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Tips to implement more efficient brake changes

Jan. 4, 2024
Beyond keeping roadways safe, proper brake inspections and service help maintain performance, minimize downtime, and lower total cost of ownership.

If you need a reminder that servicing brakes correctly and establishing effective brake change intervals are important, look no further than the results of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance 2023 Brake Safety Week inspection and enforcement initiative.

Inspectors examined 18,875 vehicles in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in late August, focusing on brake pad and lining violations. The recently released results are telling:

  • A total of 12.6% of the vehicles inspected were placed out of service as a result of brake violations.
  • The 2,375 vehicles placed out of service were cited for violations such as broken brake drums, loose air tanks, corroded holes in the spring brake housing, inoperative tractor protection valves, cracked linings, loose chambers, or a combination of the above.
  • Of the vehicles placed out of service, almost 60% failed the 20% defective brakes criterion, with 1,127 out-of-service vehicles featuring stand-alone brake violations and 12.4% exhibiting steering axle brake violations.
  • In total, 379 tractors and 261 trailers had lining and pad violations.
  • Contamination was the most frequent issue, with 214 tractors and 59 trailers logging contaminated pad and lining violations.
  • The least frequent citation was for loose or missing pads, which accounted for 10.7% of lining and pad violations.

Overall, this indicates that the industry as a whole needs to do better at keeping brakes maintained. Fleet managers should already know that having fresh vs. worn-down rotors and pads could be the difference between a near-miss and a fatal rear-end collision, so perhaps the reason they are not paying enough attention is they are pressed for time. To ensure this will not be an issue for you, we reached out to several experts to identify ways to increase the speed and efficiency of brake replacements while ensuring the brakes perform to their full potential.

Focus on inspections

The value of effective brake inspections and service processes is obvious for 2023 TMCSuper-
Tech Grand Champion Doug Nickles, a FedEx Freight technician.

“Performing brake service and even performing an inspection correctly is key to proper operation and to ensure safe and timely stops of a heavy vehicle,” he said. “Inspections play a vital role in the operation of the brake system. Without inspections, you would have no idea about the state of the brake system.”

Eric Daniels, VP of truck care for Love’s, noted that comprehensive brake inspections are important and should be completed with every preventive maintenance task to benchmark wear. He added that fleets can establish an effective brake change schedule based on the usage of their vehicles and by following manufacturer guidelines.

“The primary function of inspections is two-fold,” explained Larry Fowler, senior manager of vehicle operations support, Cox Automotive. “First, they serve to enforce compliance with brake system maintenance and safety standards. Second, they function as an ongoing educational tool, raising awareness among commercial vehicle operators about the critical importance of adhering to these standards.”

Read more: Results from CVSA's 2023 brake safety event

“Inspections and reporting of issues are the first line of defense,” Fowler continued. “Regularly scheduled brake inspections allow you to get a trained technician’s eyes and hands on the system. That not only provides a means to identify repair and maintenance needs but will also allow fleets to gather data on expected lifespan, brake component performance, and even driver habits.”

Inspections are preventive because they reduce unscheduled failures and their consequences, including the costs of roadside repairs and failing to deliver on time, noted Richard LaFlamme, technical services manager, SAF-Holland Inc.

“Fleets and service providers also have historic maintenance data to accurately forecast brake change intervals for their specific operating conditions,” he added.

“Brake inspections are crucial to establish and help predict brake lining life for trucks, tractors, and trailers,” said Mark Holley, director of marketing and customer solutions - wheel end, Bendix. “Because commercial vehicle applications differ greatly, there is no set mileage or timeframe that can be used across the board to estimate brake lining life.

“In addition, there are differences between drum brake systems and air disc brake systems, so even in the same application, the lining life could be quite different between the two,” he continued. “That’s why fleets and service providers must rely on periodic brake inspections as part of a preventive maintenance program to predict brake lining life on any commercial vehicle.”

This is Part One of a two-part story. To read more on the tools, equipment, and training for proper brake inspections, see Part Two.