Uh-oh – You’re starting to hear a squealing, grinding, or screeching noise when you apply the brakes in your car.
What does it mean?
Is it time for a car brakes replacement?
Or can your auto mechanic service them so they’ll last longer?
We’re here to answer all those questions, and more. Here’s your complete guide to your car brakes.
How Do Car Brakes Work?
Whenever you’re driving and you need to stop as quickly as possible – like if another car cuts you off, or if a squirrel or small child runs into the street – these are probably the only times you really notice how your brakes work. Or, more specifically, it’s possibly the only time you notice how well your brakes work.
For everyday driving, for your commute to work, or picking up the kids from school, you probably take them for granted.
But, without brakes, you wouldn’t be able to drive anywhere safely.
Here’s the general gist of how they work:
When we refer to your “brakes,” we’re really talking about your brake pads, or brake shoes. This is the material that pushes against the brake drum or rotor (a metal disc), which impedes its motion, which in turn slows down your car.
The scientific explanation has to do with turning the kinetic energy of your moving car into heat. Friction from the brakes creates this heat. As the energy is transferred from one form to another, your car slows down.
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What Do Squealing, Screeching Car Brakes Mean?
If your car brakes screech or squeal the first few times you apply them, but then the noise gradually stops, you probably don’t need to worry.
Sometimes, your brakes may make noise because the rotors may have collected moisture from humid air, rust, or debris on the surface that the brake pads scrape off when you first apply them.
If, however, your brakes squeal every single time you apply them, you need to get them checked.
Brake Wear Indicators
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Most cars have built-in brake wear indicators that will let you know when your brake pads need to be replaced. Yes, you guessed it – the squealing or screeching noise you’re hearing is basically your brakes crying out for help.
Because of the friction your brake pads undergo to stop your car, eventually, they wear down and need to be replaced.
Other Reasons for Your Brakes Making Noise
Your brakes making noise can also mean you need an adjustment, like cleaning or lubrication. In some cases, your brake rotor can get worn out. This happens less often than your brake pads wearing thin, but if you own and drive your car often enough, this will be a regular part of car maintenance for you.
Here are some other causes of your brakes making noise:
- A grinding sound means your brake pads have almost completely worn down, and instead of the pads pressing against your rotors, it’s the brake pad backing plates making contact. That grinding noise is the sound of metal-against-metal. If you hear it, your rotors are probably getting damaged, and you’ll have to replace the whole shebang.
- Uneven brake pad wear or uneven rotor wear can cause some intermittent squeaking or chirping when you press your brakes.
- Sometimes, the mechanisms that hold your brake pads in place can become loose or worn, which can also cause noises.
How Often Should Your Brake Pads Get Replaced?
Unfortunately, there is no universal schedule for getting your car’s brake pads or brake system replaced or getting its maintenance check.
Every driver is different, and every driving situation is different.
For example, some people drive in a way that wears out their brakes faster (usually those who stomp on their brakes no matter the situation).
People who live in an urban area may also wear out their brake pads more quickly, simply because they will be stopping far more often. In contrast, someone who usually drives long distances on interstates or highways will use their brakes less, and will need them serviced or replaced less often.
Use Common Sense and Err on the Side of Caution
When in doubt, if you’re hearing a funny sound when you apply your brakes, you should get them checked.
An experienced mechanic can look them over and discover the source of the noise. They’ll tell you if it’s just your brake pads, or a larger problem.
It’s important to get your brakes checked as soon as you notice an issue or a noise, because brake failure can be extremely dangerous on the road.
Avoid accidents and larger repairs by making sure your brakes are checked regularly. Your mechanic can help you stay on top of checks and replacements. Just think of it as part of being a responsible car owner and driver.