DML FAQ : Chassis : How can I test my brakes?

How can I test my brakes?

Road Testing

If complaint involved low brake pedal, pump pedal and note if it comes back up to normal height. Check brake pedal response with transmission in Neutral and engine running. Pedal should remain firm under constant foot pressure. During road test, make normal and firm brake stops in 25-40 mph range. Note faulty brake operation such as low pedal, hard pedal, fade, pedal pulsation, pull, grab, drag, noise, etc. Attempt to stop the vehicle with the parking brake only and note grab, drag, noise, etc. PEDAL FALLS AWAY A brake pedal that falls away under steady foot pressure is generally the result of a system leak. The leak point could be at a brake line, fitting, hose, or caliper/wheel cylinder. If leakage is severe, fluid will be evident at or around the leaking component.

Internal leakage (seal by-pass) in the master cylinder caused by worn or damaged piston cups, may also be the problem cause.

An internal leak in the ABS or RWAL system may also be the problem with no physical evidence.


If a low pedal is experienced, pump the pedal several times. If the pedal comes back up worn linings, rotors, drums, or rear brakes out of adjustment are the most likely causes. The proper course of action is to inspect and replace all worn component and make the proper adjustments.


A spongy pedal is most often caused by air in the system. However, thin brake drums or substandard brake lines and hoses can also cause a spongy pedal. The proper course of action is to bleed the system, and replace thin drums and substandard quality brake hoses if suspected.


A hard pedal or high pedal effort may be due to lining that is water soaked, contaminated, glazed, or badly worn. The power booster or check valve could also be faulty.


Pedal pulsation is caused by components that are loose, or beyond tolerance limits.

The primary cause of pulsation are disc brake rotors with excessive lateral runout or thickness variation, or out of round brake drums. Other causes are loose wheel bearings or calipers and worn, damaged tires.

NOTE: Some pedal pulsation may be felt during ABS activation.


Brake drag occurs when the lining is in constant contact with the rotor or drum. Drag can occur at one wheel, all wheels, fronts only, or rears only.

Drag is a product of incomplete brake shoe release. Drag can be minor or severe enough to overheat the linings, rotors and drums.

Minor drag will usually cause slight surface charring of the lining. It can also generate hard spots in rotors and drums from the overheat-cool down process. In most cases, the rotors, drums, wheels and tires are quite warm to the touch after the vehicle is stopped.

Severe drag can char the brake lining all the way through. It can also distort and score rotors and drums to the point of replacement. The wheels, tires and brake components will be extremely hot. In severe cases, the lining may generate smoke as it chars from overheating.

Common causes of brake drag are:
Seized or improperly adjusted parking brake cables.
Loose/worn wheel bearing.
Seized caliper or wheel cylinder piston.
Caliper binding on corroded bushings or rusted slide surfaces.
Loose caliper mounting.
Drum brake shoes binding on worn/damaged support plates.
Mis-assembled components.
Long booster output rod.
If brake drag occurs at all wheels, the problem may be related to a blocked master cylinder return port, or faulty power booster (binds-does not release).


Brake fade is usually a product of overheating caused by brake drag. However, brake overheating and resulting fade can also be caused by riding the brake pedal, making repeated high deceleration stops in a short time span, or constant braking on steep mountain roads.


Front brake pull condition could result from:
Contaminated lining in one caliper
Seized caliper piston
Binding caliper
Loose caliper
Rusty caliper slide surfaces
Improper brake shoes
Damaged rotor
A worn, damaged wheel bearing or suspension component are further causes of pull. A damaged front tire (bruised, ply separation) can also cause pull.

A common and frequently misdiagnosed pull condition is where direction of pull changes after a few stops. The cause is a combination of brake drag followed by fade at one of the brake units.

As the dragging brake overheats, efficiency is so reduced that fade occurs. Since the opposite brake unit is still functioning normally, its braking effect is magnified. This causes pull to switch direction in favor of the normally functioning brake unit.

An additional point when diagnosing a change in pull condition concerns brake cool down. Remember that pull will return to the original direction, if the dragging brake unit is allowed to cool down (and is not seriously damaged).


Rear grab or pull is usually caused by improperly adjusted or seized parking brake cables, contaminated lining, bent or binding shoes and support plates, or improperly assembled components. This is particularly true when only one rear wheel is involved. However, when both rear wheels are affected, the master cylinder or proportioning valve could be at fault.


This condition is generally caused by water soaked lining. If the lining is only wet, it can be dried by driving with the brakes very lightly applied for a mile or two. However, if the lining is both soaked and dirt contaminated, cleaning and/or replacement will be necessary.


Brake lining contamination is mostly a product of leaking calipers or wheel cylinders, worn seals, driving through deep water puddles, or lining that has become covered with grease and grit during repair. Contaminated lining should be replaced to avoid further brake problems.


Some conditions attributed to brake components may actually be caused by a wheel or tire problem.

A damaged wheel can cause shudder, vibration and pull. A worn or damaged tire can also cause pull.

Severely worn tires with very little tread left can produce a grab-like condition as the tire loses and recovers traction. Flat-spotted tires can cause vibration and generate shudder during brake operation. A tire with internal damage such as a severe bruise, cut, or ply separation can cause pull and vibration.

Contributed by: Bernd Ratsch
Last updated: Sun Jul 22 17:37:14 2001