Just got new brakes installed? Here’s how to break them in

Make your brakes work better
by Jason Tulio | Jun 18, 2019
PHOTO: Jason Tulio

What’s the first thing you should do when you buy a brand-new car? Why, break it in, of course. It’s not unlike gradually wearing in a stiff pair of leather shoes until they’re nice and comfy. With a car, the process of gently driving it until the odometer reaches a certain reading helps all the moving parts to settle into their functions properly, ensuring they work better and last longer in the process. And though advancements in automotive manufacturing are slowly reducing the need for a break-in period, many carmakers still recommend the process to their customers.

Like a new engine, a freshly installed set of brakes also needs to be broken in properly. The process, commonly known as bedding in’ the brakes, transfers an even layer of brake-pad material onto the friction surface of the rotor. This helps with smoother braking, adds stopping power, and also minimizes squealing and vibration.

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You see, brakes operate on heat and friction to remove the kinetic energy from a moving car. When you press down on the brake pedal, a lever pushes a piston into the master cylinder that contains brake fluid. The fluid then gets squirted into a set of pipes and onto other cylinders next to the brakes on each of the four wheels. This system multiplies the force from your foot into pressure on the brakes to stop your car. If you want to know how to flush out and replace your car’s brake fluid, you can read our guide here.

In the case of disc brakes, stepping on the pedal causes the brake caliper to press the brake pad against the disc, generating the necessary heat and friction for stopping power. With drum brakes, the brake shoes press against the inner surface of the drum, likewise creating enough friction to remove a moving car’s kinetic energy. 

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Want to break in your new brakes? Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Make sure that the road you’re doing this on is clear and free of any potholes, humps, or incoming traffic. Remember, nothing can replace your eyes, ears, and common sense on the road.
  2. Accelerate to roughly 70kph, then brake with medium strength, so slightly more than your average braking pressure. Repeat this process three or four times. You don’t need to come to a full stop each time.
  3. After the first set of semi-stop-starts, let the brakes cool for a few minutes.
  4. Next, perform some aggressive stop-starts from around 70kph down to about 25kph. Brake hard, but not so hard that the ABS kicks in and the wheels lock up. Do this about eight to 10 times.
  5. You might notice that your brakes will start to fade in performance and have a softer feel as you reach the sixth or seventh stop-start. This will return to normal once the brakes cool.
  6. By this time, the brakes will be very hot. Drive at low speeds for a few minutes to let them cool down, ideally without using your brakes. Pressing the pads onto the rotors at this point might create an uneven imprint, leading to potential problems later on. 
  7. Afterwards, you might notice some light blue tint and light gray material on your brakes. The gray is the pad material transferring onto the rotor face, while the blue tint indicates that the rotor has reached the right break-in temperature. 
  8. If you’re using new brake pads with old rotors or vice versa, then you might need to repeat this cycle a second time. 

If you want help with bedding in your brakes, you can consult a mechanic directly. Happy braking!

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PHOTO: Jason Tulio
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