While it’s true that not all brake noise is a great cause for alarm, there are certain brake noise you should never ignore. That could be your vehicle trying to tell you that something is wrong. Although some sounds could just be an indicator that something just needs to be cleaned, other sounds indicate that something in your brake system has worn out, and needs some serious attention. It could either be squealing, thumping or dragging — get to know the brake noise you should never ignore.
Are noisy brakes dangerous?
The good thing about a noisy brake is that not all can be a great cause for concern. Not all noisy brakes are dangerous. It could just be a temporary squeak like when it’s snowy and there’s an ice build up between the brake pads and rotors that touches when you hit the brake. The squeaking sound will naturally go away once the heat from your driving melts the ice.
There are also times when you unconsciously fail to take your foot off the brake pedal causing the brakes to get extremely hot. Excessive heat buildup can cause reduced friction between the brake pads and rotors, resulting in a (sometimes audible) squeak and a loss of braking power called “brake fade.” If you find yourself in this situation all you have to do is take a quick stop. Even a 5-minute wait is enough to cool down the brakes and the next thing you know you are good to go.
Other temporary brake noise you should never ignore is squeaking after you have driven on an unpaved dusty road. Your brake pads and rotors may just be covered in dust or debris. When this happens go to your trusted technician and have them do a quick brake inspection. The fix could be as simple as wiping away the dirt.
Another source of noisy brakes is having metallic brakes. This squeak source may be difficult to locate, especially if you are unsure of the type of brake pad you have. Metallic brake pads, which are made of copper, iron, steel, and other composite metals, are noisier than other types of brake pads. Although not ideal when it comes to the noise, drivers that aim for performance still choose metallic brakes because of the braking performance enhancement.
However, it’s still best to be on the defensive mode. All unusual squeaks or sounds that doesn’t go away should still be brake noise you should never ignore because your car’s brakes may really need work and your safety could really be at risk.
Keep track of any unusual noises that persist after a few miles of driving. Trust your instincts. Brakes that are malfunctioning or worn out may not provide the stopping power you require. Brakes that screech under certain conditions or noises that become louder and more frequent may indicate that the brake pads need to be replaced.
Types of Brake Noise You Should Never Ignore
Some noise from the brake, as mentioned, could be temporary but some unusual sounds could very well indicate that your brakes are worn out, which could lead to an expensive repair or worse accident if not given the attention it needs. Here are three types of brake noise you should never ignore.
- Squealing brake noise
The squealing sound produced by your brakes is usually caused by one of two things. The first is a set of tabs attached to the brake pads that gradually become exposed as the pad material wears down to the point where they must be replaced.
The metal tab then rubs up against the steel of your brake rotor, producing a squeal as a warning that it's time to visit the mechanic. Some pads may lack a tab, in which case the squeal indicates that you're down to the metal backing plate of the pad itself, which is being forced against the spinning rotor. This is a much more pressing situation that necessitates immediate action.
In addition, car manufacturers install wear indicators on the brake system to alert the driver when the brake pads are extremely worn out. They add tiny metal tabs made of hardened steel and connect them in a variety of ways. To attach the metal on the edge of the rotor, they can use push-on clips, welded metal, or rivets.
The metal tabs strike the rotor before the pads completely wear off. As a result, if you pay attention to the squeaking noises in your brakes, you can tell when it's time to have the vehicle serviced and avoid a sudden car breakdown or stalling.
- Grinding brake noise
If you hear a grinding brake noise then you have a serious issue and you should immediately stop driving and have your vehicle towed to a brake repair shop. It may sound like you're driving over a highway rumble strip. If you continue to drive you may cause damage to the brake discs or drums. Grinding brakes are caused by excessively worn brake linings. As soon as the lining wears away, the metal part of the brake pad or brake shoe makes contact with the brake disc or drum, quickly destroying the most expensive mechanical parts of the brake system.
- Thumping brake noise
Another brake noise you should never ignore is a thumping sound while braking — usually from the front wheels. This could indicate that your brake rotors have become “out of shape.” In other words, they've warped. In addition to a rhythmic thump while braking, you will most likely hear a front-end shimmy through the steering wheel to accompany the brake noise. Instead of a warped disc, thumping can sometimes be caused by a buildup of pad material on the rotor itself, which can often be machined off rather than replacing the entire unit.
- Dragging brake sound
If you hit your brakes and hear sounds like something is dragging underneath the car, commonly from the rear and from the front at times, then you should go have your brakes checked. This dragging sound is usually caused by a seized brake caliper or a brake drum that was not completely released when you took your foot off the brake pedal. This causes the pad or shoe to remain in contact with the rest of the brake mechanism while driving, which wears it down and reduces performance and fuel mileage in the long run.
Is it normal for brakes to make noise after replacing them?
You may hear some noises, such as a squeak, after replacing your brake pads as the new pads are still coated with protective elements that may be causing the noise. Most of the time (especially if the work was done by a certified brake mechanic), your brake system is stable. There is, however, an explanation for the brake noise. It's because of the materials used to replace the pads.
Brake pads are usually made of silicon or hybrid materials such as silicon dust mixed with metal shavings, which makes new pads abrasive. Protectants are also applied to pads by manufacturers to keep them from degrading too quickly. That brake pad squeal will go away after some wear, which is sometimes referred to as a “bedding process.”
A brake caliper pushes the pads against the rotor to create friction, which slows the rotor as it spins. A pad that is highly abrasive causes vibration and a squeaking sound when it gets in contact with an uneven rotor face. There's also the issue of the climate in the area where the vehicle is typically driven, as well as the typical weather patterns involved. Dust and other materials are drawn to moisture. All of this can adhere to a rotor and cause noise, particularly if your rotor is uneven.
Moisture that accumulates on the rotor’s surface could form a thin layer of rust. As a result, when the rotors turn, the brake pads begin to scrape the rust off the rotor, causing the rust to become caught in the leading edge of the brake pads. The squeaking noises in the brakes are caused by this.
How long can you drive a car with squeaky brakes?
Car brakes squeak for a variety of reasons. If your brakes are squeaking due to worn brake pads, you should replace them right away. If the squeaking isn't caused by a serious issue, the brakes should last a long time. However, it is best to have squeaky brakes checked as soon as you notice them to rule out any serious issues.
Squeaky brakes and rotors are fairly common, especially if these components have recently been replaced. However, you should never ignore a brake problem, no matter how minor it appears on the surface. Take note of the brake noise you should never ignore as a squeaky sound neglected today could cost you an expensive brake repair in the future.
Brake pads should have a life expectancy of around 40,000 miles. However, there are several factors that can cause that life to be shorter or longer. If you frequently slam on the brakes to come to a sudden stop, or if you tow or haul a lot, your brake pads may wear out faster. Conversely, if you drive conservatively, approaching a stoplight slowly and applying gentle but steady pressure, you may exceed the 40,000-mile mark. In any case, it makes sense to take good care of your vehicle.
How much does it cost to fix squeaky brakes?
What is the typical cost of replacing brake pads? The price of fixing squeaky brakes can vary greatly depending on its make and model. If you need average brake pad replacement then it will go about $150 per axle, but depending on its material it can go as much as $300 per axle.
Organic material is used in the least expensive brake pads, while more expensive brake pads contain metal, giving them greater heat resistance as well as less brake fade under heavy use. On average, a brake job involving the replacement of brake pads and rotors will cost $250-$400 per axle.
If you drive a heavy-duty pickup truck and haul or tow a lot, your costs could skyrocket. Even more so, if you drive a high-performance vehicle with specialized carbon-ceramic rotors and high-performance brake pads, the costs are prohibitively high. For example, replacing brake pads and rotors on a Mercedes-AMG vehicle equipped with carbon-ceramic rotors could cost more than $15,000.
Can I replace rotors and not pads?
Replacing only the rotors and keeping the old brake pads is tempting as it saves money and time. Although you can just replace the rotors, you may still opt to replace the brake pads as well although there’s no urgency.
The truth remains that old brake pads and rotors could wear down at the same time. Hundreds of times per day, the pads strike the rotors in the same spots. When you replace the rotors, you get new, flat brake rotors and grooved brake pads that will only make contact with the rotors at high points on the pads. The grooved areas of the pads are inaccessible to the rotors.
With this your vehicle will lose its full stopping power and you may not be able to come to a complete stop in time during an emergency. And not only that if you only replace the brake rotors and your brakes continue to make noise, it could be due to uneven wear between the pads and the brakes. If you decide to keep the old pads, you will have reduced braking power until the brake pads wear in the new rotors and the entire pad makes contact with the entire rotor. So it’s best to replace rotors together with the pads.
Although not all brake noises put you in an emergency situation, there is not one brake noise you should ignore as it may become an emergency in the long run. Brake noises could lead or may already mean brake pads are completely worn down. With that the metal rubbing against metal will eventually destroy the brake rotors and other brake components. Arrange a brake inspection right away most especially if the noise is not going away.