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Brakes Troubleshooting Guide For Common Brake Problems

Elvis Elvis

This brakes troubleshooting guide explains problems you might be having with your brakes and how they can be fixed. This easy to follow chart is broken down by each cause and solution. If your vehicle has any of these symptoms, then there is something wrong with the braking system. Many of these problems effect braking performance and should be checked as soon as possible.

Squealing Brakes | Squeaking Brakes
Possible causes Solutions
Metal indicator on brake pads contacting rotor. Remove/replace brake pads as soon as possible and inspect rotor for possible damage from indicator.
Pad shims incorrectly installed or missing. Reinstall shims or replace if necessary.
Lack of brake lube on contact points of pad, caliper and mounting bracket. Add brake grease/lube where necessary.
New brakes are not fully bedded in. Follow brake pad manufacturer’s instructions for proper bedding-in procedure.
Glazed friction material on brake pad and/or rotor. Deglaze brake pad by sanding it with 80 grit sandpaper on a flat surface. Remove glaze on rotor by sanding it with 120 grit paper and a cross hatch pattern.
Missing or damaged caliper, brake pad springs or anti-rattle clips. Replace clips.

Brakes Troubleshooting Guide For Common Brake Problems

Pulsating Brakes
Possible causes Solutions
Friction material transferred to brake rotor causing thickness variation. Typically misdiagnosed as a warped rotor. Replace brake rotor, or have rotor turned by a repair shop.
Brake rotor or drums out of round. Have rotor/drums turned or replace if necessary.
Damaged rotor or drum. Replace rotor/drum.
Wheel bearing loose. Adjust or replace wheel bearing as necessary.
Caliper not sliding properly (on sliding caliper type). Inspect and lubricate sliding mechanism, replace caliper if damaged.

 

Spongy Brakes | Mushy Brakes
Possible causes Solutions
Air in brake fluid, caused by leak or overheated brakes. Inspect system for leaks and bleed brakes.
Excessively worn or machined brake rotor and/or drums. Replace rotor or drum as necessary.
Worn brake hoses expanding under pressure. Replace brake hoses. If one hose is bad, replace them all.
Worn master cylinder can’t create enough pressure. Replace master cylinder.
Brake components not properly attached or torque down. Inspect all brake components for loose hardware and tighten accordingly.

 

Grinding Brakes
Possible causes Solutions
Brake pad or shoe friction material worn off and metal backing plate or rivets contacting rotor/drum. Replace appropriate pads or shoes. Inspect rotor or drum for damage. Have rotor/drum turned or replaced.

 

Excessive pedal travel needed to stop vehicle
Possible causes Solutions
Very low fluid level or leak. The hydraulic brake system is a closed type system, which means that if the brake fluid level continuously drops, there is a leak somewhere. Find and repair leak, bleed the system of any air in the fluid.
Air in the system. Brakes may have overheated. Inspect brake system for leaks. Replace faulty components and bleed brakes. Consider upgrading brake parts that will resist overheating.
Master cylinder seals worn which can’t create enough pressure to activate brakes. Replace master cylinder and bleed brakes.
Excessively worn pads or shoes. Replace worn pads or shoes.

 

Excessive pedal effort needed to stop vehicle
Possible causes Solutions
Damaged pad or oil/grease contamination on brake pad or shoe. Inspect and clean as necessary. Find and repair cause of oil/grease if applicable.
Defective caliper piston, wheel cylinder or caliper sliding mechanism. Sliding pins and caliper piston for damage, binding or stuck components. Caliper replacement may be necessary if parts can’t fixed.
Excessively worn pads or shoes. Replace worn pads or shoes.
New brakes are not fully bedded in. New brake pads and shoes require bedding-in time to seat against rotor and drum. Follow brake pad or shoe manufacturer’s recommendation for proper bedding in procedure.
Faulty power brake booster. Replace power brake booster.

 

Pedal goes to floor when brakes are applied
Possible causes Solutions
Very low fluid level or leak. Locate and repair leak, bleed the system of any air in the fluid.
Master cylinder seals worn which can’t create enough pressure to activate brakes. Replace master cylinder and bleed brakes.
Air in the system. Brakes may have overheated. Inspect brake system for leaks. Replace faulty components and bleed brakes. Consider upgrading brake parts that will resist overheating.

 

Car pulls to one side when braking
Possible causes Solutions
Damaged pad or oil/grease contamination on brake pad or shoe. Inspect and clean as necessary. Find and repair cause of oil/grease if possible.
Defective caliper piston or sliding mechanism. Inspect sliding pins and caliper piston for damage, binding or stuck components.

 

Brakes feels like they are dragging
Possible causes Solutions
Calipers or wheel cylinder pistons are sticking. This could be due to worn piston seals, corroded piston or piston bore. Replace caliper or wheel cylinder as necessary. Components can sometimes be sanded to remove corrosion.
Caliper not sliding properly (on sliding caliper type). Inspect and lubricate sliding mechanism, replace caliper if damaged.
Improper installation of parking brake mechanism or cables. Check for proper installation of parking brake components.
Drum adjuster improperly installed. Check adjuster for proper installation and operation.
Broken drum retracting springs. Replace springs.

 

Hard brake pedal, no power assist
Possible causes Solutions
Faulty brake booster. Replace power brake booster. The power booster isn’t a serviceable item, so replacement is necessary.
Loose vacuum hose from intake manifold to brake booster. (on vacuum type systems) Check condition of vacuum hose and replace if necessary.
Power steering belt loose, faulty hoses or fluid level low on hydroboost systems. Check hydroboost components.

 

Low brake fluid level, keep having to refill
Possible causes Solutions
Brake fluid leak in the system. Find and repair leak.

 

Pedal requires multiple pumps to stop
Possible causes Solutions
Damaged pad or oil/grease contamination on brake pad or shoe. Inspect and clean as necessary. Find cause of oil/grease if applicable.
Defective caliper piston, wheel cylinder or caliper sliding mechanism. Inspect sliding pins and caliper piston for damage, binding or stuck components. Caliper replacement may be necessary if parts can’t fixed.
Excessively worn pads or shoes. Replace worn pads or shoes.
New brakes are not fully bedded in. Follow brake pad or shoe manufacturer’s recommendation for proper bedding in procedure.
Faulty power brake booster. Inspect booster fittings and replace power brake booster as necessary.
Low fluid level/leak. The hydraulic brake system is a closed type system, meaning that if the brake fluid is low, there is a leak somewhere. Find and repair leak, bleed the system of any air in the fluid.
Air in the system. Brakes may have overheated. Inspect brake system for leaks. Replace faulty components and bleed brakes. Consider brake upgrades that will resist overheating.
Master cylinder seals worn which can’t create enough pressure to activate brakes. Replace master cylinder and bleed brakes.

 

Brake warning light comes on (different than parking brake light)
Possible causes Solutions
Pads worn down to electrical sensor. Some cars have this feature instead of the metal indicator. Inspect brake pads and replace if needed.
Pressure loss in half of the brake system. Check brake master cylinder for proper operation.
Brake fluid level low. Inspect system for leaks, replace components as necessary.

 

Parking brake doesn’t work
Possible causes Solutions
Improper installation or adjustment of parking brake mechanism or cables. Check for proper installation and adjustment of parking brake components.
Drum adjuster improperly installed. Check adjuster for proper installation and operation.

 

Front brakes lock up before rear
Possible causes Solutions
Rear pad or shoe friction material is different than the front. Match front and rear friction material types.
Rear brakes are contaminated with oil or grease. Inspect and clean as necessary. Find and repair cause of oil/grease if possible.
Faulty brake proportioning valve. Have proportioning valve checked for proper operation.
Rear pads or shoes are worn out. Replace pad or shoe.

 

Rear brakes lock up before front
Possible causes Solutions
Front pad friction material is different than the rear. Match front and rear friction material types.
Front brakes are contaminated with oil or grease. Inspect and clean as necessary. Find and repair cause of oil/grease if possible.
Faulty brake proportioning valve. Have proportioning valve checked for proper operation.
Front pads or shoes are worn out. Replace pad or shoe.
Malfunctioning front calipers. Check front calipers for proper operation.