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5 Signs your car needs brakes: Grinding and other brake issues explained

  • Many people have questions about the brakes on their vehicle.

Rightfully so, brakes are a huge safety item. 

Your brakes need to be in good working condition. Nobody wants to find out the hard way that their brakes have failed when they need them most.

Brakes that grind or squeal are just a few of the obvious signs that it may be time for a brake job, however there are a few things that may not be that obvious.

From grinding to pulsation here are a few things to listen, and pay attention to.

In this article we will go over some signs that it’s time to have your brakes checked out.

Over the years countless customers have asked me various questions about their vehicle.

Questions about brakes are hands down one of the top items people ask about. Anyone knows no matter how mechanical they are that brakes are important as hell for safety.

Lets go over some things to look (and listen for) when it comes to your car’s brakes. 

Whether you go to your mechanic or check them yourself, this article will go in depth into issues from brakes grinding to wearing unevenly.

In this article we will dive into some of the more common issues with brakes

After reading this article you will have a better grasp on how your car’s brakes work and what to look out for. 

I want you to know what to tell and ask your mechanic so you can clearly explain your concerns in detail. This allows your mechanic to know exactly what you are experiencing or concerned about.

 Common issues with brakes

  • Brakes grinding
  • Hard pulling under braking
  • Brake pulsation
  • Dragging brakes
  • Line rot and leaks

                             1. Grinding

 
 

It is amazing what we can adapt to as far as noises and issues with our cars. 

The one thing not to tune out is the feeling and noise of your brakes grinding.

The main causes of the “metal to metal” situation.

  • The brake pads have worn down to the point that the metal backing is contacting the rotor face.
  • There is a hanging up component causing premature wear on one of the brake pads leading to a metal to metal situation.
  • A possible caliper or flex hose issue resulting in the brake pads dragging on the rotor, this will also cause heavy uneven wear.

The bottom line here is the brake pads or pad backing is most likely contacting the rotor face, once all of the pads material wears off the next thing is the back of the pad hitting the steel rotor face.

Not a good situation at all, get the brakes checked asap. This is not only a major safety issue, but it can also damage more components on your vehicle

2. Brake pulsation

Pulsation occurs when the rotors become warped from overheating. The surface is no longer true and smooth.

The brake rotors absorb all of the energy that gets created when you apply your brake pedal. As the calipers apply the pad faces to the rotor a tremendous amount of energy transfer from the rolling wheel to the rotor face is what is slowing you down.

 

The picture above clearly shows the caliper, brake pads, and rotor. The caliper uses hydraulic pressure to press the soft pad face into the rotor surface on both sides. 

As the rotor undergoes constant heat cycles warpage of the rotor can occur.

When this happens the pads are contacting an untrue face at high speeds. The result is shaking or (pulsation) in the steering wheel or the overall vehicle while stopping. The most common description from customers is…..”When I get off an exit on the highway and hit my brakes the steering wheel shakes like crazy!”

This can be a safety concern if it gets bad enough, not only that, it can wear out front end components prematurely as well. 

Some vehicles are more prone to brake pulsation than others, however driving habits can also play a role in the chances of rotor warp issues. 

Try to avoid riding your brakes, a heavy foot on the pedal all of the time will bring problems down the road.

 

3. Brake pull and drag

Yet another sign that your car needs brakes is the dreaded brake pull. 

This occurs when you apply the brakes and the vehicle pulls hard to one side. 

This situation occurs when one of the wheels has a sticking caliper or another issue causing the brake pads to “grab” on one side.

Image that you are riding down a big ass hill in a red wagon. One of the front wheels hits a piece of gravel that jams the wheel. 

The wagon dives and jerks to the side that has the jammed wheel. Of course it would!

 

pull, wagon, trolley

There are a few things that can cause this. If you feel a pull or (dive) to one side when you hit the brakes it’s time to have them inspected ASAP.

You may also get a nasty burning smell after driving. 

One quick way to check for one wheel’s caliper dragging is to drive the car, using the brakes quite a bit. 

After driving park the car and feel the difference in temperature at all wheels. If there is one wheel way hotter than the others there is an issue with that wheel’s brakes hanging up.

One tool that we always have on hand at the shop is a laser no contact thermometer. This tool allows you to accurately check the difference in brake rotor temperature. 

Common components that cause this are:

 

At this point it’s time to go to get your brakes checked out. There is no point of waiting until your brakes are grinding to take it to your mechanic. This will end up costing you much more in the end.

Not to mention the safety hazard involved.

4. Squeaking

Ahh the old brake squeak, by far the most complained about issue when it comes to brakes.

Many times a squeak here and there is normal. As long as the brake pads still have material left and everything is in good working order.

 

What causes squeaking brakes ?

It is important to remember that just because the brakes squeak it does not always mean they need to be replaced. Squeaking and grinding brakes are two different things all together. 

Squealing is caused mainly by vibration, as the pad faces contact the brake rotor there is always some sort of frequency generated. 

This is the main reason why proper procedures are followed when replacing pads (see below.)

At times there could be a hard spot in the brake pad material or just a piece of something caught up in the caliper. At that point the rotor becomes sort of a symbol that sings away……..driving you crazy in the process.

 

art, girl, woman

Squealing brakes can certainly drive you crazy ! However there are steps to take when replacing brake pads that will keep them quiet through their life span.

You’re mechanic of course, should know what things need to be done to change out brake pads correctly. 

Many people however like a little DIY brake job project for the weekend. If you have the tools and some mechanical knowledge this can save you a few bucks for sure. 

This is great and I encourage you to get em’ done yourself!

However many diy’ers may not know the correct way to prepare and replace brake pads and rotors.

No worries! Below are the tips you need to get them done right!

 

5. Brake "click"

Kind of a weird issue some people have is a very distinct “snap” or “click” when applying their brakes.

This usually happens in the morning when the pads are cold. You back out of the driveway and then pull forwards, the next time you apply the brake pedal you hear a snap or click.

This is almost always caused by cheap after market brake pads that do not fit 100% correct in the brake caliper bracket. The click is the sound of the pad hitting the bracket because there is space. 

Cheap pads and lack of lubrication causes this. A deal is not always a deal, good quality parts are a must if you want brakes that are effective and quiet.

Tips for replacing your brakes

If you are a little handy a brake job can be a great project for a Saturday morning. 

I won’t be going into the actual procedure of changing grinding brakes. However, here is a list of tips that will keep your new brakes quiet and pulsation free.

It is important to remember that squeaking is caused by vibration. The way to combat this is to lubricate THE BACK OF THE BRAKEPAD with a good quality grease designed for brake components

This cushions and absorbs that vibration and keeps squeaks at bay. Always remember to lubricate any sliding surfaces of brake components such as slide pins, back of the brake pads, etc. 

Never put grease on the pad material surface!

There are special graphite based anti squeal compounds made for the front of the brake pad itself, however I know of the one I use and it’s sold only to professional shops.

While doing brakes it is important to clean all components before greasing them as well, grit can cause issues that can be avoided by taking the time to clean all sliding surfaces before applying grease.

A big tip to avoid brake pulsation is to always clean the hub face where the rotor meets the hub. Any high spot of rust etc will cause the rotor to sit untrue on the hub, resulting in a pulsation. 

If you have an air compressor use a cookie wheel grinder to buff out the surface so it’s nice and clean. No compressor? It’s time for elbow grease and a wire brush. 

Over tightening wheels is also a major cause of brake pulsation, many people tighten the hell out of their wheels. This creates more issues then I can tell you, stop over tightening wheels!!

Invest in a decent torque wrench and look up the specs for your vehicle. Again this comes down to warpage, if you crank down one lug and go less on the others you begin to warp things ever so slightly. 

Sounds nuts but trust me, I have been doing this a very long time and I can tell you it does happen.

Make sure to flush out brake fluid once a year as well, brake fluid is hydrascopic, meaning it absorbs moisture.

Brake fluid will, and does absorb water over time causing the fluid to lose it’s effectiveness, especially at high temperatures. This can result in brake fade when the brakes are needed most. 

Wrapping up

Although this article does not dive into the step by step process of replacing your grinding, squealing , and pulsating brakes. Hopefully it gives you some insight on what is really causing brake issues with your vehicle.

If you tackle replacing your brakes yourself, take these tips and implement them so you can enjoy quiet safe and worry free brakes on your car!

Thanks for reading!

 

Let Scoot know what you think!

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