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What are Disc Brakes?

Posted on 06/25/2014

Disc brakes slow and stop your vehicle by using calipers to squeeze the brake pads against the wheel rotors.

Although disc-type brakes were in development as early as the late 1890s, they have only in recent decades replaced drum brakes as the standard for most vehicles. Most modern vehicles use disc brakes for at least the front wheels, and some cars and trucks employ disc brakes on all four wheels.

Disc Brakes vs. Drum Brakes

Drum brakes, as their name suggests, are shaped like drums. When a driver applies the brakes in a vehicle with drum brakes, curved shoes are pressed outward to generate friction with the interior of the drums to slow the wheels.

Compared with disc brakes, drum brakes have a number of drawbacks. Drum brakes do not dissipate heat as quickly, and with repeated stop-and-go driving or frequent hard stops, drum brakes can quickly lose effectiveness.

In addition to offering longer lifespans, disc brakes also perform better in wet conditions than drum brakes. Drum brakes can allow moisture to collect on the interior of the brakes, where the shoes contact the drums. Disc brakes feature rotors that spin with the vehicle’s wheels and are slowed by the compression of the brake pads; in wet weather, this rotation and method of contact helps prevent water from accumulating within the brakes and keeps the brake discs dry.

How Disc Brakes Work

Most motor vehicle disc brakes are single-piston, floating-caliper brakes that feature three primary components:

  • Brake pads, which contact the discs to slow wheel rotation

  • Calipers, which contain pistons to clamp the discs and push the pads

  • Rotors, which are mounted to the wheel hubs and rotate with the wheels

Disc brakes are similar to common bicycle brakes, which also use calipers to squeeze brake pads against the wheels. In motor vehicle disc brakes, however, the brake pads press against the rotor instead of the wheel itself and transmit the force hydraulically instead of through a cable. The friction between the pads and the disc is what slows and stops the vehicle.

Servicing Disc Brakes

Although disc brakes last longer and offer more effective stopping than drum brakes, disc brakes still require regular maintenance. The most common service for disc brakes is the changing of the brake pads.

Disc brake pads usually feature a small piece of metal called a wear indicator. As the pads deteriorate, the wear indicator will eventually come in contact with the disc and produce a squealing sound that indicates it’s time for brake service. Most disc brake calipers also feature an opening that allows you to see how much material is left on your brake pads.

If worn brake pads are left on too long, they can progressively grind scores into the brake rotors, which can cause the brakes to shudder or vibrate as you slow and stop. Brake rotors sometimes need to be refinished (sometimes referred to as being “turned” or “machined”) in order to restore a smooth, flat, contact surface. Refinishing the rotors is only necessary if they are warped or scored, and it is not required every time the brake pads are replaced.

If you’re experiencing brake problems or your vehicle is in need of routine maintenance, please contact Auto Lab online or call us. Our honest and experienced team is proud to serve customers from the Denver, Englewood and Littleton areas.

What is a Serpentine Belt?

Posted on 06/18/2014

A serpentine belt, as its name suggests, snakes through multiple pulleys in your vehicle’s engine to drive a number of devices that help keep your car operating smoothly.

Serpentine belts are typically long belts located near the front of engine, though placement and size vary by vehicle make and model. Serpentine belts feature a smooth “back” side with a grooved or ribbed interior.

Serpentine Belt vs. Timing Belt

The serpentine belt is sometimes confused with the timing belt. Although the two belts work together to ensure various components of your engine function properly, the timing belt is dedicated to your engine’s valves and pistons.

The serpentine belt transfers power from the engine’s crankshaft—which is fueled by the pistons—in order to operate the alternator, air conditioning, power steering and other systems. A broken serpentine belt can cause your engine to lose the ability to provide electrical power to the rest of your vehicle and prevent your vehicle from running.

One Belt, Many Jobs

Older vehicles employed numerous belts to help drive various individual components and systems.

As an increasing number of cars and trucks were built with options and accessories that needed to draw power from the crankshaft, engineers developed serpentine belts to conserve space in the engine compartment and to allow vehicles to operate more efficiently. Multi-belt systems also operated under varying levels of tension, and the belts were prone to wearing out at different times, often creating service headaches for drivers.

Serpentine belts operate under consistent tension, which reduces belt stress, inhibits belt slippage, and extends belt life. Serpentine belts impact your vehicle’s fuel efficiency and available power, and they are instrumental to your car’s overall engine function.

When to Replace a Serpentine Belt

Serpentine belts should generally be changed at about 100,000 miles as part of your vehicle’s scheduled maintenance. It’s important to note that different vehicles have varying service recommendations for serpentine belts and other engine components; some serpentine belts may have shorter lifespans than 100,000 miles, others may last longer.

As a serpentine belt deteriorates, it will begin to lose its grooves and may fray or crack. In most vehicles, the serpentine belt can be visually inspected without having to dismantle or remove other engine accessories.

A failing serpentine belt may also produce a squealing noise. This sound may initially be periodic but increase in consistency with time. Squealing that seems associated with the serpentine belt may also indicate problems with belt pulleys or tensioners.

If your vehicle is due for a serpentine belt or other scheduled maintenance, or if you hear squealing from your engine compartment, please contact Auto Lab online or call us to schedule an appointment. Our honest, experienced team is dedicated to helping drivers from the greater Denver area, including Englewood and Littleton.

How Often Should I Change My Transmission Fluid?

Posted on 06/11/2014

Transmission fluid lubricates the most complex assemblage of gears in your engine: the transmission. It protects transmission parts and helps your transmission to function properly. To make sure your transmission fluid is able to perform these functions, it must be changed in a timely fashion. Your manual should explain how often this should be done under normal conditions. Under extreme wear conditions, it may need to be done more often to prevent the need for expensive transmission repair.

Why You Need to Change Transmission Fluid

It is possible for transmission fluid to wear out over time. In an automatic transmission, the fluid performs not only the role of lubrication, but also helps with energy transfer. An automatic transmission can run hot. Like the oil in your car, transmission fluid can be subject to thermal breakdown, which over time will diminish its ability to perform its role. Your manual will tell you how long it takes for this breakdown to affect your transmission fluid.

In a manual transmission, it’s less likely to be heat breaking down your transmission fluid, and more likely that the grinding of gears will shed small metal flecks into the fluid. These metal flecks will reduce the lubricating ability of the fluid.

Changing transmission fluid along with other scheduled maintenance is sufficient in most cases.

When to Change Your Transmission Fluid Early

As we noted above, extreme driving conditions can lead to conditions where you might have to change your transmission fluid early. You can tell when to do this by checking your fluid regularly. Before you take your car in to get an oil change, take a look at the transmission fluid.

In automatic transmissions, where the primary concern is thermal breakdown, check the color and smell. It should be a translucent red color and have a slightly sweet smell. If it’s turning darker brown or if it’s got a burnt smell, it’s time to change it.

For manual transmission fluid, check for metal flecks. Smear a little of it between your fingers, then tilt your finger in the light. If it looks like your finger is covered in diamonds, then your transmission fluid is full of metal flecks and should be changed.

At Auto Labs, we can change your transmission fluid and perform other scheduled maintenance to make sure your car stays in warranty and keeps working like a dream long after the warranty has expired.

Why Do My Brakes Whistle?

Posted on 05/15/2014

A whistling noise that comes from the brakes—or seems to come from the brakes—can indicate dust or debris buildup, be a sign that your brake pads are worn and need to be replaced soon, or point to problems not related to the brakes at all.

If you notice unusual noise from your brakes you should get a brake check by a certified technician.

Whistle while You Wear

In recent years, an increasing number of cars and trucks have been manufactured with indicators that produce a whistling sound as the brake pads wear and approach the need for replacement. Unfortunately, judging from internet queries on the matter, many drivers were not made aware of this innovation and believe they may be experiencing more severe and immediate problems.

When you begin to hear this whistling noise, it’s a good idea to schedule your vehicle for a brake check. Brake system assessments are an important component of your vehicle’s routine maintenance.

Not Always the Brakes

Whistling that sounds like it’s coming from the brakes is not always an indicator of problems with the brakes themselves.

A whistle or high, vacuum-like hiss may be symptomatic of a faulty hydraulic brake booster. Whistling can also accompany issues with the vehicle’s air intake system or check valve.

If you’ve been searching for the solution to whistling brakes, you also know that different makes and models of cars and trucks come with their own peculiarities. Only a brake check and, if necessary, a thorough system diagnostic by a certified technician can determine the source of this noise and the right service for your vehicle.

The team at Auto Lab welcomes you to schedule an appointment online or call us if your brakes are whistling or making other noises. We are dedicated to helping drivers from the Littleton, Colorado, and the greater Denver area.

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