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Brake Problems and Noises

A car's brakes are often ignored until a problem crops up. Some of the most common signs of brake problems on cars are:

Poor braking performance, hard to stop the car
Squealing or grinding noises during braking
Pulling to one side, or grabbing
Loss of brake pedal
Pulsation of the brake pedal during braking
Clicking noises during braking
Excessive drag during acceleration.

Here are some of the things that can cause those symptoms.

Glazed brake pads and/or shoes: The brakes have been heated up to the point that they become hardened and are no longer create enough friction on the brake drum or rotor.

This condition can occur after the brakes have been overused, either because of excessive panic stops, riding of the brake, lots of city driving or in some cases driving on steep hills. The braking material must be soft enough to wear and grab hold of the drum or rotor to stop the car. Excessive overheating hardens the braking material beyond its ability to do this. This condition can cause the brakes to make all kinds of noises, from squeaking to grinding. It will also reduce braking performance.

Other things that cause disc brakes to be noisy is warped rotors or rotor surface problems, dirt and debris, cheap or wrong brake material for the application and pad hardware missing.

Oil or grease-soaked brakes can cause pulling, grabbing and noises. Oil from the rear differential or front transaxle can get on the brakes from an oil seal that might have failed. Grease from a failed rubber boot on a front end component (such as a ball joint or tie rod) can find its way onto the brakes and cause this symptom as well.

Loss of power assist from the power brake booster is another cause for poor braking performance. It can occur due to a loss of engine vacuum, or deterioration of the vacuum brake booster diaphragm. This condition causes excessive pedal effort.

Worn out brake pads or shoes. This can cause squealing or grinding noises coming from the brakes along with poor braking. Sometimes the brakes wear away and you're into the metal without any noise though. That is why it is good to inspect them periodically.

Pulling or grabbing to one side can happen for a number of reasons. Pulling can occur from mis-adjustment of the brakes, a bad caliper or wheel cylinder, hydraulic problems, mis-matched components, brake fluid leakage, frozen emergency brake cables, or oil or grease leakage on the brake shoes or pads.

disc brake pads, rotor and caliper
Common Disc Brake setup.

Drum brake shoes
Drum Brakes

Loss of brake pedal usually is a result of bad master cylinder or brake fluid leakage due to failure of a brake hose or rusted metal brake line, worn wheel cylinder or brake caliper or possibly an ABS problem. This is a very dangerous condition and the car should be towed.

Pulsation or vibration of the brake pedal when braking is usually caused by warped rotors or rotor thickness issues. Heat and mechanical wear thin out the brake rotor, or drum, causing warping. This warping translates into a pulsation (up and down motion) of the brake pedal or vehicle vibration while applying the brakes. Machining or replacing the rotors will be needed for this problem. This condition can cause noise, excessive caliper wear and poor braking when the condition gets severe.

Clicking noises during braking is usually caused by a brake hardware or installation problem. The disc brake pads are held in place by pressure from the caliper against the brake rotor. The factory installs "anti-rattle" devices to stop movement of the brake pads, which will stop the clicking noise. These devices are made of spring steel and over time become brittle and break, allowing the brake pad to loosely ride in its seat, causing rattling.

Excessive drag: Brakes not releasing can cause this problem. Sticking or seized caliper pistons, deteriorating brake hoses, sticking caliper guides, mis-adjusted drum brakes and park brake cables frozen due to rust or dirt buildup can cause this. Periodic brake fluid flush and change will help avoid caliper problems, using your park brake regularly can prevent park brake cable problems.

Have your brake system thoroughly checked regularly, so there are no surprises. You can "head off high dollar brake work at the pass" by keeping a watchful eye on your brakes.

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