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Why Do Brakes Lock Up – What You Need To Know!

Why Do Brakes Lock Up

It does not matter whether you have disc or drum brakes. What is important is they help you come to a stop when needed. Brakes that are locked up can pose a huge threat to you and your passengers. According to experts, you should not be driving your vehicle in any traffic until you find out what the problem is and get it fixed. 

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If you are suspecting that your vehicle is having this problem, then it’s time to learn why brakes are locking up and how to deal with them. We know that diagnosing problems and coming up with solutions normally takes years of experience and understanding of vehicles inside and out. So check out our easy-to-understand guide in dealing with locked up brakes. 

What does it mean when your brakes lock up?

Determining the issues of your vehicle can be challenging, especially if you are not experienced or familiar with mechanical systems. Like everyone knows, the brakes on vehicles are extremely important. They typically require more servicing due to frequent wear and tear as they are used a lot during your drives. 


If you believe that you have brake issues, the first thing you should do is to check the brake fluid level. Be sure to check the quality of the fluid and check if there is an adequate amount inside the reservoir. Be on the lookout for any leaks as well.


Having worn brake pads can also lead to having a stiff brake pedal. The latter occurs when there is not enough friction made by the brake disc and brake pads. There is typically a grinding sound  every time you hit the brakes.


When your brakes are dragging, it prevents them from disengaging properly. The grazing of two metals within the system of the brakes will produce a burning smell and can even lead to extreme damages.


A seized caliper or brake pad is the usual culprit why your brakes are not releasing. This normally occurs because of ageing or rusting. Naturally, you will notice your car pulling to one side when you press down on your brakes.

How do you release a locked up brake?

If the culprit of the brake issue is the parking brake cable or mechanism, an asymmetrical pad, or the pads are sticking to the disc, the solution is quite simple. Detaching the pads and applying a small amount of grease to the edge should take care of the skewed pads, while lubricating the parking brake system should resolve the issue. The solution is replacing the pads and resurfacing the disc once stuck pads have been freed from a disc. 


For locked up slide pins, or caliper pistons, a specific tool is available to apply force and retract the pad. Most of the time, a regular C-clamp can be used. To detach a caliper piston that has become locked up or stuck, the hydraulic pressure of the brake system itself can be used. Take the caliper off from the disc, and pump the brake pedal to move the piston past the corroded or oxidized portion. After that, you should be able to disassemble and rebuild it. Check out this link if you want to know how your braking system works.

How do you know when your brakes lock up?

If you notice that your vehicle pulls to one side, or you smell burning, it could be that one or more of your brakes are locked up or seized. There are several factors why brakes get locked up or bind, but it is usually because something in the system got locked up, or became stuck. The piston can cling within the caliper. Brake pads can get asymmetrical and lock up. Sometimes the slide pins get stuck up on single-piston calipers. In the end, the pads can actually become stuck to the disc if a vehicle is left to sit in a damp environment.


The symptoms are quite obvious if a brake becomes stuck when the vehicle is unused. When you try to run the vehicle, it feels like the brakes are on. It can be really bad to the point that the vehicle will not even budge at all.


The vehicle may appear to run normally, however, the pads will only be shoved onto the disc from the piston side, if the caliper slide pins are the ones that have seized. In this case, one wheel will have a reduced braking ability, which will wear the pad on the piston side considerably faster. In situations like these, the vehicle may pull to the opposite side when the brakes are employed. 


The vehicle can feel down on power as if the parking brake is on, if the pad is stuck, or the piston is stuck on the caliper. When cruising and not applying the brake, you may also detect the vehicle pulling to one side with the steering wheel pointed straight.


As you travel, the brake that is stuck may also get very hot. You will quickly notice the brakes overheating since it has a distinctive acrid smell and may even notice smoke coming off them. Stop immediately, if this occurs. Driving with a faulty brake can produce enough heat to start a fire, however, you can damage the discs or any components connected to the wheel hub even if it does not generate enough heat to start a fire.


Oftentimes, the brakes getting stuck on one wheel will occur gradually that you do not notice the difference. It may only become detected in your state’s annual safety inspection when they check the brakes for proper function, and straight stopping.

How much does it cost to fix locked brakes?

There are various factors that contribute to the cost of a brake repair, which includes make, model, and year of vehicle along with the seriousness of the problem. Anti-lock braking system control modules could cost approximately $00 up to $600 apiece, while ABS sensors run from $100 to $200 each.


Additionally, expect to get charged around $80 to $150 per hour for labor costs and anticipate at least an hour to an hour and a half of work. Approximately, a regular ABS repair job could easily cost $1000 above to replace a few sensors and test the new system. It might seem costly, but the alternative is way more expensive such as vehicle replacement or major body shop work once you encounter an accident on slippery roads.

How long do brakes usually last?

You will probably apply your brakes 20 to 50 times even on short trips around town, let alone in rush hour traffic or on longer road trips. Imagine how much wear and tear is building up with every press of the brake pedal.


Brake rotors play a vital role in a vehicle’s braking system and need to be replaced periodically. Read on and check out how long brake rotors last and some obvious signs that your brake rotors require replacement.


What are Brake Rotors?

Every vehicle has one of two braking systems, namely drum brakes or disc brakes. 


Drum brakes are typically only in older models, however, some modern cars have drum brakes on the rear axle and disc brakes on the front. Drum brakes function comparably to disc brakes, but rather than the pads squeezing the rotor, brake shoes push out against the brake drum.


Disc brakes, on the other hand, are the most common system used in vehicles today. Disc brake’s main components include brake discs commonly known as brake rotor, brake pads and a brake caliper. The caliper squeezes the pads against the rotating brake rotor when you press the brake pedal. The friction it generates slows down and stops the vehicle. If you want to know the signs of a bad caliper, check out the link.


Their improved ability to absorb and dissipate heat is one reason for the popularity of the disc brake. The brake pad’s pressure against the rotors generates friction, and in turn, friction generates heat. The more you hit the brakes, the more friction and heat is produced. Eventually, all that friction and heat makes the brake system wear down and diminishes your braking ability.


How long do Brake Rotors usually last?

It actually varies. A variety of factors, like your driving style, brake quality and vehicle size, contribute to how long your brakes will last. 


Normally, brake rotors or discs last around 30,000 to 70,000 miles. However, owners should bring their vehicles to a professional mechanic for routine brake inspections and pay close attention to their vehicles to know when you might be needing brake service.


Resurfacing or Replacing Brake Rotors

You may be able to make your current set last even longer by getting them resurfaced instead of replaced. Resurfacing discs or rotors, also known as machining, requires grinding down the metal disc until it is even and smooth. Resurfacing can only be done if the rotors have minimal wear and only a few problem spots.


Resurfacing is not an option if your rotors are grooved, warped, cracked, heavily rusted or thinner than recommended by the manufacturer. In cases like these, your rotors will require replacement. 


Although resurfacing the rotors seems cheaper than replacing them, it is only a temporary solution. Practicality wise, you just have to be mindful of your rotor’s condition and follow the recommendations of your trusted mechanic because it will save you a lot of money and will keep you away from danger.


Brake rotors: How to extend their file?

Regardless of how careful you are with your brake rotors, they will eventually wear down and require to be replaced. However, following the recommendations below could help you prolong your rotor’s lifespan.


Be mindful of the Driving conditions

Do you travel in an on-again, off-again traffic? If yes, then expect your brakes to wear down faster than if you mostly travel on a wide-open freeway. To Reduce the impact of frequent stopping on your brakes, practice coasting when possible.


Driving on mountainous or windy roads will also wear down your brakes way faster than driving on straight and flat roads. You can apply engine braking when going downhill to prevent your brakes from getting damaged or overheating.


In addition, the heavier the vehicle is, the harder the brakes have to work to stop. Make sure to not overload your vehicle and cause premature wear on your brakes.


Be mindful of your Driving Style

Your driving style is the main factor of how quickly your rotors wear down. Planting your foot on the brakes and making frequent hard stops can lead to premature wear on your rotors. As  experts put it, being gentle on the road means being gentle with the brakes.


Check out a few basic steps you can do to make your brakes last longer, as well as keep your passengers from getting carsick.


  • Practice coasting whenever possible
  • Keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you
  • Drive the speed limit
  • Use one foot to apply pressure on the pedals


Keep your Tires Well-Maintained

Good tires and good brakes work together to stop the vehicle whenever needed. It negatively affects the other if one is in bad shape.


Do not postpone Brake Pad Replacement

Causing the vehicle to slow down, the brake pads are the part of the braking system that push against the rotor. Over time, brake pads wear down and will require replacement every 30,000 to 70,000 miles. Letting the brake pads wear down too much damages the rotors. If the metal base of the brake pads grind against the rotor, it damages the brake caliper as well as the rotor, leading to an overly expensive avoidable repairs


Tip: Always change your rotors and brake pads at the same time to avoid uneven wear and poor brake performance.


How do I know if my brake rotors are due for replacement?

Make an appointment with your trusted mechanic to get your vehicle inspected as soon as possible if you experience any problems or notice any of the following issues when you brake. If you want to learn other ways on how to tell if you need new rotors, check out the link.

  • Grinding

When you hear a grinding noise every time you brake means your brake pad material has worn down to the metal plate. If you keep driving your vehicle in this condition, your braking system will incur further damage.

  • Squealing

A squealing noise or a high-pitched screeching is a sign that you need to replace your brake pads. Replacing them as soon as possible will prevent any damages to your brake rotors.

  • Vibrations

If you notice any pulses on your brake pedal or steering wheel when you brake, this could mean that your rotors have worn down or warped.


While you may think it is fine or okay to delay or postpone servicing your brakes, waiting could pose more threat to your vehicle’s braking system, which could lead to endangering yourself and your passengers.


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