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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.


Tips For Winter Night Driving

Did You Know?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic deaths are three times greater at night than during the day.
Speeding is a common culprit in night time driving accidents and deaths. The graph below shows how dramatically reaction time, braking distance and stopping distance are changed by driving at night. The lesson here is when driving at night ALWAYS give yourself more space between other vehicles and reduce your speed.


Visibility Is Key

Make sure your headlights are aimed properly.

If you find that while driving with your low beams on, oncoming drivers frequently flash their brights at you, it means your lights are aimed too high. Lights aimed too low reduce your ability to react significantly.

Clean your headlights and windshield

Before you head out in the evening check that your headlights and windshield are clean. A smeared windshield produces a halo effect that makes it hard to see. If you’ve noticed streaks on the glass from failing windshield wipers, replace them immediately. Carry windshield wiper fluid and some newspaper in your winter emergency kit.

Check the condition of your head light covers

Most vehicles built after the early nineties are equipped with acrylic headlights, which eventually become cloudy from debris that causes abrasions to the lens. Additionally, exposure to weather, pollutants and solar radiation can further diminish the appearance of an otherwise attractive vehicle. But more importantly, it can reduce visibility during night driving. It’s a problem that affects nearly every vehicle make and model, foreign or domestic. When headlights turn cloudy and yellow, it’s primarily caused by the deterioration of the UV layer. The oxidation of this protective layer can make the headlight appear hazy and reduce light output by more than 75 percent, which affects the safety of the driver and ultimately the resale value of the vehicle.
You may have seen advertisements online for DIY headlight restoration. In our experience this is a quick fix that only lasts a few months. We offer professional headlight restoration service. This process includes removing the cloudy and discolored surface and then applying a protective sealant. The service restores clarity and improves luminosity and can increase headlight illumination up to 300%. It’s completely safe to use and compatible with all headlight components. In addition, it comes with a 2-year warranty.

Ease Eye Strain

There are several ways to ease eye strain:

  • Adjust rear and side view mirrors by slightly angling them down to decrease glare
  • Dim console lights
  • Keep your eyes moving continually
  • Avoid looking straight into oncoming headlights, focus on the center line instead
  • Check with your eye doctor. As eyes age they have much more trouble dealing with glare. Know your limitations and plan your trips accordingly.


snownightCar safety experts all agree, if you can avoid driving at night while it’s snowing, do it. The light reflecting properties of snow cause your headlights to reflect light back at you. Low visibility and driving don’t mix. Check the weather forecast before you go. If you have to drive, slow way down, be alert and stop as soon as you can.

Watch Out For Wildlife

If you are traveling through areas with wildlife watch for pairs of eyes. If you see them slow down. Animals are drawn to the lights and might move right in front of you.


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.

Sustainable Car Maintenance

Making simple changes to the way you drive and maintain your vehicle can lessen your car’s impact on the environment. Choosing a mechanic dedicated to can make a real difference as well. Here are 10 tips towards a more eco-friendly car:

  • Maintenance
    Keeping your vehicle running at peak performance will reduce emissions, increase performance, extend its life, and save you money. Regular oil and filter changes are a big part of this maintenance as well as following factory recommended guidelines. When cleaning your car, using a commercial car wash can reduce water consumption considerably, and keep oil and gasoline out of the storm drains.


  • Acceleration and Speed
    Did you know that you can save money and help the environment by changing yourdriving habits? Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) can lower your gas mileage by up to 33% and may also raise pollutant emissions. This type of driving can also cause additional wear on your engine, tires, brakes and transmission requiring earlier replacement.
    Studies show that fuel economy peaks at about 50-55 miles per hour. Above 60 mph it begins to drop dramatically and you can estimate a 5% loss in fuel efficiency for every additional 10 mph. If you are driving on a fairly flat road, using your cruise control to maintain a constant speed will also increase your MPG.


  • Recycle Used Engine Fluids, Batteries or Car Parts
    Most engine fluids, batteries, and many car parts can now be recycled, or remanufactured and reused. If you need help finding out how to properly dispose of an item, call your local government waste management agency or visit Earth911. Each year, in honor of Earth Day, AAA offers free car battery recycling. Find out more here.


  • Reduce drag and weight
    When not in use, remove extra items attached to your vehicle that create drag, such as ski racks and cargo carriers. By limiting carrying unnecessary items in your car, you can reduce car weight and improve gas mileage. Every 100 lbs of extra weight reduces your mpg by 1-2%.


  • Tires
    Check the air pressure in your car’s tires monthly; under inflated tires require the engine to work harder and use more fuel to maintain a given speed. Also, make sure the car is in alignment, as unaligned tires wear out faster. When replacing tires, make sure the auto shop or tire store recycles the old ones in an environmentally friendly way.


  • Tighten or Fix the Gas Cap

    Tighten the gas cap after every fill-up until you hear it click. A loose, cracked or missing gas cap lowers gas mileage and emits harmful emissions.


  • Use Air Conditioning Wisely
    Try rolling your windows down instead of using your A/C while driving around town. If you need some cool air, consider using you’re A/C in short bursts and re-circulate this cool air. At higher speeds, use your A/C as the extra drag caused by your open windows actually uses more fuel.
  • Limit Idling
    Idling for more than 10 seconds uses more gas and causes more pollution than simply restarting your engine.


  • Reduce Car Use
    Consolidate errands to eliminate unnecessary driving and plan out your trip and route before you leave. According to the United States Transportation Bureau a whopping forty-five percent of daily car trips are for shopping and errands. If you get lost, don’t be embarrassed about asking for directions. Think of all the gas and time you will be saving. Consider joining a car sharing program or carpool.


  • Choose a Sustainable Auto Shop
    When choosing a mechanic look for one who is dedicated to sustainable practices and participates in general business and automotive specific recycling. A sustainable auto shop is dedicated to reducing solid waste by reducing and recycling, implementing energy and water saving practices, and being actively engaged in pollution prevention.
    Be leery of any shop promising huge energy savings through your purchase of expensive specialty environmental products and services. Do your own homework to determine if these products and services actually deliver the savings that they promise. Some might actually damage your car.


Winter Car Emergency Checklist

winter_car_kitEvery car should have a good emergency kit in it. Here is a list of the things we think you should have on hand:


  • Small bag/bucket of sand, gravel or kitty litter
  • Small shovel
  • Extra mittens, gloves and hats
  • Flashlight (fresh batteries)
  • Road flares
  • Whistle
  • Blankets
  • First Aid Kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Rope
  • Cutting device (box cutter, pocket knife)
  • Duct tape
  • Gloves
  • Gallon of water (in a metal container, plastic can freeze and crack in the winter)
  • Basic tool kit (such as screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers)
  • Hand cleaner to get all the dirt/grease off that inevitably gets on you
  • Snack bars that do not go bad
  • Cell phone charger
  • Spare set of keys
  • Car chains or an Auto Sock

Driving in Snow and Ice

Do not go out if you do not need to. If you must drive plan extra time. This will keep you from feeling pressured and taking chances you should not.

  • Drive slowly at an appropriate speed for the conditions.
  • Accelerate slowly. This helps your wheels gain traction and keeps them from slipping.
  • Drive smoothly. Anticipate your stops and starts. Abrupt stops, turns and braking on ice will almost always cause sliding.
  • Maintain a steady speed while turning.
  • Allow more distance. Double the distance you normally maintain between your car and the car in front of you.
  • Consider your route. If you are driving in a place you know well think ahead. Do you want to drive up the hill on South Boulder Road to McCaslin when the roads are icy when you could take Baseline and avoid the incline?
  • Look ahead. Driving experts say drivers need to keep a sharp eye out for what is happening well up the road. This allows you anticipate possible problems well in advance.
  • Avoid aggressive drivers. Let them pass you and drive at the speed that lets you feel in control of your vehicle.
  • Do not rapidly pull out in front of other cars.
  • 4WD vehicles slide on ice just as easily as 2WD vehicles.

Correcting Skids 101

Every driver on winter roads will experience some sliding. Knowing what to expect and how to react can help immensely. New drivers to snow and ice should practice in an empty parking lot to learn what to expect.

  1. If your car has anti-lock brakes (ABS system) press firmly on your brakes. You will feel your car pulsing. This means the ABS is working. The pumping action creates traction. A light will appear on your dashboard telling you that your ABS System is engaged. This is normal, it does not mean something is wrong with your car. If your car does not have anti-lock brakes, manually pump them with your foot. When you feel the car gain traction then start steering out of the skid.
  2. Driving safety experts suggest the first thing to do when skidding is pick a fixed place (for example, a patch or line on the road) in the direction you want to go and keep your eyes locked on that point. Research shows that when people focus on the thing they are afraid to hit they hit it and that by focusing on where you want to go your body intuitively makes driving corrections. You can see it demonstrated in this video.
  3. Learn about front wheel and rear wheel skids. You can find two informative articles with details about winter driving and correcting for skids from Edmunds and Road Trip America. Nothing however, beats realistic practice and for that consider:

Winter Driving School
Colorado is home to one of the best-known winter driving schools in the country, Bridgestone Winter Driving School. Located in Steamboat Springs, drivers learn and practice how to drive on snow and ice. They also sell an excellent DVD on winter driving skills.