How To Improve Your Braking Distance
A quick reaction time makes a big difference. Aside from being an alert driver, a vehicle that is able to brake effectively can come to a complete stop in a shorter distance, helping to reduce incidents and ensure a higher level of safety. Here, mechanic Giles Kirkland explores how you can improve and maintain your vehicle's braking capabilities
When it comes to emergency situations, every second can count. When braking with your vehicle, that second can mean a larger distance than you thought, depending on the speed of the vehicle. It goes without saying, then, that the braking distance of your vehicle is highly important. Yet there is often a big difference between what the car should be able to achieve and what drivers are able to realistically achieve.
Here, we’re looking at improving your braking distance - how long it takes your vehicle to come to a complete halt - rather than your reaction times. The latter can be achieved through concentrated driving with a lack of distractions (such as mobile phones) and paying more attention to your surroundings. Getting a better braking distance, however, requires looking after your car and maintaining its condition.
The Brake Pads and Rotors
When it comes to braking, it makes sense to start with the brakes themselves. Most vehicles have what is called a wear indicator. This is a piece of metal found on the brake pad. When the normal pad material has been worn off due to use, this metal piece will make contact with the brake rotor, making a sharp squeaking noise. If you hear this, then you should have your brake pads replaced as soon as possible.
If you want to inspect the brakes yourself, you can look for deep, circular indents or marks on the brake rotor. These indicate when a pad needs replacing. If these marks, called scores, are excessively, deep, then you may also need to the rotors replaced (or machined) as well.
When looking at the pads, don’t forget to check the brake lines. Any cracks or leaks might not seem like much, but it’s enough to drastically decrease your braking efficiency. Fix this, and your car will perform much better. Car manufacturer’s test their vehicles as new, so your car needs relatively unworn pads and rotors for the best braking distance.
Good brakes also need good tyres. Specifically, a big tyre tread depth will go along way. The law requires a minimum of 1.6 mm, but it is often better to stay above this. Too little tread depth and you will lose the grooves that are important in providing grip and coping with the likes of aquaplaning.
A similar importance can also be placed on tyre pressure, yet many drivers don’t know that a drop or imbalance actively expands the braking distance. A Michelin tyres test found that, when braking from 56 to 43 mph, a drop of 1.0 bar in air pressure added 5 metres to the braking distance.
Paying Attention To Driving Conditions
Finally, the terrain and weather conditions that you drive in will always have a big impact on how quickly you are able to brake. It is appropriate that you drive at a speed which is suitable to the conditions and not just the speed limit, especially in treacherous conditions such as heavy rain.
As such, you should always cater to these situations where possible. This is one of the reasons why winter tyres are effective during the colder months. Outside of city environments, where the roads are less well maintained, the extra grip will prove very useful.
Ultimately, there are many ways to improve your own driving and reaction times, such as understanding the influence of your emotions while driving, but the car’s physical capabilities represent the limit of what you can actively achieve as far as braking on time is concerned.