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Brake Maintenance And Tips For Colorado Drivers

dangerousroadWe know how much you all like heading up into the mountains based on how often we perform brake maintenance and change out brake pads at the shop! It’s a simple fact of Colorado life that brakes need more attention because they get a lot more use.

6 Top Brake Issues

Brake warning lights. NEVER ignore a brake warning light, it can signal hydraulic leaks, worn brake pads or drums (depending on the type of brakes your car has,) warped rotors and more.
Worn out brake pads. Brake pads are found on disc brakes which are commonly used for front brakes in most passenger cars (some cars have drum brakes on the rear wheels.) As brake pads run down they wear even faster because of their inability to dissipate heat and they throw off more brake dust. If you notice your wheels are quickly covered in black it can be a sign your brake pads are getting low.  Squealing brakes, especially when your foot is off the brake pedal, is another sign of wear. Any noise from your brakes warrants your attention.
Warped rotors. Rotors can warp under stress which inhibits your brake pads from applying even pressure. This drastically increases how long it takes for you to stop your vehicle.  If your steering wheel shakes when you press the brake it’s likely you have a warped rotor.
Hydraulic leaks. Leaks of brake fluid can lead to sudden brake failure. If you notice a leak under your car or realize your brake pedal pushes to the floor there’s a good chance it’s a leak in the hydraulic brake system.  If you are concerned that you have a hydraulic brake leak, you should stop driving immediately and have it towed in for an inspection.
Emergency brake is on. This is an easy one to fix but it often happens that a driver forgets the emergency brake is on. If you feel your car is dragging check the emergency brake first. Driving with the brake on can quickly damage the emergency brake system.
Smoking brakes. Brakes smoke and/or smell when they are overheated and the main reason they get overheated is by constant application of brakes on descents of mountains and hills. If the brakes get to the smoking point, damage has likely occurred (or something is leaking onto your brakes – also bad as this causes the brake pads to glaze up.)

Common Brake Warning Lights – Don’t Ignore These!

Here are some common brake warning lights:

Brake fluid level warning light. Brake fluid is low.

Brake fluid level warning light. Brake fluid is low.

Anti-lock braking system warning light.

Anti-lock braking system warning light.

Fault in hydraulic system/brake fluid level dangerously low.

Fault in hydraulic system/brake fluid level dangerously low.

Parking (emergency brake) is on.

Parking (emergency brake) is on.


Brake Maintenance Tips

  1. Learn how to brake properly on mountain roads.
  2. Have brake fluid changed every 2 years (or sooner if the fluid looks brown) in order to protect your car’s critical brake components.
  3. Get your brake pads checked frequently, especially if you do a lot of mountain driving.
  4. Don’t ride your brake pedal.
  5. Avoid sudden braking by giving yourself more room between your car and the one in front of you.
  6. When your brake pads need replacing buy the highest quality pad you can afford. Be sure the new pads meet or exceed factory specs.


ExpressToll Transponder, ExpressToll Switchable Transponder, EZPass: What’s The Difference?

ExpressToll transponder, switchable transponder, EZPass. Yes, it’s confusing! Here’s what you need to know:
ExpressToll transponders and switchable transponders are money saving options for using Express lanes along the Front Range and I-70 corridor. Drivers with either of these transponders have an account with ExpressToll  and receive a discounted rate. Drivers without transponders are billed at a higher rate through License Plate Toll. ExpressToll passes only work in the State of Colorado. Travelers from out-of-state can use the express lanes and are billed via License Plate Toll.
Formerly there was a separate tolling system for users of E470 called EZPass. Fortunately ExpressToll now interoperates with all Colorado tolling facilities so you only need an ExpressToll pass to use all toll roads in Colorado.
What’s an HOV Switchable Transponder and why would I want one?


A HOV switchable transponder in HOV mode.

The Switchable HOV Transponder is the only pass that lets you use the carpool/HOV option (3 or more people) and drive in the express lanes for free. There is a flat fee of $15.00 to receive a switchable HOV transponder. Drivers living and driving along the ExpressToll lane corridors may seriously want to consider getting at least one switchable HOV transponder.
You must use the transponder properly by flipping the switch to HOV in order to get the free rate. If you are using the express lane as a solo driver you must remember to switch back to TOLL or you may receive a ticket (violation costs $250.00.)
If you know you will never use an express lane for HOV you don’t need a switchable transponder.
Contact ExpressToll for more information and to sign up to receive an HOV transponder.

Pellman Family Favorite Colorado Road Trips: South Central Colorado

Summer is here, gas prices remain relatively low. It’s the perfect time to plan a Colorado road trip!
The itinerary for this trip is based on one of our favorite family vacations, way back when our kids were little in 1999. For fun, we dug out some old family photos to prove we were there. But don’t think this itinerary is just for kids, it’s easily adaptable for any age range.
Round trip from Boulder this itinerary will add 598 miles to your odometer. It’s an easy 5-6 day trip that allows you time to explore and can easily be expanded or shortened. The longest driving day is the haul down to the Sand Dunes, about 4-5 hours without stops.

Destination: Great Sand Dunes National Park


Gregory and Melissa floating in Medano Creek, 1999.

June is the perfect time to visit the sand dunes, before it gets too hot and while Medano Creek is in full-flow. Even long-time Colorado residents may not know about the rare surge flow of this creek. As it swells from the spring run-off the water rolls over the sand sheet creating the sounds of waves.
Happily for our readers, 5280 Magazine just published an excellent, in-depth article about Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s chuck full of excellent tips, restaurant and lodging suggestions and does a great job of explaining the geology of the lower San Luis basin.

Destination: Colorado Gators Reptile Park


Melissa and Gregory are getting to touch a baby alligator, with a little help from their Dad.

Young and old alike will get a kick out of  Colorado Gators which features not only alligators, but other exotic snakes, turtles, geckos and more. Youngsters can take a class to become a junior reptile handler and oldsters can learn how to wrestle a gator.
The reptile park is only 25 miles from the Sand Dunes making it an easy morning diversion from a few days camping at the Dunes or a stop as you head north towards Salida and Buena Vista.
Other Stops To Consider As You Head North

  • Curious about Colorado’s first green certified cemetery? You’ll find it in Crestone. It feels like a visit to the wild, wild west.
  • Like horseback riding and spectacular views? Granite Mountain Outfitters, located at the top of Poncha Pass, has beautiful guided trail rides giving you views of the San Luis valley to the south and South Park to the north.
  • Lunch in one of several friendly restaurants along the Arkansas River in downtown Salida. There’s also a lush, shady park for picnics and playtime.

Destination: Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort

Located 15 miles south of Buena Vista, in Nathrop, CO, is Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, a non I-70 alternative to Glenwood Springs with lovely accommodations and five non-sulfur geothermal pools. As a side trip, if you haven’t been into Buena Vista lately you should go. Downtown features brewpubs, interesting shops, good local coffee and more.

Destination: Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Cripple Creek

Florissant is home to one of the richest and diverse fossil deposits in the world (over 1700 species of animals and plants.) Learn what creatures lived in Colorado 34 million years ago. A visit to Florissant fossil beds is a day activity. There are no lodging/camping/restaurants in the park (stay in nearby Cripple Creek.) Visit the Florissant Fossil Beds website to get the most from your visit.


You can’t be a true Colorado kid without a ride on one of our state’s old narrow gauge mining trains.

Twenty-five miles down the road is historic Cripple Creek, known for it’s role in the Gold Rush, for mining and gambling. There’s lots of Cripple Creek Events,with plenty of places to stay and eat, along with gambling for the “of age” crowd. Take of tour of the Molly Kathleen Gold Mine ride the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, and see the Cripple Creek donkey herd wander through town, direct descendants of the areas mining herds.

Destination: Garden Of The Gods

Wrap up your south central Colorado getaway at Garden Of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark, forty-five miles northeast from Cripple Creek, that is not to be missed. The park offers a wide variety of guided and self-guided nature walks, an interactive museum, and numerous other events each day. Spend a leisurely half day at the Garden and still be home in time for dinner.

How To Use Uber and Lyft

Uber and Lyft are two popular alternatives to taxi service (called ridesharing) in the Denver Metro area. If you haven’t used an app-based car service like this before you probably have questions – we know we did.
How Do They Work?
Here’s a short video on how Uber works:

And here’s how to use Lyft:

What About Safety?
Both Uber and Lyft screen their drivers, including a driving and criminal history check. The companies have standards for each vehicle level (learn more: Uber, Lyft.) Basic Uber service, called UberX, requires a model 2000 or newer. Lyft requires a 2003 model or newer for their basic service.
It is important to note that it’s against Lyft and Uber’s policy to allow rides to minors without the account holder or another adult who is 18 or over in the vehicle with them.  While some drivers do sometimes give rides to minors, they do so at risk of being deactivated.
A useful and unique part of both Uber and Lyft is that passengers get to rate their drivers (and drivers rate their passengers.) Whenever you open your app to get a ride you can see what drivers are available in your area and see how other passengers have rated the driver. Both companies will deactivate drivers with poor ratings.
Confused About Which Service to Use?
Here’s a nifty infographic comparing the two services:


Source: (Double click on image to enlarge)

Some useful ways to use these services beyond the obvious:

  1. Use ridesharing to extend your public transportation options by picking you up and bridging the gap between where public transportation ends and your destination.
  2. Impress a date. Use Uber Black or Uber Lux.
  3. To retrieve a lost or forgotten item. Left your phone at home? As long as there is someone there to give it to the driver you can have your phone driven to your location. (This applies to other items, too.)
  4. Need to get to the airport after a busy day of work? Arrange for an Uber driver to put your luggage in their trunk before you head to work and then to pick you up when it’s time to head to the airport.
  5. Have a friend that had too much to drink? Send them home with ridesharing.

New Users Get A Discount

  • For new Uber users use this link and promo code nx1an
  • For new Lyft users follow this link

What You Should Know About Colorado’s New Restriction Codes To The Chain Law

SnowVailEffective immediately, Colorado has adopted new restriction codes to the chain law for passenger vehicles, SUVs and small trucks when winter weather causes severe driving conditions. When CDOT (Colorado Department Of Transportation) determines conditions are adverse they may enforce  a “Code 15” or “Code 16” restriction.
Cars on the road during Code 15 restrictions must have one of the following to proceed:

  • Snow tires with at least 1/8″ tread
  • All weather tires marked M/D (mud/snow) with at least 1/8″ tread
  • An AWD car with at least 1/8″ tread on the tires
  • Traction devices (chains/auto sock) for two drive tires

Test your treads.

Fines for cars caught driving under Code 15 restrictions that don’t meet one of the above conditions can be fined $133. Cars blocking traffic who don’t meet the conditions will be fined $657.00.
Code 16 restrictions require all cars on the road have chains or Auto Socks. In 2014 Gifts For Cars, we wrote about the Auto-Sock, and are pleased that it’s been approved as an alternative to chains in Colorado. The Auto-Sock is much easier to install than traditional chains (excellent for the ladies and young drivers in your life.)
For more information on the new law:

We have several helpful articles on Winter Driving. Check them out.

Time Saving Tips For Your Emissions Test

  1. Drive by a RapidScreen van for an automatic test. Learn more…
  2. Find the average “real time” wait for each emission testing station. Note: the wait time for each location on the website includes the amount of time it takes to perform the test. So if a wait time says 30 minutes that includes 10 minutes waiting in the car line plus 20 minutes for testing.
  3. Consider an alternate testing location (in our area there are tests centers in Boulder, Longmont and Broomfield.) To reduce wait time, AirCare Colorado recommends bringing your car in at these times:
    • Early mornings (all emissions centers open at 8am including Saturday.)
    • The middle two weeks of the month.

Avoid the following:

  • Mondays
  • The day after a holiday
  • Lunch time

Please note: We do not provide emissions testing at our shop. Air Care Colorado has a list of all emission testing locations and wait times.