Your car's brakes have gone a very long time without repairs. In fact, you do not think much of it because the brakes do not squeal or feel differently under your foot. The truth is, you can grow accustomed to the slow deterioration of your brakes and not even know it. It is only when you have experienced brakes in other ways that you realize that your own are worse off than you thought.
Someone Else's Brakes Need Only the Slightest Nudge
If you borrow someone else's car (a friend or family member's) and their brakes are brand new, you will find that you have to readjust the amount of pressure you apply to the brake pedal. Where your brakes require some level of heaviness to stop your vehicle, you discover in another car or truck that all you have to do is tap the brake pedal. This is a sure sign that your brakes are not so good, and that you have gradually adjusted to the sensation of old brakes over time in your vehicle.
Brake pedals are not supposed to go all the way to your vehicle's floor unless you have to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident. If you have to brake as though every stop is an accident, you need to accept the fact that your brakes are shot. You should also discontinue any notion that some cars are just built with feather-touch brakes and others need more pressure to work. Truly functional and healthy brakes all have a feather-touch reaction to your foot on the brake pedal.
Your Brakes Do Strange Things
In this case, the strange thing is that they work sometimes, and at other times, you might push all the way to the floor with no response or pump them continuously for a few seconds until they "catch," and then they work. Not only is this a sign of serious brake problem, but also a very dangerous situation. You might have a major leak in the brake line, which is why you have to pump your brakes before you can stop. Brakes that only work some of the time are not good brakes at all.
Sounds and Sensations Other Than Squealing and Grinding
Squealing and grinding are the obvious signs your brakes are too far gone to salvage, but since you believe your brakes are good, there are other sounds and sensations that tip you off before your brakes reach the grinding/squealing stage. Jarring motions or the sensation that your rubber tires are "sticking" to the road should tip you off as well. Thudding sounds can also mean that your brakes are bad, because they could have loosened or slipped out of position and be up against some part of the wheel.
No Time for a Mechanic
You may not have time for a mechanic to look at your brakes or find out what is wrong with them. If that is the problem behind your refusing to check the brakes, there are any number of national brake service and automotive chains that will examine and diagnose the problem over your lunch break. You can schedule the brake diagnostic appointment ahead of time. If the problem is typical, e.g., you need new rotors, pads, etc., another lunch appointment with a brake service specialist will replace your previously assumed good brakes with even better ones. (For contact with a mechanic, look up Big Mechanic)