My Brakes Make Noise. What Does That Mean?

Properly maintained brakes are crucial to a safe driving experience. Know what it means when your brakes begin making a noise.

When it comes to driver safety, one of the most important components of any automobile is the braking system. The performance of a car’s brakes can spell the difference between avoiding a collision and a terrible tragedy.

If a car’s brakes begin making an unusual noise, it’s important to have them checked by a professional to determine if there’s an issue that could lead to a serious accident.

To understand the types of noises a car’s brakes can make, it helps to understand exactly how brakes work. Most cars today include metallic discs called rotors behind each wheel. When the brake pedal is depressed, sandwich-like devices called calipers clamp down on the rotors, squeezing them and bringing the car to a halt. The part of the calipers that actually make contact with the rotors are the brake pads, and those pads wear down over time.

Some cars incorporate a drum-and-shoe system for the rear brakes, where stepping on the brakes pushes the shoes against the inside of a round drum. Although the design is different, the basic principles are the same.

There are typically three types of noises a braking system will make. Although they differ in the seriousness of the problem they indicate, each call for immediate attention.

Squeaking or squealing – many types of brake pads today include wear indicators; metal tabs that rub against the rotor and make a squeaking noise when the pads have worn down beyond a certain point. The noise may initially occur only when depressing the brake pedal, but left unchecked will eventually occur most or all of the time. It’s imperative to replace brake pads as soon as the wear indicator begins making a noise to avoid more serious problems.

Other issues that can cause brakes to squeal include glazing; a crystallization of the pad surface than can occur due to excessive heat caused by slamming on the brakes. In addition, debris caught between the pad and rotor can cause squealing as well.

Grinding – A grinding noise from a car’s braking system indicates a more serious issue. The first step to take if the brakes make a grinding noise is to pull over, turn off the car and have it towed to a repair center.

The most common cause of a grinding noise from a car’s brakes is brake pads that have worn completely down. What typically occurs in this situation is that the metal backing behind the pad material makes contact with the rotor, digging in to the rotor surface. Aside from being a serious safety hazard, it can result in significant (and costly) damage to the rotors and calipers.

Clicking or thumping – Other types of brake noises can be caused by the components that hold the rotors, calipers or pads in place being loose or broken. Some braking system issues don’t result in unusual noises, but can show themselves via a shudder or vibration in the brakes or a difference in how far the pedal must be depressed to bring the car to a halt.

Don’t take a chance!

Although accidents caused by brake failure are relatively rare, they do happen. Failure to properly maintain a car’s braking system puts not just a car’s driver and passengers at risk, but other drivers as well. Any unusual noise or change in the performance of a car’s braking system should be investigated by a trained repair professional. Your life could depend on it.

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