NuBrakes Blog Why Your Car Pulls to One Side When Braking Image

Why Your Car Pulls to One Side When Braking

Have you ever felt like your car has a mind of its own, veering off to one side just as you're trying to brake? You're about to park at the grocery store, and there it goes, pulling left when you hit the brakes. Or perhaps it's a jaunt to the right during that heart-stopping moment on the freeway.

Pulling to one side when braking is a common vehicle problem that can lead to uneven tire wear and compromise your brake efficiency. It signals an issue that requires immediate attention. In the worst scenario, it can lead to a loss of control over your car—a dangerous situation you never want to experience.

That’s why we made this quick guide to help you discover the top reasons why a car pulls to one side and how to detect this problem. We will also provide must-read tips to ensure your car stays on course while braking, keeping you safe on the road.

Key Takeaways

  • Various issues can make your car veer to one side while braking, including uneven brake wear, brake fluid contamination, brake caliper malfunctions, improper wheel alignment, inconsistent tire pressure, worn steering or suspension components, tire conicity, a bad wheel bearing, worn steering linkage, and improper tire pressure. These issues can compromise brake efficiency, lead to uneven tire wear, and increase the risk of losing control of the car.

  • To identify why your car pulls to one side when braking, you can observe when the pull occurs, check your tire pressure, recall when you last had your wheels aligned, perform a brake test, and finally, have a qualified technician perform a full vehicle inspection. This professional examination should check for signs of damage or uneven wear that could cause the car to lean to one side during braking.

  • Regular maintenance can prevent your car from pulling to one side while braking. Regularly monitor tire pressure and adjust according to the manufacturer's manual, get your wheels aligned every two to three years or after any significant impact, and consult a trusted automotive professional for any suspected steering or brake issues. Proactive maintenance can save costs in the long run by avoiding expensive repairs.

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Common causes of a car pulling to one side

Brakes wearing unevenly

Pressing the brake pedal should apply equal pressure to all of your brakes. However, if your brakes are wearing unevenly, one brake might grab before the rest. It's like trying to stop a bike with just one brake; you'll find yourself veering towards the side of the engaged brake. 

That's exactly what happens when your car's brakes wear unevenly. Your car tends to pull to the side where the brake engages first or is more worn.

Brake Fluid Contamination

Your vehicle's braking system cannot function without brake fluid, which transmits the force from your foot on the brake pedal to the brakes themselves.

However, if water, dirt, or other contaminants get into your car's brake fluid, the hydraulic pressure will decrease, and the brakes will not work properly. As a result, your car may pull to one side when you brake.

Brake fluid contamination can also lead to brake malfunctions, including increased stopping distance and brake lockup.

Brake Caliper Malfunction

Brake calipers are like clamps that press your brake pads against the brake rotors to slow down your car. If a caliper is stuck or malfunctioning, one side of your car may brake less effectively than the other, causing your car to pull to the side of the functioning caliper when you brake.

Improper wheel alignment

Think of your car like a shopping cart. When all the wheels are aligned, it's easy to push the cart straight. But if one wheel isn’t aligned with the others, the cart leans to one side, right?

The same thing can happen with your car. If your wheels aren't properly aligned, your vehicle can veer to one side when you're braking, putting you at risk of collisions when you’re out on the road and you suddenly drive out of lane.

Improperly aligned wheels can also lead to:

  • Untimely tire wear

  • Excessive fuel use

  • Tire squeal

  • Steering wheel vibration

Uneven air pressure in tires

How your car handles depends a lot on the tire air pressure. Your vehicle will pull to one side if one tire has lower pressure than the others. It’s like trying to ride a bicycle with a flat tire; you will have a much more difficult time keeping your balance and control. 

Worn steering or suspension components

Your vehicle's suspension (what connects your wheels to the vehicle) and steering system (what allows you to steer the vehicle) are both vulnerable to wear and tear over time. When this happens, braking could cause your car to veer to one side, and the vehicle might not respond to your steering as it should.

Tire conicity

Tire conicity, also called tire pull or radial pull, means a tire is more cone-shaped than it should be, causing a car with a properly inflated tire to pull to the left or right. It happens all the time, even with brand new tires.

A manufacturing flaw or uneven wear and tear are both possible causes. Just like a cone would, a conical tire can cause your car to move in the direction of the pointy end when you're driving or braking.

Bad wheel bearing

The wheel bearing allows your car's wheels to spin with as little friction as possible. Every wheel hub in your car has a bearing assembly that enables the wheel to rotate properly as you drive.

A damaged or worn out bearing tends to create uneven friction, more on one side and less on the other. When this happens, pressing down on the brakes makes your vehicle pull to the side of the bad bearing.

In addition to a car pulling to one side, the typical signs of worn wheel hub bearings include:

  • Grinding noise

  • Humming noise

  • High-pitched noise

  • Other strange noises, like clicking or clunking sounds

  • Wobbling or vibrating wheels

Worn steering linkage

Your steering linkage is like your car's own set of arms and hands. It connects your steering wheel to the tires and helps you control the direction of the vehicle. However, over time and with consistent use, parts of this linkage can deteriorate. As a result, the vehicle may pull to one side when you apply the brakes and respond more slowly than usual to your steering.

Wrong air pressure in tires

Maintaining the correct air pressure in your car's tires is essential for a smooth, comfortable, and safe ride. If one tire has less air pressure than the others, your car might start to pull towards the side of the under-inflated tire, especially when you brake. 

Imagine running with one flat shoe; you'd likely lean to one side and experience uneven footing. The same thing happens to your car when the tire pressure is uneven, so it’s crucial to check and adjust your tire pressure regularly.

How to detect why your car pulls to one side when braking

Step 1: Start with a simple observation.

Note when the pull occurs. 

  • Is it when you brake? Or all the time?

  • Does your vehicle consistently pull to the left or right?

  • Does it pull only when you press down on the brakes or also when you accelerate?

Knowing this can narrow down the possible causes and help your technician diagnose the problem better.

Step 2: Check your tire pressure.

As we explained earlier, improper tire pressure is a common reason a car feels like it pulls to one side.

Review the manufacturer’s manual to know the correct tire pressure. It’s best to check your car’s tire pressure frequently, as uneven pressure can cause a pull.

If you notice inconsistent tire pressure, check the owner's manual or the inside of the driver's door frame for the recommended PSI.

  • Prevent tire wear problems by maintaining the proper tire pressure and avoiding under or over inflation.

Step 3: Find out when you last had your wheels aligned.

The next step after checking and adjusting your tire pressure is to consider getting your car’s wheels aligned.

Besides causing a vehicle to lean to one side when braking, a lack of wheel alignment can result in uneven tread wear, inward-leaning tires, or a crooked steering wheel.

Step 4: Do a brake test.

Slow down to a safe speed before applying the brakes. An issue with the brakes is probably the culprit if your car pulls to one side. If your brake inspection reveals issues, you should have a professional examine your entire braking system immediately. They may change or fix rotors, calipers, or other components.

Step 5: Have a qualified technician perform a full vehicle inspection.

If you followed the steps above and still notice your car drifting one way, it’s best to have an expert mechanic completely inspect your car.

Auto mechanics will check for signs of damage or uneven wear that could cause your vehicle to lean in one direction when braking. They will replace uneven or worn brake pads in pairs on both sides for even braking. They will also check the alignment and balance of your car's tires.

The next step is to inspect the brake fluid for signs of contamination, like a muddy or discolored appearance. Then, they will check your steering linkage, which might be worn if the steering wheel feels loose. Repairing a worn steering linkage is a complex job that requires special tools and expertise, so it is best left to the pros.

Finally, certified mechanics will examine the vehicle's braking system to determine if any maintenance or additional repairs are necessary.

Keep your car steady and prevent it from pulling to one side

Maintaining a vehicle that stays on course while braking demands consistent and regular maintenance. Always monitor your tire pressure and adjust it according to your manufacturer’s manual to ensure optimal performance every time.

Get your wheels aligned every two to three years. Also, wheel alignment is critical when your vehicle's suspension takes a significant hit, especially from obstacles like potholes and curbs that can cause a car's wheels to become misaligned.

Remember, preventive measures will save you a hefty amount of money in the long run by avoiding costly repairs. A trusted automotive repair and maintenance professional will diagnose and fix any unwanted steering pull when braking, so you can hit the road safely and confidently.

Contact Nubrakes today for a worry free Driving!

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