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Your brake system is a critical safety feature in your car or truck. The braking system is by its very nature complex and should be checked every 10,000 miles or at least once a year, and of course, at the start of the winter.

A yearly checkup will not only give you the confidence, it will also provide you with the best opportunity to spot the necessary smaller repairs to avoid the bigger and more expensive ones. If you're experiencing any warning symptoms, then a more immediate inspection may be required.

If you notice any of the signs of possible brake failure: squealing, grinding, other unusual noise when you apply the brakes, a brake pedal that can be depressed nearly to the floor, low or dirty brake fluid, or a brake warning light, have your brake system checked out as soon as possible.

Here is the short list of signals that your brakes may need to be looked at:

- Vibration when braking. If you feel vibration in the brake pedal when coming to a stop then you could have warped or grooved brake rotors. This can occur if your brakes have overheated recently.

- Squealing noise. Squealing indicates that the brake pads or brake drums have worn out and need to be replaced. If left unchecked, metal on metal contact can begin to wear down your rotors and those will have to be replaced as well.

- Brake pedal is stiff or mushy. This usually indicates a problem with the hydraulic system which amplifies the force of your foot. Be aware when you are driving of how the vehicle feels when you apply the brakes. If the brake pedal feels soft or goes almost to the floor before engaging, the system should be checked. It could mean the brake-fluid level is low or leaking.

- Brake light is on.

- Grinding. Grinding or metal-on-metal can be a sign of serious problems. If this continues you need to replace your brake discs and well as your pads.

- Vehicle jerks or pulls to one side when braking.

- Burning smell when you're driving.

The best way to get the longest use of your brakes is to use them as little as possible. Try to slow down gradually rather than all at once, be aware than the greater the friction required stopping, the more of the brake pad you are wearing down in the process.

For safe driving, don't delay