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How to prepare your brakes for winter

Martynn's tips brakes winter

It may seem a little early, but summer is over and winter is just around the corner.

A common problem that affects many vehicles in the ‘salty’ winter months is sticking brakes. This can be caused by a faulty brake caliper, but it’s more likely to be the brake pads sticking within the caliper. This is preventable.

How do I know if my brake pads are sticking?

In extreme cases, the wheel will be locked in place and you'll be unable to move the car, but milder cases can be difficult to detect.

Here’s the method I use. When coming up to a junction on a level stretch of road free of other traffic, depress the clutch and glide up to the junction with the brakes gently applied. In the last few meters before the stop line, release the brakes and allow the vehicle to coast. If the pads are free, the vehicle will come to a natural, gentle stop. If the brakes are rubbing, the vehicle will come to a stop with a noticeable ‘grab/lurch’. It’s a subtle difference, but quite noticeable.

I also check the brakes regularly by briefly touching the centre of each wheel immediately after the vehicle has been driven. If any of the brakes are rubbing, excess heat will be generated. So, if one of the wheel centres is hotter than the rest, there’s a good chance the brakes on that wheel are seizing. There’s also a good chance you’ll be able to smell overheating brakes – it’s a distinctive, unpleasant odour!

To prevent the pads from sticking before the gritters start spreading, remove the wheels and the brake pads. Give the pads a good clean with brake cleaner (shown below), removing any trace of dirt or rust, taking care not to breathe in the dust – I wear a mask.

Check that the caliper pistons are free to move and the rubber dust seals are in good condition.
 

How to use brake cleaner

Check that the guide pins are free to slide, and the rubber gaiters are intact.

Brake caliper guide pins

If there’s plenty of friction material left, reassemble with a little anti-seize grease on the pad backplate, caliper mounting bracket contact points (shown below) and guide pins.

For many years, Haynes recommended copper-based high-temperature grease, but these days most manufacturers recommend a polycarbamide grease, such as Ceratec.

brake polycarbamide anti seize grease

Don’t forget to pump out the pistons with the brake pedal before taking the vehicle onto the road!