Does your car pull to one side when you apply the brakes? Does it seem like you have to press the pedal awfully hard to get the car to stop? Do you have to pump your brakes? Do your breaks squeal?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may have a brake problem. Let's take a look at these and other common problems, and their causes. Sometimes what seems like a brake problem really isn't. PULLING TO ONE SIDE: The first thing to check here is tire inflation. Unevenly inflated tires can cause this. For example, if the manufacturer calls for 26 psi in the front tires, you don't want 19 in the left front and 28 in the right front. You want exactly 26 in both.

Misalignment of wheels can also cause this. Wheel alignment must be checked at a garage.

A sticking brake caliper can cause it, too. What can happen here is that only one brake works. So the car naturally pulls when you apply the brakes. It pulls in the direction of the brake that's doing the braking.

A contaminated brake lining or pad can do it, too. If you've got grease or some other substance on the braking material, that brake won't produce as much stopping force as its partner on the other wheel. A visual inspection (removing calipers or drums so the brake shoes or brake pads are visible) will show if they are contaminated.

If a brake shoe or pad cannot be cleaned with a brake cleaning fluid it must be replaced. Note: whenever you replace the brakes on one wheel, also replace the ones on the wheel on the other side.

A brake drum that is cut to a larger oversize than its partner can also cause it. Brake drums should be within specs, and within 0.02" of each other in terms of inside diameter. This is something you can't check. A garage can, though. SPONGY BRAKE: This is usually caused by air in the system. Sometimes it's the result of brakes that were improperly bled when they were rebuilt, in which case, bleeding the brakes (which removes the air from the system) will solve the problem.

If air is getting in because of a leak, however, that leak must be repaired and the brakes bled to remove the air.

A "pregnant" flexible brake line can cause it. This is a flexible line that has become somewhat soft and expands as the brakes are applied. Such a line must be replaced. You can check this by safely elevating the car and having somebody depress the brakes as you check the flexible brake lines to see if they expand. PULSATING BRAKES: When you press the brake pedal it pulsates up and down. This is commonly caused by brake rotors that have too much side-to-side play or that vary too much in thickness from one point to another. Often it can be cured by "turning" the rotors, again a job for a professional. BRAKES NEED TO BE PUMPED: Sometimes the automatic adjusters on drum brakes malfunction for one reason or another; as a result, the brakes stop adjusting automatically. Have the adjusters checked. TAKES TOO MUCH PRESSURE: Does it feel as if you're really pressing the pedal hard, but not stopping accordingly? A bad power-brake unit can cause this. A quick way to check it is to shut the engine off. Pump the brake pedal until it becomes "hard." Now hold your left foot on the brake pedal and start the engine. The pedal should drop some. If it does, the power brake unit is okay; if it doesn't, it's bad -- replace it.

A bad master cylinder, one that's leaking internally, can also cause it.

A glazed drum or rotor can also be the cause. "Turning" the drum or rotor, as long as it can be turned and still be within specs, can solve this problem.

Also a glazed or hard brake lining can cause this. A visual inspection will show if the brake lining is glazed. BRAKE SQUEAL: This is a fairly common problem, and sometimes there's nothing you can do. There are, however, substances that can be applied to the backs of disc brakes that will sometimes reduce or eliminate squeal or chatter. It might be worth trying. Check with your local auto parts supply store or with your car dealer's service department for advice. PARKING BRAKE DOESN'T HOLD VERY WELL: Sometimes all it needs is adjusting. Adjusting it is not difficult -- your shop manual will show you how.

Binding linkage can also cause the problem. Sometimes the linkage can be freed up again with penetrating oil, but that doesn't really cure the problem. If the parking brake cable and its couduit are really corroded, the best bet is to replace them.

And, of course, worn-out brake shoes can also cause it. The parking brakes uses the rear brake shoes. If they're worn out, they must be replaced. b