Your Vehicle Is Trying to Tell You Something
A car should operate quietly, with the exception of red-hot sports cars and their noisy exhaust systems. When your car, truck, or SUV starts making strange sounds, it’s telling you something’s wrong. If squeaky brakes are an issue when you’re coming to a stop, that’s a sure sign your braking system needs attention.
What Causes Squeaky Brakes?
There are myriad reasons why your car’s brakes may be sounding off, and they can indicate a range of problems, from not-too-serious to urgent. These can apply to all types of brakes: disc brakes that use pads, rotors, and calipers, or drum brakes that use shoes, drums, and wheel cylinders.
Here are some of the most common reasons a car’s brakes will squeal, screech, scrape, squeak, or grind:
Worn or Damaged Brakes
Modern brake pads come with a built-in indicator: a small piece of metal that makes contact with the rotor and generates a squealing or grinding sound when the brake pads are reaching the end of their useful life.
Warped or unevenly worn components can also be at the root of the problem, as can missing brake system hardware.
It’s relatively common for brakes to squeak quietly when first applied after a cold start. This is due to moisture or surface rust collecting on the pads. The sound should go away eventually. However, if the brakes squeal or scrape on a continuous basis, that may indicate a more serious problem.
The metallic and ceramic materials used in higher-performance brake pads can be inherently (and harmlessly) noisy when they make contact.
Sometimes small stones or other solid matter can become lodged between the pad and rotor. This debris can generate an unpleasant noise you use your brakes. In this case, a mechanic will need to inspect your brakes and disassemble them to clear the culprit.
Lack of Lubrication
You may hear squealing if the backing plate in a drum braking system isn’t sufficiently lubricated. The solution here is to have the shoes and drum removed and have lubricant applied to the backing plate.
Your car’s braking components could overheat and start squealing if you ride the pedal while descending a steep hill or mountain road. If this is the case, pull over and give the brakes some time to cool off once you’ve reached level ground. If the condition persists, get your car serviced.
Sticking Caliper or Wheel Cylinder
A poorly lubricated caliper in a disc-braking system can get wedged against the rotor (sometimes because of improper installation). This can cause a squealing or grinding sound as it wears down the brake pads.
If the brakes are new, it may take a certain number of miles for the components to “break in” properly and perform without squeaking.
Faulty Brake Repair or Maintenance
Sometimes a botched fix to a vehicle’s brake system causes more harm than good. For example, when a mechanic performs a brake job, they typically resurface the rotors to grind off glazing, grooves, and other imperfections. If they’re not refinished properly, squealing may occur, or the pedal may feel like it’s pulsing. Likewise, if the rotors have become too thin (3/8 of an inch or less of material remaining), a mechanic should replace them.
No matter what, if you have questions or concerns about a noise you’re hearing, have your mechanic check it out.
How to Stop Squeaky Brakes
Take your car to Richie's Auto Center for inspection. It pays to have your vehicle’s braking system checked out by a technician at least once a year. Expect to replace the brake pads regularly. If you drive on hilly terrain or are a fast driver, your brakes may wear out more quickly. You can help extend the life of the system by avoiding aggressive braking and coasting whenever possible to slow the vehicle.
Be sure to download the Carfax Car Care smartphone app to help you track your vehicle’s service history and receive helpful reminders when it’s time to take your vehicle in for scheduled maintenance. It’s a free download from the Apple or Google Play app stores.
What Happens If You Don’t Fix Squeaky Brakes?
If you wait too long to fix squeaky brakes, it will cause further damage. For example, if your brakes are squeaking because the pads are worn out, and you ignore them, your rotors and calipers can be damaged.