intervals.
The most common brake service involves the replacement of brake pads, which can be accomplished at a variety of facilities at a wide range of prices (check out info on brake repair cost). However, one should be VERY wary of shops that offer a “lifetime guarantee” on brake pad replacement: no brake pads will last a “lifetime.” In fact, during routine visits for brake pad replacement, many of these shops will insist that you replace expensive, often unnecessary items (i.e. brake calipers) or else risk losing their “guarantee.”
With the vast majority of brake jobs, only the replacement of pads is usually required, along with a resurfacing or replacement of brake rotors. Most modern brake rotors can be resurfaced (machined) at least once before they require replacement—but, if they are machined down to a certain level of thinness, they will not be able to properly dissipate heat and will thus warp. Driving with warped brake rotors can be unsafe (longer stopping distances) and/or uncomfortable (vibrations sometimes felt through the entire car when braking).
Of course, the modern vehicle has an advanced braking system, including anti-lock equipment and other hydraulic components. Therefore, if you see brake warning lights on the dashboard, or experience a sudden loss of braking power (i.e. having a spongy brake pedal), this may indicate a brake fluid leak and/or the need for prompt attention. If either occurs, you should have a certified technician examine the vehicle immediately.