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Diagnosing the brake system is usually very simple. All you'll usually need is a keen ear and some visual inspection. But sometimes it can get a little fuzzy when there are no visible cues.

Soft Brakes

A soft, or squishy, feeling in your brake pedal usually means that there is a good amount of air in the brake lines, hoses, calipers, or wheel cylinders. Bleeding the brakes, the complete system, is the only way to remove all of the air and make it a complete hydraulic system. On most vehicles, start with the passenger rear, driver rear, passenger front, then lastly the driver front. Always start with the bleeder valve which is furthest away from the master cylinder.
If there is no air within the system, check your brake fluid color. It should be nearly clear with a slight tinge of yellow. Brown to black brake fluid should be replaced with fresh new fluid.


Pedal Vibration

Feeling a pulsation in the pedal while braking softly or firmly? There's a great chance that you've got a warped rotor or bad brake pads. Rarely do brake drums and shoes cause a pulsation (unless the ABS sensor has tripped and is detecting wheel spin, but that's another bag of problems). Warped rotors are due to a few things; thin brake rotors from turning beyond specification or low quality, brake rotors have heated up from riding brakes or sticky calipers, crimped brake hose, constant/extreme over tightening of wheel lugs.


Vehicle Pulling to Side when Braking

This is a problem of a caliper not being able to compress it's piston against the pad to stop the vehicle, essentially, a brake caliper that cannot function properly due to a seized caliper piston or a brake hose which is now a one-way check valve.


Stiff Brakes

If the pedal is stiff and you have a difficult time slowing the vehicle down it points to a bad brake booster. The 'power' brakes are gone and have reverted to manual brakes. IE there is no more vacuum from the engine that can help slow you down; the diaphragm in the brake booster has a large leak or the brake booster vacuum hose is bad.


Abnormal Pad Wear

Inside pad wear is usually due to a stuck or sticking caliper piston. Outside pad wear is most likely cause by slides which are either not installed correctly or most likely because of rust and corrosion. Pad wear which is angled; higher in front than in rear, or vice versa, can be caused by the same corrosion on the pad slides.
 
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