Apart from your car refusing point-blank to start, brake problems are the next biggest worry.
Defective brakes can easily cause an accident simply because you are unable to stop in time. One of the glaringly obvious indications that your vehicle has brake problems is squealing or grinding noises when applying the foot brake. However, most car drivers don’t know what these noises mean as they could be one of several things. To help you out with brake noises, we have put together this guide.
What Are You Hearing?
Problems with your brakes are alarming, no matter the cause. But typically, the noises you will hear are either rattling and grinding. But also concerning is when your vehicle’s brakes begin to fade. A rattling type noise is usually noticed when you come off the brake pedal. Those drivers who have heard this sound compare it to the rattle of a spray paint can when it gets shaken. The usual reason for rattling from the brakes is heat, causing expansion. Shims are supposed to combat this noise. If you can hear a rattle, it should be happening intermittently and not while you are depressing the brake pedal.
Grinding noises from the brakes are more serious. If you are getting grinding under braking, then you should stop using the vehicle right away and call a qualified mechanic as soon as you can. If the grinding noise is happening when you are stepping on the brake, then the most likely cause is the brake disk rubbing against the brake caliper. This friction between two metal surfaces is often caused by inappropriate or heavy braking over a sustained period. A grinding noise is also a sign that your wallet is about to take a hit. So to avoid further damage being caused, it is always a smart move to get your brakes serviced as soon as you hear even the quietest of grinding sounds being produced.
Brakes fading, meanwhile, refers to when your vehicle’s brakes begin to take longer to work. This brake efficiency loss is not something you wish to experience on a steep descent down a twisty mountain back road or while driving at highway speeds. Brake fade occurs when overuse causes the brakes to overheat. It used to be a common problem with older automatics. Worryingly, the fading happens gradually. Eventually, you will have to apply the brakes harder to reduce your speed and come to a complete stop. Typically, brake fade means you have to push down the brake pedal for longer, apply more pressure on the pedal, or both. Obviously, if you are experiencing brake fading, you should pull over as soon as possible and allow the brakes to cool before continuing.
What Causes The Brakes To Grind?
Numerous reasons could cause your car brakes to make grinding noises. As you will discover in this brake guide, there are plenty of different causes of brake grinding sounds. However, the diagnosis could reveal the grinding is down to a single cause somewhere in the braking system. Or the inspection will show that it’s a combination of components gone wrong. Regardless, grinding noises should be checked out as the earliest opportunity as it could be merely worn brake pads to blame. Nobody wants their brakes to fail while they are driving along with their nearest and dearest on board.
While it is possible to drive with worn brake pads, we would strongly advise against doing so. As the brakes are a major component on which your life depends, you should visit a reputable auto repair shop for routine brake checkups. The significant benefit of routine brake inspections is that if a defect is spotted and rectified early, you will save yourself a stack of money later on by avoiding further damage to the brakes. Ignoring problems with the brakes will unquestionably cost you more in the long run. New brake rotors, for instance, are going to set you back in the neighborhood of $300 to $800. Other parts that may be required to finish the job could quickly push the bill past $1000.
Has Your Car Been Parked For A Long Time?
If your car hasn’t turned a wheel in a long time, this is almost certainly why you suddenly hear grinding or squeaking sounds. Cars don’t fare well without regular use. If a car has been in storage, particularly when not stored correctly, many parts can begin to rust over time. The brakes are not immune from rust, brakes pads as well. Even though you are now driving your car again, rust never sleeps. Indeed, any rust that has built up is likely to spread and cause damage to other braking system components. To avoid brakes and other parts seizing up, it is a good idea to regularly drive your car even if it is for a relatively short run. Like humans, cars need exercise now and again. A short trip to the supermarket will get rid of any pesky rust that may have formed.
Is It Time To Replace The Rotor Disks?
Even if you are driving your car daily, the brake grinding can persist just the same. This grinding sound is likely because your car’s brake rotor discs are worn out after several years of service. Typically, the braking system on an average car will have a lifespan of about 20,000 miles. Even if you drive a high-end vehicle, this mileage may be slightly higher, but the rotors will still fail eventually. Brakes don’t last forever. The test for defective brake disks is the signature sound they make. Instead of a grinding sound, it’s more like a scrape. However, this is not always the case. You may also get some vibration from the brake pedal when you are applying the brakes while driving.
Do I Have To Replace The Brake Pads?
Brake pads are relatively small but essential. You may not think about them that often, but you should. As with brake rotors, the same principle should be applied to the brake pads. After 20,000 miles, the brake pads should be replaced. Continual contact with the rotor and caliper will inevitably cause damage to a brake pad. So too, will contact with the backing plate. Over time and use, considerable damage can be inflicted. Hence one of the most commonplace reasons for grinding or squeaking is brake pads past their best.
Poor Quality Brake Pads
Your brake pads could quickly go wrong, not through overuse but because they are poor quality. Low quality brake pads may look the part and work well when new, but they never last as long as higher-end brake pads. Like tires, brake pads are a good safety investment. As we mentioned earlier, brakes that are not functioning correctly can cause entirely preventable road accidents. In the end, spending money now on good quality brake pads will save you more money in the long term. It is hardly a bargain if the cheap brake pads you buy need to be replaced continuously or cause damage that needs to be repaired.
Is There A Problem With The Wheel Bearings
A faulty wheel bearing is yet another suspect when it comes to grinding or squeaking sounds. The noise will appear to come from the wheels and may also involve vibrations that are gentle at first and become stronger as you drive along. Wheel bearings are relatively unfamiliar to most car owners. But they are essential to the plot. Basically, the wheel bearing is a set of steel ball bearings held together in a ring called a ‘race.’ If the wheel bearing gets damaged or broken, you will know. The noise this produces is similar to that when you drive over a busy street’s rumble strips. A broken wheel bearing will also show up as odd worn patches on your tires.
Something Is Stuck In Your Brakes
A stone or other foreign body getting lodged in your brake calipers is enough to cause strange braking noises too. When this happens, a grinding or squealing noise will not only occur when you press the brakes; it will be a constant sound as you drive around. If possible, find a safe place and try driving forward and reversing in a bid to free whatever has got lodged in your brakes. Should this not do the trick, it is advisable to take your car to an auto repair shop to have the brakes professionally inspected.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the braking system requires lubrication, just like other parts of your vehicle. When small parts of the braking system such as brake caliper bolts dry up, they cause grinding noises. Even if the rest of the braking system is lubricated as per the carmaker’s recommendations, brake caliper bolts can get in on the grinding act. Luckily, inadequately lubricated brake caliper bolts are a rarity. And even if it does occur, it is not a biggie to put right. It’s an easy fix. All the mechanic must do is fit new bolts, and you will be underway in no time.
Size doesn’t matter when it comes to grinding brakes; even the smallest parts – like the shims – can be the culprit. The brake shims sit between the brake rotors and the brake pads and are usually made of rubber or metal. The shim helps keep the two brake components apart and prevents unnecessary noise from the brakes while you are driving. If the shim fails, the rotor and pads get out of alignment and start making noise. Mechanics will often ignore the shims, but it’s advisable to insist your vehicle’s brake shims are replaced whenever you are getting work done on the brakes. Replacing them is a quick job that won’t impact terribly much on the repair bill.
As we have seen, grinding and other unnatural sounds can occur due to the failure of one or several components in the braking system. However, it is best not to wait until they occur to have your brakes checked out by a professional mechanic. Brakes are essential for safety on the road, so as soon as you suspect your brakes are not up to scratch, head to an auto repair shop to get them checked out. You will be thankful you did.