by Clint Burgess & r & Preventive maintenance on a vehicle can be the difference between shelling out a little or a lot of money when it finally comes time to get down to the nuts and bolts of fixing the proverbial squeaky wheel. Whatever it may be that ails your vehicle -- from belts to filters -- it's better to get it done sooner rather than later. There is one piece of equipment that is an absolute must when it comes to keeping tabs on vehicle maintenance -- the brakes. How often do vehicle owners think about brakes until it's too late?

Personally, I have gone to the point of no return when it comes to replacing brakes. I once wore a set of brakes into oblivion on a Volkswagen Cabriolet. That translated into not only getting a brake job, but paying to replace all four rotors on the car to the tune of $70 apiece. (I told you it was bad.) It was probably a money issue at the time, but as ominous as a brake job can be, with the proper "know how" -- or, more to the point, "know when" -- brakes don't have to be a nightmare. While you don't need to be a rocket scientist to change a set of brake pads, it might be more worth your while and peace of mind to get the job done right the first time by a certified professional.

There are numerous shops around town that specialize in brakes, and there are a hundred other places that repair everything including brakes. Knowing when to go and get those brakes done is the tricky part. Obviously my aforementioned grind job went far past the point of needing to get the brakes done. One sure sign of brake wear is the familiar squealing we all know and love. The majority of the time, this high-pitched metal minuet means it's time to go to the shop. Sometimes it may just be debris in the braking system, but that's for the shop guys to figure out. Vibration of the brake pedal itself and or the front end are also signs. On newer vehicles, the dashboard brake light is also another good indication of a brake problem.

Once the problem has been identified, it's time for the inspection. If you have a trusted auto repair shop you deal with, it's probably best to see them to take care of this maintenance. And that is what it is -- maintenance -- because brakes are designed to wear out. They don't work forever. If you are undecided on a repair shop, a few area businesses have earned my trust. New Concepts Goodyear in Spokane Valley does a respectable job at a fair price. Another shop that saved me money in the past by exposing another shop's estimate as grossly inflated was Alton's Tire Center. Any of their locations will give you the facts and only fix what is actually wrong. Finally, Les Schwab on Francis has been a reputable business to deal with.

It's easy to forget about a piece of equipment like the brakes until it's too late. Brake inspections should be done at least once a year. Dry conditions in the summer in our region can result in dust and debris in the brakes, and a simple inspection may be enough to prolong the life of your brakes. I certainly learned my lesson the expensive way, and I'm not about to go back to maintenance-neglect school.

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19
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