The braking system is the most essential safety system in every car. It helps ensure your car completely stops when you press down on the brake pedal, whether you’re about to park at the mall or you need to stop at a red traffic light.
However, when your vehicle’s brakes start losing their stopping power, you could be at serious risk of accidents, like miscalculating the stopping distance and accidentally hitting another car’s rear bumper.
So, what causes brake fade, and how is it related to brake overheating? Keep reading to learn everything about these two common brake issues, including their causes. We will also discuss the typical signs of brake fade and brake overheating to help you know when it’s time for a checkup and repair.
Let’s dive in.
What is brake fade?
Brake fade is the reduction or loss in your brakes' stopping power. It's as if the brakes are "fading" away, hence the name.
Here are the two types of brake fade:
Temporary brake fade, also called green fade, usually occurs with new brakes or after a brake service. It happens because the brand new brake parts have not yet fully bed-in or adapted to one another. When the brakes have been used for a while, the temporary fade usually goes away.
Chronic brake fade is more serious and typically results from overheating, which causes the brake pads to wear out faster than normal and lose their ability to create enough friction to effectively stop your car. If left unresolved, chronic brake fade can be incredibly dangerous, leading to longer stopping distances or brake failure.
5 Causes of brake fade
An overheating brake system is the major cause of brake fade. Various conditions and factors can cause a vehicle’s brake system to overheat.
Here are the five most common causes of brake fade:
1. Heavy use
Brake fade typically occurs when brakes are used frequently for short periods of time. For example, when you’re stuck in heavy stop-and-go traffic or driving down a steep hill.
2. Poor-quality brake pads
Low-quality brake pads or pads that don’t fit your driving style can easily overheat, leading to brake fade. We always recommend the use of high-quality brake parts to ensure reliable, long-lasting performance.
3. Inadequate brake cooling
One of the key functions of brakes is to distribute heat into the surrounding air. Anything that prevents the brakes from effectively dissipating heat, like a damaged brake component or a tight wheel bearing, can cause the brakes to retain heat and fade.
4. Brake fluid boiling
Brake fluid is a key component in your car's braking system, but did you know it requires regular attention, just like oil changes?
Here's why: Brake fluid is hygroscopic, which is a fancy way of saying it has a tendency to absorb water from the atmosphere over time.
Now, you might be wondering, "Why is that a problem?" Well, as this water content increases in the brake fluid—especially if it's old—, it lowers the fluid's boiling point. Under high-heat conditions, such as aggressive driving or heavy braking, this can lead to the brake fluid actually boiling.
When the brake fluid boils, it creates tiny gas bubbles within your brake system. These gas bubbles interfere with the normal operation of your brakes, resulting in a softer brake pedal feel and, more importantly, decreased braking efficiency.
That's a safety concern, and that's why regular servicing, replacement, or flushing of your brake fluid is so crucial.
Remember, ensuring your brake fluid is in its optimal condition is not just about keeping your vehicle running smoothly—it's about keeping you safe on the road. Plus, it opens up an opportunity for you to avail of value-added brake fluid services. These services focus on maintaining your brake system's efficiency and reliability, helping you avoid unexpected and potentially costly repairs in the future.
So, next time you're at the mechanic, consider asking about brake fluid servicing—it could make all the difference!
5. Glazed pads and rotors
Brake pad material can crystallize or glaze over when exposed to high temperatures for long periods, particularly under heavy braking. As a result, the surface of the brake pads and rotors becomes smooth, reducing friction and causing brake fade.
4 Signs of brake fade
Learning the warning signs of brake fade can help prevent unexpected road accidents.
“If you notice brake fade or feel that your car’s brakes don’t have enough stopping power, it’s best to have a mobile mechanic come over to inspect your car and fix any issue. Avoid driving with a brake fade, so you don’t put yourself or your loved ones at risk while on the road,” says Michael Herring, NuBrakes Dallas Lead Technician.
1. Reduced brake effectiveness
You’re likely experiencing brake fade if you notice that your car doesn’t slow down as effectively as before when you apply the same amount of pressure to the pedal. The brake's ability to generate friction and slow your car has been diminished due to the extreme heat.
2. Pedal feel is a bit off
Brake fade can cause the brake pedal to feel "spongy" or "soft." This happens when the brake fluid boils due to overheating and forms gas bubbles, reducing the pressure on the brake pads.
3. Burning smell
A strong, burning odor is another telltale sign of brake fade and brake overheating. The smell comes from the overheated brake pads and possibly the boiling brake fluid.
4. Smoke coming from underneath your car
In extreme cases, the brake components get so hot that they start to smoke. You’ll likely see smoke coming from your wheels. Be sure to stop and allow your brakes to cool down completely.
Understanding brake overheating
Not all the symptoms of brake fade are related to excessive heat, worn pads can lead to brake fade if the piston has to push the pads out further than normal to stop the vehicle.
However, excessive heat decreases the friction between the brake pads and rotors. Too much heat can also cause the brake fluid to boil and, worse, cause serious physical damage to the brake components.
So, why do brakes overheat?
This common car phenomenon happens when you use your brakes heavily without having enough time to rest and cool down. Braking creates heat from friction, so excessive use through continuous heavy braking leads to heat buildup. Overheated brakes tend to underperform, posing a safety risk.
5 Causes of brake overheating
Here are the five common causes of brake overheating:
1. Excessive brake use
Your brakes won’t have enough time to cool down if you often drive in stop-and-go traffic or down long hills, as overheating occurs because of the constant friction.
2. Poor-quality brake pads
Low-quality or worn-out brake pads can create excessive heat and don't absorb and dissipate heat as well as they should, increasing the risk of brake overheating.
3. Dragging brakes
In some cases, a malfunctioning brake system causes your car’s brakes to be partially engaged even when you’re not pressing the pedal. This constant contact creates additional friction and heat, leading to overheating.
4. Heavy loads
If your car often handles more weight than it's designed to carry, your brakes have to work harder to slow down or stop the vehicle, creating additional heat.
5. Incorrect brake fluid
Brake fluid overheats quickly if you use the wrong type for your car. Some cars require a higher boiling point to be more efficient and lessen the risk of brake overheating.
5 Signs of brake overheating
Brake overheating can be dangerous, so you must know the warning signs to stay safe on the road.
Look out for the following symptoms of brake overheating:
1. Brake fade
As explained earlier, brake fade usually results from overheating. Your car’s brakes are likely overheating if you notice less responsive brakes, particularly after a period of heavy braking.
2. Unusual smell
Overheated brakes or brake fluid produce a pungent, burning smell. If you detect this strange odor, it's crucial to stop and let your brakes cool down.
Excessive heat can cause the brake fluid to boil or the brake pads to burn. When this occurs, you’ll see smoke coming from the wheels.
4. Pedal vibration
When you press on the brakes, the pedal might pulsate or vibrate if the rotors have warped due to overheating.
5. Brake light
Many modern cars have sensors monitoring the brake system. A warning light on the dashboard usually signals overheating brakes.
Pull over and let your brakes cool down if you experience any of these problems, and then call a trusted mobile mechanic for professional help. A mobile mechanic will come to you and take care of your car wherever you are, whether you’re about to leave the office or in your home garage.
Prevention and solutions for brake fade and overheating
Follow these tips to prevent issues with your car’s braking system:
Mindful driving: Avoid slamming on your brakes, especially during downhill drives or stop-and-go traffic. Keep your speed consistent and use engine braking when necessary.
Regular maintenance: Checking for signs of wear and tear on a regular basis is an important part of preventative maintenance. Change your brake fluid at the recommended intervals as old fluid can absorb moisture, lowering its boiling point and increasing the risk of brake fade.
Use high-quality brake components: Always use high-quality brake pads and rotors that fit your driving style and conditions. For example, if you often drive in hilly areas or carry heavy loads, consider upgrading to high-performance brake components.
If you suspect your brakes are overheating, here's what you can do:
Stop and let the brakes cool down: When it’s safe to do so, pull over to the side of the road and let your vehicle come to a complete stop to let the brakes cool down. This is the easiest and most effective way to cool overheated brakes.
Avoid water: You may be tempted to pour water over overheated brakes to cool them down quickly, but this can cause rapid cooling leading to warped rotors or cracked brake pads.
If you're experiencing brake fade, here are some solutions:
Upgrade your brake system: If your driving conditions demand it, consider upgrading to a performance brake system with vented or slotted rotors and high-performance brake pads.
Use a high-boiling-point brake fluid: If your brake fluid is boiling and causing brake fade, switch to a brake fluid with a higher boiling point.
Remember to call for professional help when in doubt, especially if your brakes still don’t perform effectively after cooling down. Through proper inspections, a qualified mechanic can spot potential issues before they become serious problems.
Now that you understand brake fade and overheating, you can take steps to ensure the optimal performance of your car and maintain road safety.
Talk to a trusted mechanic to discover the best solutions for your particular car issue if you suspect something is wrong with your brake system.
If you want next-level convenience and reliability, a mobile mechanic can work on your car in the comfort of your home and perform regular brake maintenance, preventative car care, and automotive repair.
NuBrakes provide one-on-one service to ensure your car is in excellent driving condition.
Call us now to get 100% dependable car repair service and affordable pricing.