NuBrakes Blog 11 Common Brake Problems Image

11 Common Brake Problems

Every car needs a fully functional braking system to avoid problems while you are driving.

As your car’s main defense mechanism, brakes are critical for safe driving. They control the car’s speed and ensure smooth navigation.

Most importantly, they make your vehicle stop at crucial moments.


1. Brake noises

Squeaking or squealing

Is there an unusually high-pitched squeak or squeal when you press down on your car’s brakes? That could be a sign that your brake pads are wearing thin. Most brake pads are designed with a small metal piece called a wear indicator.

When the brake pad material wears down to a certain point, this little metal piece starts to contact your vehicle's brake rotor and makes that familiar squeaky noise. It's like an early warning system telling you that it's time to get your brake pads checked.

Grinding noises

A grinding noise is definitely something you shouldn’t ignore the first time you hear it. A loud, harsh grinding sound when applying pressure to your vehicle’s brakes could indicate very worn down brake pads.

When this happens, the metal backing of the pads rubs directly against the metal brake rotors, creating an unusual grinding noise.

Sometimes, this grinding noise could also indicate a foreign object stuck in the caliper unit, but more often than not, it's a sign of worn-out brake pads. Take your car to a trusted mechanic immediately if you hear a constant grinding sound when you brake.

2. Brake pedal issues

Soft or spongy pedal

Normally, there should be a certain level of resistance when pressing down on the brake pedal.

But if your brake pedal feels soft or spongy, it's like stepping on soft fruit. You press down, and instead of a firm response, the pedal goes down easier than usual, sometimes even all the way to the floor.

This soft or spongy feeling usually signals a problem in your brake system's hydraulic parts, the parts that work together to transfer the force from your foot on the brake pedal to the brakes on the wheels.

Hard brake pedal

Earlier, we explained the role of a brake booster in a vehicle’s brake system. It’s a handy mechanical part designed to make it easier for you to stop the car.

If your car has a hard brake pedal, it could indicate a lack of boost from the brake booster. An improperly functioning brake booster can make it tough to push the brake pedal. Various issues can lead to a faulty brake booster, including a vacuum leak, a faulty check valve, or even an issue with the brake booster itself.

3. Vehicle pulls to one side when braking

“With a well-functioning brake system, braking is a smooth, even process where equal force applies to both sides of the car. However, when something’s off, the vehicle can pull to the left or right,” explains Michael Herring - NuBrakes Dallas Lead Technician.

When your vehicle pulls to one side while braking, it's usually a sign that something's not quite balanced in your brake system. A common cause of this problem is a stuck brake caliper.

The caliper's job is to squeeze the brake pads against your rotors to slow your car down. If one caliper is stuck or not working as well as the other, it could cause the car to pull to one side when braking.

Another possibility is uneven brake pad wear. Brake pads on one side that are much more worn down than those on the other side of the vehicle could cause the car to pull.

“But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the issue could be a problematic tire, a misaligned wheel, or worn-out suspension parts,” Herring adds.

Also Read this: 7 Warning Signs That Your Brakes Are Unsafe

4. Brake warning lights

Do you see your brake warning light come on?

That’s your car saying, "Hey, something's not quite right with the brakes!" 

The most common reason is that the brake fluid is low.  

“The brake fluid is the lifeblood of your braking system, helping to transfer the force from your foot on the pedal to the brakes on your wheels. Low brake fluid can affect your braking performance, and it's usually a sign of a leak somewhere in the system,” explains Haley.

Another possible reason is a problem with the anti-lock braking system (ABS). The ABS helps you maintain control of your car and prevent skidding during heavy braking. If there's an issue with this system, your ABS light will usually come on.

“Now, if your handbrake (or parking brake) is engaged, you'll also see a light on your dashboard. So always double-check to make sure it's fully released,” reminds Haley.

5. Reduced stopping power

Reduced stopping power is a bit like running in water; it takes a lot more effort to stop than it should. 

If you notice that you need more distance than usual to stop the car or feel like the brakes aren’t as effective as before, it’s best to consult an expert mechanic to determine the root of the problem instead of putting yourself at risk while driving.

Here are the usual causes of reduced stopping power:

  • Worn brake pads: The friction material on the brake pads wears away over time. The thinner it gets, the less effective it is at slowing your car down.

  • Brake fade: This happens when your brakes get too hot and start to lose effectiveness. It’s more common in situations where you're braking hard and often, like driving down a steep hill.

  • Brake fluid issue: If it's old and has absorbed water or low because of a leak, the hydraulic pressure in your brake system reduces, affecting your stopping power.

6. Brake overheating or brake fade  

“Brake overheating is like running a marathon without taking a break; your body (or in this case, your brakes) can't cool down, and performance starts to decline. Your car's brakes work by creating friction to slow your vehicle down, and this friction generates heat. Normally, this heat is dispersed into the air, but the brakes can sometimes get too hot with heavy use,” says Herring.

When brakes overheat, they can experience what we call brake fade. There's a reduction in stopping power when your car’s braking ability suddenly decreases. Brake fade is more common in situations where the brakes are used heavily, like in hilly terrain or when towing heavy loads. It causes you to press the brake pedal harder and longer as your car’s brakes become less responsive.

Unfortunately, overheating can lead to other problems. It can lead to the following:

  • Cause the brake fluid to boil, creating gas bubbles in the brake system and leading to a soft or spongy brake pedal

  • Warp your brake rotors, leading to a pulsating brake pedal or steering wheel shake when braking

“It's also important to note that continually overheating your brakes can reduce their lifespan. Brake pads and rotors can wear out faster when frequently overheated,” states Herring.

7. Brake fluid leaks

Brake fluid is usually clear to yellowish and feels oily to the touch.

Brake fluid leaks, often originating from deteriorating seals in components such as the master cylinder, caliper, or wheel cylinder, can pose serious safety risks. 

A common sign of a brake fluid leak is a puddle of fluid under your vehicle, typically near the wheels or directly under the brake pedal area. Another sign is a soft or spongy brake pedal, which happens when air enters the brake lines due to the leak.

8. Worn out brake pads

Worn out brake pads can lead to reduced braking efficiency. The thinner they get, the less effective they are at stopping your car.

If they wear down too much, you might hear a screeching or squealing noise when you brake. This sound is typically a wear indicator on the brake pad that's designed to alert you when the pads need replacing.

In extreme cases, if the brake pads wear down completely, the metal backing of the pads can come into direct contact with the brake rotors. This is known as metal-on-metal contact, typically causing a grinding noise when braking, damaging the rotors, and reducing braking performance.

“Replacing worn out brake pads is a routine part of vehicle maintenance. The frequency of replacement depends on various factors, including your driving habits, the type of pads installed, and the driving conditions,” says Herring.

9. Warped rotors

Brake rotors are the components of the brake system that brake pads squeeze against to create the friction that slows and stops a vehicle. They are flat and smooth, enabling even contact with the brake pads. However, they can become warped over time, particularly with constant use.

Overheating is the number one cause of warped rotors. When the rotors get too hot, they can warp or deform. This can happen from heavy brake use, like when you're going downhill for a long time or towing something heavy. Another common cause is uneven lug nut torque when wheels are installed.

A typical symptom of warped rotors is a pulsing or vibrating sensation in the brake pedal or even the steering wheel when you apply the brakes. This happens because the brake pads fail to make even contact with the warped rotor.

“Warped rotors can reduce your car’s braking efficiency and lead to premature brake pad wear. If you notice any symptoms of warped rotors, it’s important to have a professional mechanic check your car and fix the problem,” notes Herring.

10. Damaged brake lines

Brake lines are slim, flexible tubes that carry brake fluid and allow hydraulic pressure to move from the master cylinder to the wheel cylinders and into the calipers, allowing your car’s brakes to work.

Wear and tear, physical damage, and corrosion can cause the brake fluid to leak. When this happens, there’s less fluid and, thus, less pressure moving between the brake components, significantly reducing braking efficiency. In the worst case scenario, loss of brake fluid can lead to brake failure.

Here are the common signs of damaged brake lines:

  • Soft or spongy brake pedal

  • Reduced braking performance

  • Visible brake fluid leaks under the car

11. Caliper issues

A seized caliper is the major cause of brake caliper issues. It happens when the caliper can't slide freely due to rust, dirt, or debris. 

A seized caliper can cause the brake pads to constantly rub against the rotor, leading to excessive and uneven brake pad wear and potentially warped rotors due to overheating.

Another common caliper issue is a leak. Seals and rubber boots seal brake calipers to prevent leaks. However, these components deteriorate over time. If they leak brake fluid, the hydraulic pressure can drop, leading to reduced braking power.

Nubrakes - Oil Change Discount (1).webp

Importance of regular brake maintenance

“Brakes in good condition can be the difference between a close call and an unfortunate incident. As brakes wear down over time, they become less effective, increasing your stopping distance. Regular maintenance can help catch worn-out brake pads or damaged rotors before they become a problem.”

Patrick Haley - Nubrakes Operations Manager.

Did you know that regular brake maintenance, in fact, saves you money in the long run?

Completely worn brake pads can cause damage to other parts of your brake system, like the rotors or calipers, which are more expensive to replace. Regular automotive checkups can help prevent minor problems from turning into expensive repairs.

“It's all about peace of mind. Knowing your brakes are in top condition means you can hit the road with confidence. You can completely rely on your vehicle to keep you safe,” adds Haley.

Final thoughts

Now that you understand the importance of the braking system and the most common braking issues, the next step is to ensure your car has well-maintained and properly functioning brakes.

At NuBrakes Mobile Brake Repair, we prioritize your safety and satisfaction. With our exceptional customer support and a track record of 15,000 5-star reviews, you can trust us to provide reliable brake repairs and maintenance every time.

Let us take care of your brakes, so you can hit the road with confidence!

Contact us today to experience the NuBrakes difference and enjoy worry-free driving.

Your safety is our top priority!

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