When you hit the brakes you want your vehicle to stop, and you want it to stop quietly. So, when it starts making a noise it shouldn’t; it starts ringing alarm bells.
Your vehicle’s brakes can’t really tell you what’s going on, and they use noises like squeaks to try and communicate with you. The noise can signify a problem, or it can be a part of normal operation.
But how do you tell the difference between the two when your brakes start squeaking, and how do you make them stop if you don’t want to hear it? We’ll break down everything you need to know about this common and pesky problem here.
10 Reasons Why Your Brakes Are Squeaking
The first step to fixing squeaky brakes on your vehicle is figuring out why they’re squeaking in the first place! That’s why we wanted to start out by highlighting ten of the most common reasons the brakes on your vehicle might squeak.
1. Worn Pads
Worn pads are by far the most common reason for squeaking brakes, and it’s a completely normal condition. Your brakes have small metal bits on them that squeak when the pads start to get too low, and this squeak is so you check out the brakes and realize it’s time to change out the pads.
Figure out what wheel the squeak is coming from and take a look at the brake pads; if they’re too low, it’s time to take your vehicle in for a brake job!
2. Cheap Pads
If you just got new brake pads and now you’re starting to hear a squeak when you hit the brakes, there’s a good chance the mechanic used a lower-quality semi-metallic brake pad for your vehicle.
But keep in mind that while they’re lower quality, that really only means they’re going to make some noise when you hit the brakes, they generate a lot of brake dust, and they won’t last as long. They’ll still provide plenty of braking power, so you’re not sacrificing anything in this department.
3. Worn Rotors
While this isn’t the most likely problem with your brakes, it’s certainly possible that worn or damaged rotors are causing a squeaking noise. With worn rotors, you also might notice inconsistent braking, grinding noises, or other noises coming from the wheel well.
Take a look at the rotors, and if you notice any warping, grooves, or other types of damage on them, then you should replace them right away.
4. Uneven Rotors
While this might seem a bit like our last reason, we’re talking about if you recently replaced the brake pads but didn’t replace or resurface the rotors.
While you can often resurface rotors to help save yourself money instead of replacing them, you need to at least resurface them so they have a flat surface to mate to. Otherwise, you’re losing braking power and there’s a good chance you’ll get some noisy brakes.
5. Improperly Mated Pads
If you just got new brake pads, this is another possibility if the mechanic didn’t take the time to mate the pads properly. After you install new brake pads, it’s important to take the time to mate them properly.
This lets the pads evenly match the surface of the rotor for the best possible braking performance. If you don’t mate the brakes properly, they can glaze over, resulting in a loss of braking performance and a good bit of chatter when you hit the brakes.
6. Damaged Calipers
This is another rare problem, but it can certainly happen. When a caliper seizes up, it won’t push out the brake pads the way it should, which can lead to all kinds of noise.
Not only will a seized caliper likely make weird noises, which can include squeaking, but it will also cause premature brake pad wear and it can damage the rotor and other brake components. If your vehicle has a damaged caliper, you need to replace it as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that just like brake pads and rotors, you should replace both calipers on the same axle when you’re replacing them.
7. Moisture On the Rotors
If it’s a rainy or snowy day when you get in the car, there’s a good chance you’re going to hear some noise when you hit the brakes. The good news is that if this is your problem, you shouldn’t hear the squeaking for long.
As the brakes heat up, they’ll dry off, and even if the rain is coming down hard and sideways so it hits the rotor, not too much should stick on them between the heat and the movement.
But moisture on the rotors likely wasn’t the problem if you keep hearing squeaking after driving a few miles.
8. Rust on the Rotors
If you haven’t driven your vehicle in a while, there’s a decent chance there’s some rust on the rotors. This is especially true if you leave your vehicle parked outside in the elements. Water will hit the rotors and when you don’t drive your vehicle, rust can form from the condensation.
The good news is that most of the time, all you need to do to fix this problem is drive your vehicle for a bit. The brake pads will break the rust off the rotors and the squeaking should go away. However, an excessive amount of rust can eat through too much of the rotor, leaving it too thin or uneven.
9. Dust or Debris on Rotors
Occasionally something can work its way in between the brake pad and the rotor. When this happens, the pad can’t fully mate with the rotor and can be a bit noisy when you hit the brakes.
Typically, this condition resolves itself though, but if it doesn’t you should manually inspect the brakes to see if there’s anything you can clean out. If you’re cleaning your brakes be sure to use a brake cleaner so you don’t create any additional problems in the process though.
10. Glazed Brakes
Your brakes can only handle so much use, and if you use them too much they can overheat. When this happens they can glaze over when they cool back down. The good news is that you can typically break through this glaze. The bad news is that you’ll experience a loss in braking power in addition to the squeaking noise until you do.
The good news is that most drivers don’t have to worry about overusing their brakes though. It really only becomes a problem if you’re driving in extremely steep terrain or if you “ride” the brakes while you’re driving. Under normal driving conditions, you shouldn’t overuse the brakes in passenger vehicles.
Checking Your Brakes
With so many different potential problems it can be a challenge trying to narrow down exactly what’s going on with your vehicle. No matter the situation, the first step you take should be to inspect the brakes themselves.
This can rule out some of the most serious and easy-to-spot problems. And while you might think a noise is coming from a particular brake, we recommend playing it safe by checking all the brakes on your vehicle with a quick visual inspection.
Start by taking a look at the brake pads themselves. You want to ensure they have enough pad life left and they’re not wearing abnormally. When you’re checking out the pads see if there are any obstructions between the pad and the rotor.
From there, look at the rotors and calipers themselves. Look for any abnormal wear, scoring, or pitting on the rotors.
If everything with the brake system looks good while you’re checking it out, consider if you recently put new brakes on your vehicle. If so, the problem could be with the pads themselves or there might’ve been a problem with the installation.
If you can’t figure out what’s making the noise after your visual inspection of the system, consider taking your vehicle to a professional mechanic for an accurate diagnosis. Your vehicle’s brakes are one of the most important components on your vehicle and you don’t want to just assume they’re good to go when they might not be!
How Much Do New Brakes Cost?
If you do find out that you need to replace your brake pads, you can expect to pay anywhere between $100 and $300 per axle. However, that’s just for the brake pads.
If you need to replace the rotors too you can add another $150 to $300 to the price. When replacing just the brake pads you should at least resurface the rotors to get the best possible performance.
Now that you know a little more about why your vehicle brakes are squeaking, it’s time for you to head out and take a look at the brakes yourself. If you’re not confident with your own abilities, you should take your vehicle to a certified mechanic to ensure everything is working the way it should.
You don’t want to take the brakes for granted, and when they start making noises, they’re trying to tell you something. Figure it out and then go from there on what you should do!