Brakes 101: Advice From Your Local Brake Repair Shop in Sterling VA

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Your brakes on your car or truck is one of the most important systems to manage. Yes we want to drive fast, we want to drive far, but when we get to where we are going we need to safely stop! In this post we are going to chat about brakes, brake repair, and look at some tips and strategies to keep you safely stopping.

How do my brakes work?

Simply put the brakes on your car help you bring your car or truck to a stop. The brake system does this by pressing a friction material onto the surface of a rotating mass. The rotating mass can be one of two types – either Drum Brake System or Disc Brake System – and it spins with the wheels of the car. On a Discs Brake system there are two main parts, the brake pad and the brake rotor. On a Drum Brake system the two main parts are the brake drum and the brake shoes. These are the parts that make contact and slow the car. When contact is made with either of these two parts the Brake Drum and or Brake Disc that is rotating with the wheel is slowed and…WALA! The vehicle comes to a stop.

How do my brakes wear out?

Most commonly when the brakes are worn out the friction surfaces of the brake shoe, or the surface of the brake pad has worn thin. Just as the sole of your shoe wears and becomes thin, so does the surface of the brakes. Stop and go driving, towing, mountainous routes, and just general time and mileage, wear these surfaces. Sometimes defects in the brake system can prematurely wear these surfaces such as stuck guide pins, drum brakes that are not adjusted properly, stuck caliper pistons, and other defects. Basically the brakes are worn when there is too little friction material to safely stop a vehicle. In Virginia there is an annual vehicle safety inspection and checking your brake system is done at this time. The Virginia state requirement is to have no less than 2/32 or 2.5 millimeters of brake pad surface.

How do I know my brakes are worn?

Some newer model vehicles actually have an electronic wear indicator that triggers a warning lamp on the dash that your brakes may be low. Most cars and trucks have what is referred to as a “squealer.” The squealer is a small thin piece of metal that, when exposed to the the brake rotor through a worn pad, makes a very high pitched noise letting you know your brakes are worn. Many brake systems have nothing to worn you, so proper and regular brake inspections are necessary. The annual state safety inspection is handy for this but you should have them checked everytime you go in for service. Another indication may be something you feel when you brake. This can include brake pedal pulsation pushing back against your foot via the brake pedal while braking, shaking in the steering wheel felt as you brake, vibration in the body of the vehicle felt as you apply the brakes. These all indicate a rotor or drum that is worn or warped. You may also experience a loud noise such as grinding when you apply the brakes. The best way to know what condition your brakes are in is to have them checked regularly. Having your brake inspection done at a regular interval and doing a little brake maintenance can keep you from spending more than needed in brake repair.

What can happen if I wait too long to repair my brakes?

We can all infer what waiting too long can cause in a worst case scenario. What we are trying to avoid and prevent is a more than needed expense. When a brake pad or brake shoes wear out and the friction material is too thin or worn away it is too late. The hard steel backing plate of the brake pad or the steel rivets of the brake shoe dig into the rotor or drum and damage it. Worn parts can also damage the hydraulic parts of the brake system by overextending the moving parts. This is now a problem that will likely cost you more than was needed. The important thing to remember is when you are proactive and perform regular brake maintenance and check ups, it helps to avoid expensive brake repairs later.

Can I do my brakes myself?

We recommend a professional replace the brakes on your vehicle but it is true that some brake jobs are simple enough to do at home. However, a professional may catch another problem you may not be familiar with, and on complicated braking systems such as ABS and electric brake systems, a professional will have the experience to get the job done safely. With today’s information systems there is a high likelihood there is a video of someone doing it on their own that you may access to aid in the repair. Again it is our opinion a pro should install your brake parts.

Where do I buy brake parts?

There are many options to buy brake pads. Online, local parts stores, the dealerships, so on and so on. We would recommend consulting a parts professional or a trusted repair shop to find the correct brake parts for your specific vehicle. There are countless options, from price range, to materials used, to performance upgrades. It is also our opinion you may want to avoid the least expensive. Just like a pair of running shoes, the least expensive will not last, or perform as well as a quality set of brake parts. Here are some trusted parts stores you may want to check out if your in the market to buy your own brakes. These parts stores are trusted affiliates that both our Sterling, Virginia location and Chantilly, Virginia location use. It is also our suggestion that you buy your parts for a DIY job from a local parts store and not online so a parts specialist can aid in your decision to choose what is right for you.

  • Napa Auto Parts
  • Car Quest Auto Parts
  • Advanced Auto Parts
  • Olympus Auto Parts

How Much does a Brake Repair Job Cost?

Brake jobs will have a wide array of costs. Depending on what is wrong, what kind of car you are driving, what parts your car comes standard with, what preferences you have as a driver, where you drive the car, the conditions of the routes you take, the specific brake systems on your vehicle….Wow. There are many many variables. So to answer that question it can be from a simple brake adjustment at $50 or well over thousands if your driving a high-end car with carbon ceramic system. Again being proactive will help keep the costs down. There are also some cost saving measures to be used. At Casey’s Automotive when possible we reuse the brake drum and brake rotors. After measuring the thickness of these parts we will determine if the drums and rotors can be cut or resurfaced. This is a great alternative to replacing as it can save hundreds on brake repair.


The best brake job is one that is done safely, and improves the braking of your car or truck. The best brake job will not coincide with the least expensive, the quickest, or necessarily the most time convenient. When we say best, in the industry we are looking for what will include the best recommendation of repair, and maintenance for the owner of the vehicle. The best brake job is a complete service to the braking system including the hydraulics, the moving parts, pins, slides, springs, calipers, mounting surfaces, and resetting electronic brake wear systems. The best brake job either replaces the rotors and drums or resurfaces them after they have been properly measured and inspected. The best brake job also includes a warranty. If your looking for the best brake job it starts with trust, both in your parts, your mechanic, and if your doing it yourself, you need to trust that you can do the job safely.


The best referral you can get is from a neighbor.