Brakes vibrating bring no good news. But first let's define what brake vibration is. This refers to a shaking motion that happens when the brakes in vehicles are deployed. The most common reason you feel vibrations through the brake pedal is a warped brake rotor which we will discuss in detail later.
Can brake pads cause vibration?
There are different car issues that can cause a vehicle to shake or vibrate when braking and yes, brake pads can cause vibration. Vibrations when braking can also mean a serious issue that makes the car unfit or unsafe for driving. Here are the most common reasons brakes vibration issues happen. Regardless of the cause of the issue, it will most likely get worse over time which means you should have your car checked and serviced as soon as you can.
Brake Pad Issues
Oil, dirt or other substances that can get into your pads can cause the steering wheel to shake. Vibration happens when the brake pads grip the rotor. It can also occur when the pads are warped or unevenly worn, excessively worn or damaged. If the brake pads are the problem, you will likely hear a squealing sound when braking.
Solution: Replacement of brake pads.
Cost: The price range of brake pads typically falls from $35 to $150 for the entire set for one axle. If you include the labor cost, the total would be around $100 to $300.
Brake Rotor and Disc Issues
Over time, surfaces of rotors wear down and become uneven. The unevenness of the rotors can cause the brake pads to grab unevenly or abruptly, causing the brake pedal and steering wheel to shake. You will feel vibration with this problem usually when braking at highway speeds. The heat produced from braking caused rotors to warp over time.
Solution: Have the rotors either replaced or resurfaced. Take note that you should replace or resurface both rotors -the front or rear set- even if only one of them is causing the issue. Usually, you should also replace the brake pads when you replace the rotors since the worn surfaces of the brake pads won’t be able to properly contact with the newly replaced smooth rotors. Not replacing them at the same time will keep you waiting for the surfaces of both the rotors and the pads to align properly, giving you a rougher ride.
Cost: You have to prepare around $30 to $100 for the labor of rotor resurfacing. Buying rotors will cost you anywhere around $30 to $2000 each depending on the car’s make and model. But if you are going to get performance rotors expect them to be at $150 or more. For an average commuter car, rotors will cost around $30 to $150 each and around $150 to $200 labor cost for a two-rotor replacement. The total cost would be nearer to $200 to $500 for parts and labor for only a rotor replacement. If you would be replacing the pads and the rotors, the labor will cost so much more which is why doing them both at the same time is a good idea. Replacing the brake pad and rotor for one axle or 2 wheels (front or rear) will usually cost around $250 to $600 inclusive of labor and parts.
A car which is out of alignment will also cause pedal vibrations when brakes are applied. Alignment issues can also lead to several other problems including damage to suspension components and rapid tire wear. You can test if you are dealing with misalignment by doing this: Run your car up to the speed of 50 to 60 mph on a straightaway when there is no other traffic nearby. For a brief moment, let go of the steering wheel and check if the vehicle immediately attempts to go to the left or right. If this is the case, then chances are it needs realignment.
Solution: Have your vehicle inspected to identify if you need to get two or four wheel alignment, and go with the recommendation. SUVs typically will need a four wheel alignment while cars usually just need a front 2 wheel alignment. However if the rear axle is damaged, or the car frame itself, you will most likely need to get a 4-wheel alignment.
Cost: Two-wheel alignments typically cost around $50 to $75 while four-wheel alignment’s cost range from $100 to $150. Getting a tire rotation is also recommended when getting an alignment. If you bought tires from Costco or Discount Tire, you can get tire rotations for free for the life of your tires. If this is not the case, tire rotations’ cost range from $25 to $50.
Worn Suspension Components
Wheel bearings, ball joints, tie rods, and other components of the suspension system wear over time. Any issues on these parts can easily lead to brake problems. If your vehicle vibrates only when turning the suspension is likely the culprit. But if the shaking or vibration only occurs when applying the brakes, the pads or rotors are likely the root of the problem.
Solution: Have your vehicle checked for a suspension inspection to determine the cause of the car vibrations.
Cost: You will only be spending money on labor cost for a suspension inspection. It will typically cost around $50 to $100 an hour, and it should not take a mechanic longer than an hour to diagnose the issue.
Is brake vibration dangerous?
One of the causes of brake vibrations is an issue with the rotors. Rotors are part of the disc brakes which makes the vehicle stop once the vehicle is moving. Your car may not be able to stop right in time or properly in an emergency situation when the rotors are warped. So yes, brake vibration can be a sign that there’s an issue that can cause danger. Issues with rotors can be dangerous for situations when you need to stop to avoid a pedestrian, a car accident or other situations. Hence, as soon as you notice the brakes are not working properly, you should go to a mechanic and have your vehicle serviced.
There are several steps you can do if you realize that you have warped rotors. When driving with warped rotors, consider these things:
- As mentioned previously, rotors wear down over time. This decreases its reliability. The components of the brake system like the rotors, pads, and calipers should be inspected regularly because of the unavoidable wear down.
- Increasing stop time is one of the dangers in driving with warped rotors. The car will take longer to stop even on smooth surfaces. The vehicle’s stopping time is more noticeable when the warped rotor is on the car’s drive axle.
- Brakes can also temporarily fail due to a warped rotor. Brake pads can wiggle back and forth due to warped rotor causing the brake fluid to foam up so the braking system does not get the right hydraulic pressure. Losing control of the brakes temporarily can result in accidents.
- Another sign that you have a warped rotor is when there are vibrations in the brake pads while driving. You may feel the vibration even with a slight pressure on the brakes but there are other times it takes more pressure for you to feel the vibrations. Once you start noticing vibrations in the brakes, have a mechanic check it so they can be repaired.
- A thumping noise or a pitched hum in the brakes can also be a sign of warped rotors. This is due to the rotors contacting the brake pads unevenly.
If you notice any signs that your brakes are failing, it is a must that you do not drive your car and call a mechanic immediately. Remember that driving a car with warped rotors can lead to a brake system failure which can cause you to injure not only yourself but also those around you. If you have a warped rotor problem or if your car shakes when braking, do not take chances driving your car, so as to keep yourself and others safe. Make sure to get your car checked and repaired before hitting the road.
Brake Vibration When Hot
There are cases when the vehicle shows no visible sign of brake vibration when they are cold but when the brakes are hot a shudder develops. In this section will discuss the common causes of this issue with hat type disc rotors.
When the mounting faces of the disc rotor and hub are not clean and flat it won’t be possible for the motor to be mounted precisely in respect to runout and support. Usually the use of removal screws is needed to remove stubborn disc rotors. You must check the hub face for any burrs or damage during the cleaning process. When there is a scale on the face of the hub you must remove it before the replacement or re-fitment of the disc rotor. Failure to remove the scale not lined up with the removal holes upon mounting the disc rotor will cause it to be mounted in a stressed condition.
As the disc rotor warms up with use, the rotor will get deformed slightly because of the application of stress from uneven mounting surface. This slight distortion will lead to brake vibration and through time will result in a noticeable disc thickness variation in the disc rotor. A disc rotor that has been mounted without the removal of the scale will also leave a recognizable impression mark on the mounting face.
Brake Vibration at High Speeds
There are several vehicle problems that may lead to vehicle vibration while braking at a certain speed. Here are some of them:
- Tires: The most common cause of a vehicle to vibrate when braking has something to do with tires. Tires getting out of balance causes the steering to shake and consequently, the whole car is shaking. The vibration can start around 50 to 55 miles per hour. This is a basic issue that must be regularly checked.
- Brake caliper: Issues caused by the brakes can be resolved by having a brake caliper service whenever the brakes need maintenance check. It is mandatory to have a service if your car has 70,000 to 75,000 miles on it. When you follow the carmaker’s scheduled service program you can prevent these problems from happening.
- Engine: If your vehicle is shaking when driving at a constant speed and while accelerating, the issue could be on the engine. This may occur when the engine does not get enough fuel-air to run properly. To fix this, you must replace the air filter in the engine or spark plug. If the issue persists, then you would need to have a professional mechanic inspect your car.
- Spark Plugs: A problem in the spark plugs can also cause the car to vibrate when braking from high speeds. You can also fix this on your own. You can locate them usually at the end of the engine. In some cars, you would need to remove a few parts before reaching the spark plugs. Once you locate the spark plugs, remove them but be sure to have the car cooled down first. Pull the wire at the engine’s bottom and check the plug. You would need to measure the gap of the spark plugs. For a detailed step by step guide in replacing a spark plug, click here.
Other car issues that can cause brakes to vibrate at high speeds include problems on brake rotors, brake pads, alignment issues and worn suspension components. We will no longer discuss them in this section as this is already discussed previously.
Many car issues can cause brake vibrations, could be something serious or easy to fix, but whatever it may be, the most important thing to do is to address it right away. You cannot take chances when the problem is with your brakes. They are very important in making sure you are driving safely to avoid accidents due to brake failure from happening. There are issues you can fix on your own, but there are times you will need to have it checked and serviced professionally.