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Brake Squeaks——Causes and How to Fix It?

A squeaky brake is always concerning to hear and dealing with it can be annoying. The awful screech coming from a faulty brake not only sounds like trouble but it also can put your life at risk. After all, your car brakes are one of the most important safety features that automobiles utilize. So when you first hear that your car brake isn’t functioning correctly, you should try to  diagnose and fix the problem as soon as possible. But how? Well in this article, INGEAR introduces you to the mechanics of a car brake, some common causes for a squeaky brake, and how you can fix it.

How the Brake Works

Firstly, we need to understand how the brake system works.

There are two types of brakes applied to today’s vehicle: disk brakes and drum brakes. Most of the cars we see today have brakes on all four wheels use the disk brake system. Though there are still some vehicles that use the drum system, disk brakes are generally more efficient and therefore are more popular.

Disk Brake

squeaky brake

In a disk brake, the brake fluid from the master cylinder is forced into a caliper where it presses against a piston. The piston, in-turn, squeezes two brake pads against the disk (rotor), which is attached to the wheel, forcing it to slow down or stop.

Drum Brake

squeaky brake

Drum brakes are usually used on the rear wheels of cars. With these types of brakes, brake fluid is forced into the wheel cylinder, which pushes the brake shoes out so that the friction linings are pressed against the drum, which is attached to the wheel, causing the wheel to stop.


Causes of Brake Noise

Squeaky brakes are a very common problem that most car owners undoubtedly face sooner or later. It could happen with brand new brakes or brakes that you’ve been using for a while so this problem could strike at any time. In addition, there are a couple main causes.

Let’s start with the most likely reason that your brake might be squealing: wearing components.

Wearing Parts

Brake pads wear slightly every time the brakes are applied, due to the friction between the pads and the high-speed spinning rotor. To warn the driver before the brake pads are totally worn out, many disc brake pads include a wear indicator on its side, which is a little metal tab made of steel. It is designed to hit the rotor and make noise if the pad is worn past a certain point. When the wear indicator hits and scratches the rotor, it causes squealing indicating that the brake pad is almost worn out and needs to be changed.

When the brake pad completely wears down, the brake pad and the rotor are in a metal-to-metal situation, causing a sharp grinding noise. This is a more urgent and dangerous situation because it causes inefficient braking and damage to the rotor. You need to stop driving as soon as possible and bring your car to professional mechanic.

Rotors and drums also wear every time fiction is applied to them. A blunt brake rotor or drum surface can cause the brake pad and lining to jump and rattle in the brake assembly. This may cause squealing or thumping noises.

Contaminated Parts

If your car brake has no signs of significant wear, then it may suffer from contamination. Because the brake system is exposed to air, it is susceptible to contamination being embedded on the pad, rotors, and other parts of the system, causing your brake to squeak.

One method of contamination can occur when you leave your car sitting outdoors on a rainy day or night. Consequently, the moisture from the rain and atmosphere might form into a light rust on the surface of a rotor or pad which could cause a brake squeak when the car is driven. However, don’t fret; the squeal will disappear shortly when all of the rust has been scrubbed from its components. In this case, the brake noise is considered normal.

But if the car hasn’t been driven for a long time, the rotor, drum or pad can be rusted severely which could cause permanent damage. In this case, the squealing will be irremovable without consulting an auto service or even changing the parts.

Another type of contamination is caused by the infiltration of objects that are small enough to get in between the brake pad and rotor, or a poor-quality brake pad. When pressing the brake, the objects caught inside will drag along the rotor, causing squealing. As time goes by, scores and groove marks will be formed on rotor and brake pad friction surfaces. When the uneven surfaces contact each other while braking, the unpleasant noises are produced.

Lack of Lubrication

Just like we need to lubricate the squeaky door hinge every once in a while, brakes act much in the same way. Unlubricated contact points in the brake system cause squeaky sound when friction acts on the surface.

Many cars have anti-rattle hardware installed in or around the brake caliper and brake pad. It enables the brake pad to slide quietly and smoothly in the brake caliper. In disk brake the hardware is a clip while in drum brake it is made out of a spring. Even with this in place, the hardware will also eventually be worn out as time goes by.

Some cars don’t have brake anti-rattle hardware, which means that the brake pad slides back and forth directly into the brake caliper. In this case, these two parts are contacting each other metal-to-metal, making it even easier to be squeaky without proper lubrication.

In order to keep you brakes work properly, the brake caliper should also be able to slide in and out smoothly. If the guide pins, which connect the caliper to the bracket, get corroded or blunt, the caliper will get stuck and make noise when moving.

How to Fix Squeaky Brake

When squealing occurs, its important to know how to diagnose and fix this problem. Read on and you’ll be an expert!

Having a portable light handy with you is vital so that you can see the brake parts behind the wheel clearly in any situation. Consider one of the choices from Ingear autoAssist’s highly ranked collection of portable lights: The Rechargeable LED WorkLight, the COB LED Slide WorkLight, or the COB LED Floodlight.

  • Check the brake pad for contamination and wear. If the damage is not deep and the pad is within minimum thickness, you can use sand paper to sand down the surface and remove the contamination such as curves and rust. If the pad is worn out, you need to consider changing your brake pad. Make sure your brake pad is in good condition so that it won’t damage the rotor, which is more expensive to fix and change.
  • When choosing your brake pad, be aware that high-performance carbon-metallic brake pads are prone to noise. The best choice for brake pads and hardware are from the original equipment manufacturer. Check the service manual for your vehicle to see what the manufacturer recommends.
  • Check the brake rotor or drum for scoring, grooving, or other wear. If the rotor wear is not too deep, you can use a rotor lathe to smooth the surface. Find experience individual or body shop who has a rotor lathe to do this job. When the rotor or drum are worn out, warped or distorted, getting a new one is the safest way.
  • Check these contact points and lubricate them with a thin layer of anti-squeal compound if needed:
    • Brake pad contact point on brake hardware
    • Brake caliper contact point on brake caliper bracket
    • The back of the pad. Lubrication helps to cushion it from the caliper pistons. Be sure to apply it only to that part of the back that comes in contact with the piston.
    • Brake shoe contact points on the drum brake’s backing plate

The brake’s life is an indeterminate science. Where you drive, how you drive, the type of driving you do, the moisture, etc. can all affect the condition and life of your brake. Your car brakes are a vital safety item on your vehicle, so make sure to keep your brakes well maintained. Always have an emergency flashlight in your toolkit and check your brake when it squeals.  


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