What to Do When Your Brakes Are Squealing

So, your brakes are squealing, and you’re wondering what to do next? Well, as you’re no doubt already aware (and it almost goes without saying): the most important safety feature of your car is that it can brake. After all, the alternative when push comes to shove is that it can crash – into a pole, into a tree, into a pedestrian or into another car. So, considering how important they are, it’s not that surprising that car owners get a bit anxious when brakes start making weird screeching or squealing noises.

There are SOME noises that brakes make that are normal, but brake noise can often be a sign that your brakes are damaged, or reaching the end of their life and need to be repaired or replaced. So, where does brake squealing sit on this spectrum, and what’s your next step? Let’s talk about it.

Why are my brakes squealing, anyway?

That high-pitched noise that brakes can make is happening because of the brake pads. Older cars come with asbestos pads, but modern cars will come with brake pads that are semi-metallic and are more durable, but also quite a bit harder. This means that when your brake pedal is pushed down, and your brake pads squeeze the metal rotor together, it may vibrate; when your metal rotor vibrates against a hard brake pad, it can squeal. This is particularly likely to happen in the morning, while your car is still heating up; if there’s any moisture in the area that’s accumulated overnight, it can also increase the vibrations and lead to grinding, swishing noise.

Squealing brakes can be a normal noise, but they can also mean that your brake pads are wearing down and are ready to be repaired. Some brake squealing can be expected in most vehicles, but it certainly shouldn’t be constant, and if you’re finding your car brakes almost always squeal when you slow down, it may be time for new brake pads.

Another suspicious noise to watch out for is a low, grinding metal noise. Most modern brake pads come with a small steel spring that will scrape along the metal disc as your brake pad wears out; this will produce a grinding metal noise, and it needs to be seen by a mechanic immediately.

Can anything be done about “normal” squealing?

However, even if your squealing brakes are caused by something that’s “normal”, it may still be driving you batty! So if that’s the case, there are still solutions that your car mechanic can put into practice, like sanding off the hardening surface of a brake pad (reducing the friction that causes vibration in the brakes) or trying out a different brake pad (e.g. a softer pad, which will reduce the noise… however, softer pads don’t last as long).

What else should I be looking out for?

Strange noises coming from your brakes aren’t the only sign that your brakes need attention! Here are some other signs to look out for that indicate your brakes are running low, and you need to pay your mechanic a visit.

    • Brakes are slow to respond. Or they’re spongy when you push the brake pedal.
    • The brake dashboard light turns amber. This indicates issues with your ABS system, which improves steering control when braking and stops you from skidding. You don’t want to skid, so don’t ignore this light!
    • The brake dashboard light turns red. Red is bad. This means there’s a system imbalance. Red alert, head to your mechanic.

Can I repair my brakes myself?

No. A squeaking brake should always be fixed by a mechanic; this isn’t a DIY #thereifixedit job. Don’t take risks with your own safety or that of others by trying this yourself; leave it to a qualified, accredited professional mechanic.

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