NuBrakes Blog Burning Smell from Your Brakes: Causes and Fixes Image

Burning Smell from Your Brakes: Causes and Fixes

When you notice a burning smell from your car, it could be due to several reasons. 

But if the smell is most prominent when you're applying the brakes, it likely indicates a problem with the braking system.

In this article, we'll explore that burning smell from your brakes.


  Key Takeaways

  • A burning smell from your brakes is a significant warning sign and shouldn't be ignored. It can indicate issues like overheating brakes, stuck calipers, leaking brake fluid, worn-out or low-quality brake pads, or accumulation of brake dust. All these factors could lead to brake failure and severe accidents.

  • Immediate action when a burning smell is detected is crucial. Safely pull over, turn off the engine, and allow the car to cool down. Inspect the tires and wheel hubs for excessive heat or smoke, signs that your brakes may have overheated. Consult a professional mechanic if unsure about the cause or if the smell persists.

  • Regular brake checks and maintenance are essential for the safety and longevity of your vehicle. Suppose you detect a persistent burning smell post the "bedding-in" process of new brake pads. In that case, you should have your brakes inspected by professionals. From overheating to worn-out brake pads, professional services can diagnose and promptly address the issues, ensuring road safety.


Identifying the Burning Smell from Brakes

This smell differs from other smells you might encounter in your vehicle. Imagine the scent of burnt rubber or overheated metal; it's pretty strong, pungent, and easily noticeable. Some describe it as similar to the smell of a running hot electrical appliance or clutch burning.

Once you've experienced it, you'll remember it.

The smell might occur after braking hard for a prolonged period, such as driving down a steep hill or when your brakes are being used more intensely than usual. It can also arise after getting new brake pads, as they may give off a smell as part of the "bedding-in" process. However, if this smell persists beyond the initial period, it might indicate a problem.

Recognizing this smell is crucial for the health and safety of your vehicle. The brake system is vital to your car's safety system, and a burning smell could indicate a potential issue. If it's ignored, it could lead to brake failure and, in a worst-case scenario, a severe accident. So, suppose you ever notice such a smell, especially after the brakes have been used heavily.

In that case, it's a signal to check your brakes or have them inspected by a professional mechanic.

Causes of the Burning Smell from Brakes

  1. Overheated Brakes: This often happens when brakes are used heavily over an extended period, such as during long downhill drives or stop-and-go traffic. It's similar to how a machine gets hot with heavy use. Overheating leads to the brake pads, and sometimes the brake fluid, reaching high temperatures, which may result in a burning smell.

  1. New Brake Pads: When new brake pads are installed, they need a "bedding-in" process. During this process, some material from the brake pad transfers to the rotor, helping the brake pad perform efficiently. This process might cause temporary overheating and a brief burning smell. However, if it persists, there might be an issue.

  1. Stuck Caliper: The caliper is like a clamp that uses hydraulic pressure from brake fluid to push the brake pad against the brake rotor and slow the car down. If the caliper gets stuck due to dirt, corrosion, or a problem with the brake fluid, it can keep pressing the brake pad against the rotor, causing overheating and a burning smell.

  1. Leaking Brake Fluid: Brake fluid is vital in transmitting the force from your foot on the brake pedal to the brakes themselves. If it leaks onto hot parts of the brake system, like the brake pads or rotor, it can burn and produce a noticeable smell.

  1. Worn-out Brake Pads: Brake pads naturally wear down over time due to the friction involved in braking. If they're excessively worn out, the metal backing plate of the brake pad might come into contact with the metal rotor, leading to metal-on-metal friction, overheating, and subsequently a burning smell.

  1. Glazed Brake Pads and Rotors: This condition occurs when the brake pads get heated to extreme temperatures, causing the pad material to crystallize or "glaze." This results in reduced braking performance and a sharp, burning smell. Glazing often happens when brakes are overused without sufficient time to cool down.

  1. Low Quality Brake Pads: Not all brake pads are made equal. Some low-quality or incorrect brake pads might not withstand the heat generated during braking as efficiently as higher-quality ones. This inefficiency can lead to a burning smell due to the pad material breaking down under heat.

  1. Brake Dust Accumulation: Over time, dust from the brake pads can accumulate on the brake components. While this is normal to some extent, excessive amounts can cause a burning smell when the brakes are applied, as the dust burns off. Regular maintenance can help prevent this issue.

  1. Driving with the Parking Brake Engaged: The parking brake, meant to keep your vehicle stationary when parked, can cause issues if engaged while driving. Its constant force on the brake system leads to unnecessary friction and heat generation. Over time, this overheating can wear out your brake pads and rotors prematurely, potentially boil your brake fluid, reduce overall vehicle performance, and create a burning smell. This overheating might also lead to "glazed" brake pads, where the brake pad material hardens due to excessive heat, reducing braking effectiveness. If you notice a burning smell, ensure your parking brake isn't engaged. 

Each of these causes underlines the importance of regular brake checks and maintenance. If you ever notice a burning smell from your brakes, it's best to have your car inspected by a professional to ensure your safety.

How to Fix the Burning Smell from Brakes

Immediate steps to take when the smell is identified:

As soon as you notice a burning smell coming from your brakes:

  1. Pull Over Safely: Find a safe spot to pull over, turn off your engine, and allow the car to cool down for a few minutes.

  2. Check the Car: Inspect your tires and wheel hubs once it's safe. If they're extremely hot, or if you see smoke, it's a sign your brakes have overheated.

  3. Contact a Professional: If you're unsure what's causing the smell or if it persists after the car has cooled down, it's best to consult a professional mechanic. Driving with potential brake issues can be dangerous.

Specific fixes based on causes:

  1. Overheated Brakes: If the brakes are overheated, the first step is to let them cool down naturally. Avoid further heavy braking if possible. If overheating happens frequently, have your brakes checked, as they might not release properly.

  2. New Brake Pads: If you've recently installed new brake pads, a slight burning smell is normal for the first few times you brake hard. However, if the smell persists, it's worth having them inspected to ensure they were installed correctly.

  3. Stuck Caliper: A stuck caliper often requires professional assistance to free or replace. This issue should not be ignored as it can lead to other serious problems.

  4. Leaking Brake Fluid: If the brake fluid is leaking, it must be repaired immediately. This will typically involve replacing the broken component and refilling the brake fluid.

  5. Worn-out Brake Pads: When brake pads are worn-out, they should be replaced as soon as possible. This isn't typically a DIY job unless you have the right tools and experience, as incorrect installation can cause serious brake problems.

The key point to remember is never to ignore a burning smell from your brakes. It's an indication that something is wrong, and addressing it promptly ensures the safety and longevity of your vehicle.

Final Thoughts

Addressing a burning smell from your brakes isn't just about keeping your vehicle in good working order; it's about your safety and the safety of others on the road. This smell is a clear sign that your braking system needs attention. While this can sometimes be a minor issue, it can also signal a serious problem.

Remember, every part of your vehicle's brake system plays a crucial role in ensuring you can stop when you need to. Ignoring these warning signs can have severe consequences. Don't allow what might be a simple fix to turn into an expensive repair or a dangerous situation on the road.

Suppose you notice a burning smell or any other unusual signs from your brakes. In that case, we encourage you to act quickly and get professional assistance.

At NuBrakes Mobile Brake Repair, we specialize in resolving brake issues safely and conveniently. Don't ignore that burning smell—get in touch with us today!

Our team of experienced mechanics will come to you, thoroughly inspect your brakes, diagnose the issue, and provide a swift, efficient solution. Schedule your appointment now and ensure your vehicle is safe and sound for the road ahead.

Brake problems? Schedule a free brake repair estimate now.

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