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Why Are My Brakes Squeaking?

new vs old brake pads

October 6, 2021 Topic: Safety Tips

If you’re driving and hear a squeaking or squealing noise when braking, it could indicate a problem with your brakes. There are many reasons why your brakes might be squeaking such as rust, wear and tear, and rotor issues. Some squeaky brake noises are normal, while others mean you may need to replace your brakes immediately. 

To help you figure out what’s going on with your car and whether those squeaky brake noises are normal or not, we’ve created this guide to help you establish the root of your problem, and how to best address it.


Normal Brake Squeaking

With brakes, there is a difference between what is a normal squeak vs. what is abnormal. Normal brake squeaking may be the result of poor quality brake pads, rust, and debris, or wear and tear over time. These causes may result in light brake squeaking sounds which are expected, but if the sound is loud it could indicate an abnormal and more serious problem. Here are the normal and most common reasons why brakes squeak:

Poor Quality Brake Pads

If you just got new brake pads and they are squeaking, it’s likely your brake pads may not be the best quality. If the vehicle’s brake pads have been replaced with bargain brand brake pads, the vehicle’s brakes may squeak. There are several different composites of brake pads, the right brake pad and brand must be selected for your specific make and model. Even if the brake pad has plenty of life left, low-quality brake pads squeak from the start and have poor performance. If this bothers or concerns you, use higher-quality brake pads to address the squeaking and keep your car stopping properly.

Rust and debris

If you’ve just pulled out of your driveway, that slight brake squeaking in the morning may be surface rust that’s built up on the rotors overnight.

Over time your rotor plate can oxidize and the rust is scraped off when you brake. This can be caused by morning dew, rain, snow, or if you live in a humid area. Debris can also accumulate on your rotor, and when you brake the impurities cause squeaking. When noise occurs in this situation, it isn’t something to be concerned about. It will usually dissipate after a few stops. If the squeaky brake noise persists after braking multiple times, the next area to look at is your brake pads.

Worn down brake pads

The most common reason brakes squeak is that the metal wear indicator on the brake pad touches the metal rotor. This is normal and expected from wear over time, but does indicate you should replace your brakes soon.

Brake pads have a built-in mechanism to inform the driver when they are getting low and need replacing. This metal indicator is placed so that when the brake pads have 10-15% life left, it makes a high pitched squeal when you brake to warn you that your brake pads are getting low and will need to be replaced soon. 

Be aware that your brake pads can also wear down at different rates. Your front brake pads will often wear out faster than your rear brake pads as the front brakes handle a lot more momentum transfer. However, if you notice a major difference between your front left brake pads and your front right — there could be an issue with your calipers on that side. We recommend you get your brakes inspected to ensure they’re still safe to drive. Contact Brakes To Go for a free inspection at a time and location convenient to you.  


Abnormal Brake Squeaking and Grinding

If your brake squeaking noises are especially loud and start to resemble more of a grinding sound, this indicates a more serious issue that should be addressed immediately. Here are the causes of major brake issues that result in a loud squeaking or grinding:

Brake Pad Backplate on Rotor Contact

Loud brake squeaking or grinding noises can indicate your brake pads have worn down to the point where the metal backplate that holds the brake pad friction material is exposed and pressing against your rotor. This metal-on-metal grinding makes a loud noise and will cause major damage to your rotor, leading to your rotor needing a replacement. This will be a more costly replacement than replacing your brake pads when they hit the metal indicator and start to squeak. If you hear this grinding sound when you brake, you should immediately get your brakes evaluated. Not only can you damage your vehicle, but your brakes will no longer work effectively making it unsafe for you to drive.

Warped and Glazed Rotors

Braking last second or constantly speeding up and slowing down will wreak havoc on the brakes. Why is this?

Brakes work due to friction, you press your brake pedal, and the brake pad presses against the rotor, creating friction and slowing your car down. This process generates heat as a result of slowing you down, and the temperature of the brake pads and rotors can only go so high before they start to become defective. If you are braking hard from a high speed or constantly riding (dragging) your brake, this will generate a lot more heat than normal braking. Sometimes it is also possible that your caliper is sticking, resulting in the brake being dragging without you engaging your brake. Caliper issues can also lead to overheating, warping, and glazing. 

When your brake pads and rotors overheat, it can lead to your brake pads glazing over and your rotors warping. If your brake pads glaze over, it will typically be more challenging for the brake pad to help pull heat from the rotor. The rotor will then warp and cause a noticeable vibration or shudder while braking. Warped rotors will cause your brake pads to wear unevenly and have poor stopping performance. Glazed brake pads and warped rotors are unsafe to drive with, as they have decreased stopping power and can even form cracks.

To address glazed or warped rotors, you can either get them replaced or resurfaced. Replacing your rotors may be necessary if the glazing and warping are especially bad. Some people opt to have their rotors resurfaced. Resurfacing is the process of bringing the whole rotor surface to an even plane. So if your rotor is warped or glazed over, it is possible to just remove the glazed parts and level the uneven depths to all the same height. However, we do not recommend resurfacing, as resurfacing is more of a bandaid fix than a permanent solution. The best solution if your brakes are glazed over is to opt for a full replacement. 


Let our experts fix your squeaky brakes

Your brakes can squeak for a variety of reasons. Determining whether your squeaking is normal or abnormal is an important distinguishing factor. Hopefully, this post will help you identify the source for your brake squeaking noise, and give you some knowledge on how to best address it. 

If you’re still having difficulty determining the source of your noise, Brakes To Go offers free brake inspection, at a time and place that is convenient to you. Our experts will determine the sources of your squeaky brakes and advise you on the best course to fix them. Contact us to have our experts come out to you today!