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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.


What Your Teen Should Do If They Get a Flat Tire

We have discovered many teens do not understand how dangerous it is to drive on a flat tire or how quickly they can ruin the whole wheel. (In fact most teens do not know the difference between a tire and a wheel.)
Even driving to the gas station to add air to a low tire can damage the internal integrity of the tire. If a tire looks low, it should not be driven on.
The scariest form of flat tire is a rapid loss of pressure or a blow-out. Talk to your teen about what to do. (In case you do not know, here is a link describing what to do in the event of a blowout.

Your daughter is off at college and gets a flat tire driving home from the mall.

What are her options?

  1. We feel that the best option is to call a roadside assistance company like AAA to come and change the tire. There are many reasons for this. Changing a tire by the side of the road can be dangerous, changing a tire with the tools provided with the car can be difficult and it might be after dark or in an unsafe area.
  2. Change out the tire with a spare. Depending on the car the spare may be a regular tire or a small compact one. Here is where she gets to crack her knuckles, pull out the car guide and owner manual, assemble her tools and go to work. It is a bit of a messy job and will probably take 20-30 minutes to complete.This is something she should practice at least once in a non-emergency situation. Most car shops use air tools these days making it difficult to loosen lug bolts with the tools provided with the car. We suggest you buy a four-way lug wrench. (Note: These do not work on all rims. Test it.)
    Once the tire is on she should get to a gas station and check the pressure, and get the original tire fixed or replaced as soon as possible.
  3. In an extreme emergency, use a tire sealant. This is a temporary fix that is useful in a tough situation, when there is no cell service, the spare is flat, the lug bolts will not come off, or if the location is dangerous. In general, we do not recommend tire sealants. In newer cars with tire pressure monitoring sensors, tire sealant can ruin the sensor. Also sealants only work on small leaks. Make sure you tell the shop that you used a tire sealant as some sealants are flammable. The repair will require more labor so most shops will charge extra for the repair.

Explain to your teen that no matter what type of flat they have, it will probably require getting the car into a tire store or auto repair shop to get everything checked out. This is especially true with compact spare tires which are not designed to be driven on for any length of time.
Emphasize to your teen, tires are not something to mess around with or ignore!

Teach Your Teen What To Do in an Accident

Try to stay calm.


In All Situations

  1. Health and safety of people come first. Check for injuries, first yourself, then the other people in your car and then people in the other car. If there are injuries call for an ambulance immediately.
  2. Turn on your flasher/hazard lights so drivers coming behind you know there is a problem. If you have orange safety cones/warning triangles/flares and can safely set them up, do so.
  3. Call 911 (for even minor collisions there must be an accident report if you want to collect on insurance.)
  4. Turn off the engine.
  5. Take pictures (if you can do it safely.) Photograph the accident scene and the vehicles involved in the accident. Take pictures from as many angles as possible, both close-ups and wide-angle shots. If you don’t have a camera, use your cell phone.
  6. If the accident is minor: Move out of traffic to the closest safe place. If there is any question about who is at fault, leave the cars where they are.

If the Accident is Major

  1. Move people without injuries to safety.
  2. Do not move car(s)until police arrive and you are instructed to do so.

Other Important Things to Do

Write it Down

  • Insurance information. Exchange insurance information with the other driver. Include name, name of insurance company, agent, phone numbers. Verify the person you are talking to is the owner of the car and if they are not establish what relationship they have to the owner of the car.
  • What you think happened (include as many details as possible.)
  • Take pictures. A customer told us her daughter phoned to say she had just been backed into by a snowplow in a parking lot and the city was on accident alert. Her parents told her to take some pictures with her phone. All the pictures she took were close ups of the dents in her car. There was no way to prove the plow was in a parking spot when it hit her because the driver of the plow denied it.
  • Names of witnesses and phone numbers.


  • Stick with the facts. Be polite. Stay objective and be truthful. Do not engage in discussion about who is responsible.
  • Do not leave the scene. Wait for the police to arrive.
  • Notify your insurance agent. An insurance agent can help you sort through your options, even if the accident was minor.

Safety Tip: If you are involved in an accident at night in an isolated place use caution. Keep your engine idling and call 911. If the driver of the other car approaches, lock your car doors and lower the window just enough to talk. If the accident is minor, tell the driver you will drive to a well-lit, populated safe location. Do not be persuaded to get out of your car.

Top 10 Questions You Should Ask When Buying a Used Car

Here are 10 questions we think you should ask a seller when checking out a used car. The answers will give you a clue to how well the car has been maintained. If you know the answers when you bring the car into us for an inspection we can help you make a more informed decision about whether to buy the car.
1) Has the car been in an accident?
2) How long have you owned it?
3) Why are you selling your car?
4) Do you have complete service and maintenance records?
5) What kinds of repairs have you done to the car?
6) How often has the oil been changed?
7) Does the car pass emissions?
8) Are you willing to let me take the vehicle to an auto repair shop of my choosing for an inspection?
9) How many miles are on the odometer?
10) How would you describe the condition of your car?
When we looked at cars for our daughter we also:

  • Checked for rust. Rust forms when paint and exterior coatings get chipped. The problem with rust is that it can eat through the metal of your car, weakening its structure. Common areas are around wheel wells and fenders. Rust on the underside of the car can wear right up through the floor. Rusty cars generally have a higher cost of repair associated with them.
  • Checked to see that all four tires were the same. Find out how many miles are on the tires and look for even wear. Mismatched tires can affect the car’s handling.
  • Looked for cars with well taken care of interiors and exteriors. (Owners who care for the appearance of their cars tend to be those who also take good care of maintenance and repairs.)

Want to Learn More?
Here are some links with information about selecting a used car:

Great Car-Related Gifts for Teens

Being in the automotive business, we like to give useful gifts to teens that encourage them to care for their cars and drive safely. Here are some of our favorites in a variety of price ranges:

  • Oil change gift cards
  • Gas gift cards
  • Car wash gift certificate
  • iPod dock for cars or a new car radio with an ipod adaptor. (We got one for our daughter. She connects her iPod, selects a playlist and is less distracted about changing radio stations or flipping CDs.)
  • Steering wheel or car seat covers
  • CD holder for the car
  • GPS – especially great for teens going off to college

Recommended Books for the New Driver

Lauren Fix’s Guide to Loving Your Car by Lauren Fix, The Car Coach This informative book covers many items a car owner/driver should know. Lauren discusses everything from how to purchase a car to driving tips, maintenance you can do yourself and vehicle vocabulary. One of our favorite parts of this book is the “What if…” section on handling emergencies. “What if my Check engine light comes on? What if my brakes fail? What if I have a blowout on the road?” Perfect for having handy in the glove compartment.
Every Woman’s Quick & Easy Car Care – A Worry-Free Guide to Car Troubles, Trials & Travels by Bridget Kachur This book explains how cars work using easy to understand pictures and diagrams. It gives you step-by-step instructions on how to do basic maintenance yourself. Kachur includes a great troubleshooting section on what symptoms might mean and discusses what to do during a variety of on-the-road emergencies.
This Girl’s First Car: Teenage Girls Guide to Safe Car Care & Easy Maintenance Tips by Stephanie Esterlin This is a very small book that lends itself to being kept in the glove box. It covers most of the basics, like changing a tire and how to jump start a dead battery. We don’t agree with her recommendation to change the oil every 6 months (click here to know why) but otherwise think it’s a useful basic book.

How to Find the Right Used Car for Your Teenager

Our daughter, Melissa, recently turned 16 and we went through the same emotions most parents experience when their teen receives a driver’s license. Fear because “She’s driving!” and joy because “I don’t have to drive her everywhere anymore!” As owners of Pellman’s Automotive Service one of the most frequent questions we get asked is “What car would you recommend for my teenager?” And, now we know first hand what it’s like to go through the process of researching, selecting and buying a used car specifically for a teen.
When we started shopping for our daughter we were looking for a car with these qualities:

  • Safe and able to withstand some abuse from an inexperienced driver
  • Reliable
  • Affordable


A few months after our daughter, Melissa, got her license a driver ran a stop sign and slammed into the side of her car. Fortunately no one was injured and the car was easily repaired. But we are grateful we paid close attention to selecting a car for Melissa with as many safety features as we could find.
used car teenager, boulder co
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says, 16- to 19-year-olds have four times the risk of being involved in a car crash than older drivers.
“Young novice drivers are at significant risk on the road because they lack both the judgment that comes with maturity and the skill that comes with experience,” according to the ILS. That’s why we suggest a mid-sized car as a teenager’s first car. A teenager’s desire for a sporty car or top heavy SUV are frequently at odds with their skills as drivers. A high performance car or heavy SUV are actually harder to handle in unexpected and emergency situations. Many mid-sized cars perform as well as heavier cars in crash tests. You can review crash test records of the make of car you are considering on the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration website.
Air bags, and if possible, side-air airbags (SABs), are a safety feature we prefer for young drivers. (Learn more about SABs.) SABs became available in 2004, but are still not required by law. If you want this safety feature in the car you select be sure and verify it has it. Other safety features to look for are anti-lock brakes, and traction control.


Young drivers have enough to focus on without dealing with breakdowns. Fortunately you can get excellent information on auto reliability through Consumer Reports auto surveys. You can check them out at your local library or subscribe online (there’s a month-to-month option for only $5.00.) For an additional fee you can get detailed reports on the specific model, make and year of cars you are considering along with suggested sales prices based on the condition of the car.
The following are the most commonly recommended, highly rated used cars: Acura Integra, Toyota Corolla (1999 or later), Honda Civic EX and Honda Accord EX (1998 or later), Infiniti G20, Subaru Forester 2.5X, Toyota Camry XLE (V6) and LE (4 cylinder), Mazda 3, Mazda Protege (1999-2003), Nissan Altima 2.55 (4 cylinder, 2003 or later). We like the 2004 and newer models of Honda, Toyota and Subaru because of their reliability and enhanced safety features.


This is the million-dollar question for most people. When you are considering your budget you need to take into account more than just the purchase price. Consider these costs:

  • Insurance
  • Car registration
  • Immediate maintenance/safety needs
  • Long-term maintenance and repair
  • Gas mileage

Once you’ve narrowed your search you can start shopping. Try Craigslist to see what’s available locally. There are also car-buying services which are particularly useful if you are strapped for time. Check out or The Auto Answerman, a locally based service, orAAA.
Many of our customers obtain history reports on the cars they are considering. These reports provide information about reported accidents, recalls and sometimes repair information for the specific car you want to purchase. You can find these useful reports atAutoCheck or Carfax.
One of the most important things you can do when you are considering a car is have a professional technician check it out. Pellman’s offers inspection services for cars you are considering. We do a full inspection of the vehicle and give you a detailed listing of what condition we think it is in and what repairs and maintenance items are needed. This information can also help you negotiate the purchase price of a car.
We hope this helps you find the right car for your teen. We’re already keeping our eyes open for when our son turns 16. Maybe they’ll be making cars with top and bottom air bags by then!