Are your brakes OK? Here are 5 sure signs they're not

How many of these warning signs of brake trouble do you know?

"BRAKES ONLY SLOW you down," the legendary rally driver Erik Carlsson once joked. In fact, brakes are the single most important safety feature of your car. (This could be why one of the Swedish rally legend's nicknames was “Carlsson on the roof”.)

We all know the importance of brakes, but how many of these warning signs of brake trouble do you know?

The brake indicator on the dashboard comes on
Your hand brake is tight or the liquid level is too low or the brake pads are worn… to warn you of these a red light appears on the dashboard in the shape of a brake rotor. It is recommended that even if the diagnosis is a low brake fluid level, a complete inspection of the brake system should be performed. The fluid could just need topping up, or worse, there could be a leak somewhere.

The brake pedal is soft
A mushy pedal is one that goes practically to the floor before the brakes start to work. This could mean worn pads or a problem with the hydraulic system, such as air in the line, an air leak or brake fluid leak.

The brake pedal is hard
When your brake pedal feels heavy and hard to push, and the car refuses to slow down promptly even if the muscles of your right leg are burning, this indicates a failure in either the braking assistance system (the brake booster), the hydraulic system, or… any number of components. Whatever the cause, a brake pedal that's hard to push warrants immediate inspection.

The vehicle swerves when you brake
When you put your foot on the brake and you notice your vehicle being pulled to the right or left, that is usually a sign that there is contamination on the braking surface, a calliper is seizing up, the shock absorbers are worn out or it might be that you've got a flat tyre, or perhaps the wrong tyre size on your car.

The pedal vibrates when braking
If you've ever had to execute an emergency stop in a car with antilock brakes, then you're familiar with the type of rapid brake-pedal pulsing. However, when this happens during normal braking, you could have a problem. The cause of this intermittent locking could be due to several things including a faulty brake disc, a loose part, worn suspension joints or excessive play in the front or rear wheel bearings.

If you notice any of the above symptoms, it's time to get your brakes professionally checked by a certified technician. If need be, have any brake components replaced or renewed only with original parts. That way you not only have a warranty against failure, but can be assured of quality — and safety.

In spite of Erik Carlsson's classic joke, sometimes slowing down is no laughing matter.

Did you know… the brakes in Formula One cars generate an extraordinary amount of heat — around 1,000 degree Celcius, which is hotter than the inside of a nuclear reactor?