To pump or not to pump the brakes

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

I need help in convincing my wife that she doesn't need to "pump" the brakes when coming to a stop on dry pavement. It really jerks the unsuspecting passenger around. It seems a guy she knew in high school told her that the brakes would last longer if she pumped them. The reasoning being that the wear would be spread over more of the brake surface, rather than in one spot. I feel this is faulty reasoning. Furthermore, even if there is any truth to it, I don't care. I'd rather have a little wear and tear on the brakes than get thrown around every time we come to a stop. Please help with your comments. This has been going on for 16 years!

RAY: Well, first of all Chuck, I think it's time you dropped this grudge against your wife's former high school boyfriend. You've been married to her for 16 years, so I think it's clear who won that one.

TOM: But you're absolutely right. Your wife is not preventing any wear and tear by pumping the brakes. The wheels are turning when you use the brakes, so the wear and tear is automatically spread evenly over the surfaces of the disc rotors and drums. Even more so than if you pump the pedal!

RAY: To be fair to this knucklehead high school boyfriend, there are some situations in which you might want to pump the brakes. If you were driving down a very long, steep hill, you might pump the brakes to keep them from overheating.

TOM: But even then, you would "pump" the brakes by applying them lightly for five or ten seconds, then releasing them. You wouldn't "jab" at them so that the passenger gets a flat spot on his forehead from banging against the dashboard.

RAY: And on wet pavement, ice, or snow, pumping the brakes can keep them from locking up. That's a crude (and not very accurate) attempt at doing what anti-lock brakes do automatically.

TOM: But having gone through this detailed explanation, Chuck, I must confess that I'm afraid logic won't work in this situation. Your wife obviously has some deep fascination with this guy who taught her to pump the brakes.

RAY: The only solution is to take her to her 20th high school reunion. Only after she sees what an absolute nerd this guy has become will she finally let up on the brakes issue. Of course, there is a certain amount of risk associated with this approach. Good luck, Chuck.

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