NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Parents who are sending their kids off to school, especially in a second-hand car, may want to take advantage of a deal from Pep Boys next week. The car repair shop is offering free brake inspections just before college kids head back to campus.

As far as brakes go, it’s a mixed bag of opinions on whether or not they cause vehicle accidents.

According to the website, most car accidents are really not accidents at all: More than 95% of motor vehicle accidents involve some combination of equipment failure, road design, driver behavior, and road quality – four components that have at least one common denominator: All involved using (or misusing) the vehicle’s brakes to avoid an accident.

So, what causes them, and how can you avoid them?

SmartMotorist says that brakes on newer vehicles are much safer these days, but it’s a crapshoot with cars and trucks that have some mileage on them.

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To be sure your car is safe, take full advantage of the brake-check deal from the national car repair chain Manny, Moe & Jack (Stock Quote: PBY) – also known as Pep Boys – next week. The outfit is offering free brake inspections during Brake Safety Awareness Week, which runs from August 20-28, 2011.

Pep Boys advises drivers to have all brake components checked thoroughly, including brake linings, hardware and hydraulics. In conjunction with the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association, it also provides a handy list of brake-related red flags that could signal a safety issue on your vehicle.

Here’s the list of potential brake problems to keep an eye on:

  • A brake system warning lamp that stays illuminated.
  • Scraping or grinding noises coming from the brakes.
  • Brake pedal feel that’s soft or spongy when the pedal is depressed.
  • A vehicle that pulls to one side when the brakes are applied.
  • Low brake fluid level in the master cylinder.
  • A brake fluid test indicating a copper content of 200 parts per million or greater.

Pep Boys is also throwing free tire-pressure checks (which the company offers year-round) into the mix next week. So to keep your brakes safe, and your tires, too. PepBoys should find its way onto your “to do” list this weekend.

—For more tips and tricks on getting the most from your car, visit MainStreet’s “Wheels” topic page for our latest coverage!