Squeaky brakes put fear in every driver. We all start thinking the worst when we hear an unfamiliar noise. Will they still work when I need them to? Do I have the money to repair them? What am I going to do without a car?
However, there’s no need to panic - squeaky brakes don’t always mean that you're one step from disaster. There is often a reasonable explanation.
Should you worry about your squeaky brakes? We've created an easy-to-follow diagnosis process to give you the clarity you need. We'll help you find the underlying cause of your problem!
What Sort Of Noise Do You Hear From Your Squeaky Brakes?
Squeaking brakes can make several different noises. They range from a light swishing all the way through to sheet metal ripping – and one is a lot more serious than the other!
In this section, we’ll talk about 5 different noises, what part of your brakes are causing them and, most importantly, what you can do about it.
Light Swishing or High-Pitched Squeak
These noises are pretty natural. If you only hear them early in the morning and only for a second or two, chances are it’s your brakes clearing a thin layer of rust and other dirt they’ve accumulated overnight.
As long as these noises are infrequent and come and go quickly, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about. If you’re worried about any of the noises you’re hearing, no matter how small or infrequent, book a FREE visual inspection at a garage near you to receive peace of mind about the quality of your brakes. If no faults are found, there’s nothing to pay!
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Squeaking or Squealing
If your brakes are making a ‘squeaking’ or ‘squealing’ noise, this could be down to the pads. Your brake discs are mounted on either side of a pad that is lined with material designed to create friction. When friction is generated, it causes heat. The heat causes the pads to press against the discs, causing your car to slow down and eventually stop.
After time, the material on the pads become worn down. The heat is then not as easily dissipated, which causes the brake system to overheat. This is where the squeaking noise is coming from.
Some brakes are designed to make this noise on purpose – it’ll be loud and sudden. This is when you know to get your brake pads replaced so they can work with your brake discs correctly.
If you’re hearing this noise regularly, or it’s getting worse, it’s time to book a brake pad replacement near you.
Rattling brakes can be incredibly frustrating. Your brakes use mounting hardware to keep your brakes in place, such as anti-rattle clips or caliper slide pins. After time, these can become loose and worn, causing the brakes to rattle when used – you’ll hear it when pressing on or releasing the brake pedal.
It is the pad itself rattling, as it is no longer being kept in place. You’ll want to get this fixed as soon as possible as this can lead to the pads dragging upon the rotors. This can result in overheating and unnecessary vibration, meaning their lifespan will dramatically decrease.
If your brakes are rattling, you need to book a FREE brake inspection at a garage near you. A specialist brake technician will confirm the problem and provide a quote for the repair. Never pay until after the work is complete.
A brake fade is when you feel the vehicle lose its braking power. This happens when the pads and rotors become overheated, meaning that they are unable to generate enough friction needed to slow the car. This sound is similar to the squeaking from your brake pads.
This can happen in thick traffic when you are required to use your brakes more frequently than usual. It also happens on hot summer days, when travelling up and down steep hills, and when you are towing a heavy vehicle.
Overheating can also cause your brake fluid to boil. This is the fluid that keeps your brakes lubricated and running smoothly. You will know this is occurring when your brakes start to feel ‘spongey’ – when safe, pull over and allow some time for them to cool down. If the issue persists, it’s probably time to see a specialist.
If your brakes a feeling a bit spongy and it’s taking longer than usual for your car to stop, you need to book a brake fluid change today. This will ensure that your brakes work correctly and keep you safe on the roads.
A grinding sound can happen for several reasons. It might be that a layer of rust has formed on the pads overnight – once they’ve heated up a bit, the grinding should stop.
If the grinding is unusually loud, it could be that the material on the pads which create friction has worn down, causing them to dig into the rotor. If there has been salt put on the roads or you’ve taken a trip off-road, dirt, dust, or road grit could have become lodged in the brake system, or a stone has become lodged between the rotor and the backing plate.
If your wheel hub bearing is faulty, there could be excessive vibration. This will cause the calipers and the pads to grind. If this is the issue, you will feel the car pull to one side whenever you are using the brake.
If your brakes are grinding, you need to take action as soon as possible. It’s a serious issue. As the grinding sound can be caused by several different factors, you need to book a FREE visual inspection at a garage near you to diagnose the problem correctly and get the best fix to make your car as safe as possible.
How Can I Tell Which Brakes Are Creating The Noise?
It can be useful to discover which brakes on your vehicle are creating the noise. The easiest way to find out whether your front or rear brakes are the problem is by using your handbrake.
The handbrake, sometimes referred to as the emergency brake, works by activating the rear brakes. Find an empty car park and begin driving your car with the windows open. Apply the brakes, taking note of the speed and pressure at which the noise occurs. If you can’t hear anything, try again using the handbrake – if you can hear the noise now, the issue is probably with your rear brakes.
It can help to have someone listen out on the outside of the car to get a better gauge of where the noise is coming from. Take extreme caution when performing this check – never try this in a busy area and try to avoid slamming your brakes on unexpectedly.
Once you know whether your front or rear brakes are the problem, it becomes easier to book an appointment to get the squeaky brakes fixed.
Why Do My Brakes Squeak?
There are several reasons why your brakes can start to squeak. Some of them are due to faults within the system, others are due to your driving style or environmental factors. Here are 6 causes of squeaky brakes, as well as how serious they are and what you can do about them.
Excess Weight Combined With a Heavier Car
A Smart Car weighs more than a tonne, a Vauxhall Corsa up to 1 and 1/2 tonnes, and a family car like the Ford Galaxy can weigh a whopping 2 tonnes! That's without the extra weight we add when we use the car. If you frequently drive around with a full car and a heavily laden boot, your car needs more energy to slow down. This increases the pressure on the brakes and causes them to heat up faster. This pressure may create noise - but it should be minimal.
Severity - Low
Solution - Try and remove unnecessary weight where possible. A lighter load will always help increase the lifespan of your brakes. This reduces your running costs in the long term!
If excessive weight isn’t the issue but the temperature is barely above freezing, you might experience squeaky brakes. Metal contracts when exposed to cold temperatures and expands when it's heated up. The noise you may hear is likely to be your brakes readjusting to the changing temperature. It shouldn't last for too long and it shouldn't be too loud either.
Severity – Low
Solution – There’s not much you can do about the weather! Make sure you drive gently and smoothly when you first set off, especially if your car is starting in freezing conditions.
Moisture in the Air (Affecting the Brakes)
Water and metal don't mix well. When metal gets wet, a process called oxidisation will occur, resulting in rust. If your car sits in repeated heavy downpours, its metal components may suffer. Dew, rain, and other moisture in the air can cause a thin layer of rust to form on your brakes. A slight squeaking or grinding when you first set off on a damp morning is the system removing this.
Severity – Low
Solution – Try and limit your car’s exposure to the elements. Park it in a garage or under cover wherever possible and avoid it sitting on grass for too long, especially during wet weather.
Glazed Brake Pads
Of course, some causes are much more serious than others. Over time, your brake pads may become glazed. This means the brake callipers are a bit sticky, leaving the brakes partially applied. This will produce a squeaking noise and increase your braking distance.
Severity – Medium. Glazed pads are more of a problem because the quality of your brakes is reduced.
Solution – Book a FREE visual inspection at a local garage. Once a specialist technician confirms the problem, they can sand the brakes easily. This removes the stickiness and the noise.
Thin or Worn Brake Pads
This is the most severe cause of squeaky brakes. If your brake pads are worn, your car won't stop effectively and leaves you at risk. Look out for the grinding sheet metal noise we mentioned earlier and always keep track of brake pads replacements. They have a distinct lifespan, so it's always worth knowing when they might be wearing thin.
Severity – High
Solution – Book a brake pad replacement at a local garage as soon as possible. You should also avoid driving your car as much as possible until your new brake pads are fitted.
If your brakes look like this, you should think about buying replacement parts as soon as possible!
Have You Recently Changed Your Brakes?
When was the last time you had a brake check? If it was recently, the noise may be your new brakes bedding in. They take a little while to adjust, so it's normal to experience a small amount of noise after fitting. If you still notice squeaky brakes a few days after your fitting, they may be fitted incorrectly.
Severity – Low if the noise goes away quickly, Medium if your new brakes are fitted incorrectly.
Solution – Contact the garage who completed the brake check to get the problem sorted.
What If I'm Still Unsure?
If your noise doesn’t match any of those we’ve discussed above and you’re still worried about your squeaking brakes, you need to book a FREE visual inspection at a local garage to diagnose the issue. Ignoring the problem can significantly increase the cost of your brake repairs, so don't delay. Get a specialist technician to inspect your brakes, find the cause of your problem and provide an affordable quote to get the problem fixed today. Plus, you'll never pay a penny until after they’ve completed all the work!
Squeaky brakes can be scary. At best, it’s nothing to worry about – but at worst it’s a life-threatening problem. Make sure you get the problem solved as quickly as possible to ensure your car is safe and gives you the peace of mind you deserve.
Even something as simple as removing heavy objects from your boot can help prevent squeaking brakes, and several of the issues we've discussed will go away on their own. Drive gently early in the morning, brake early to avoid slamming the pedal down and keep using your car and its brakes to keep them in top condition.