How to Fix Noisy Brakes
Few problems are more annoying than noisy brakes in your car. Even if the brake pads are not worn and the noise causes no damage, there’s still that nails-on-the-chalkboard squeal at every stoplight. If your brakes are squealing, here’s how to proceed.
- Check for loose parts. Try wiggling the brake pad, calipers, and other brake components. They should not move with just your hands. Loose parts can vibrate, resulting in noise.
- Replace any shims or clips that are loose, damaged or missing to ensure that the pad does not move in the caliper assembly.
- Try a dampening paste. Disc Brake Quiet is one brand. Apply a thin layer of the substance to the back of the brake pads (between the pad and the caliper assembly). This will create a thin cushion to dampen the vibration and thereby the sound. Give the paste plenty of time to dry before you assemble the brakes to make sure it hardens: two to three hours at least, overnight if you can. It will become sticky and even change to a darker color when it is dry.
- Heat from the sun or a hair dryer helps to dry the paste, but let it cool to room temperature before installing the pads.
- Should you need to clean or remove the dampening paste, use a degreaser or brake cleaner.
4. Check the brake pads, and replace them if they are worn. Many disc brakes include a wear indicator designed to make noise if the pad is worn past a certain point.
5. Try different brake pad materials, but remember that noise and effectiveness may be a trade-off. It is best to replace brake pads with a similar material. Check the service manual for your vehicle to see what the manufacturer recommends.
- An organic pad (with or without asbestos) may be quieter, but may lack the performance and wear resistance of a semimetallic or metallic pad. An organic pad may not tolerate heat as well, and may therefore be subject to more (reduction in braking effectiveness due to heat) than other pad materials.
- A semi-metallic pad, which has metal particles and organic material, tends to have the best of both worlds in braking ability without too much noise. It increases the pad life and decreases brake fade over organics, but it may wear the rotors slightly more. It will also tolerate repeated, hard stopping better without wearing as much as the organic pad.
- A “metallic pad” is just that. Different metals are used to provide the most friction against the rotor. It does a great job at stopping at repeated high speeds with minimum wear, but it will tend to make the most noise out of all the pads. Metallic pads will also cause the rotor to wear faster (grooves, ridges etc.), especially with stock rotors not designed for use with metal pads.
- Look for lubricating materials built into brake pads. Brass, graphite, carbon, and other materials in the formula can help reduce noise.
- Because these materials are built into the brake pad itself, they will continue to lubricate rather than wearing off upon use.
- Check the surface smoothness visually against a comparator gauge or try writing on it with a ball point pen. If you don’t get a smooth line, the rotor is either too greasy or too rough.
7. Resurface the rotors. If the rotor wear is not too deep, you may be able to have the rotors ground on a lathe to smooth the surface. Call around to find an auto shop that services brakes and has a rotor lathe.
8. Replace the rotors or drums. If the wear is excessive or if the entire rotor is warped or distorted, you may have to replace the rotors altogether. Brake systems may be carefully designed and “tuned” by the manufacturer to avoid noise, so it is best to choose as close a replacement as possible.
- You may also need new rotors if the sound is not a squeal, but a metallic grind. If the brake pads are too worn, the rotors may be damaged.
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- Choose brake pads with edges that are chamfered, not square. Square corners on new brake pads may grab and chatter more than chamfered ones.
- There is such a thing as a spray-on brake lubricant, but it is a temporary measure. It forms a film between the pad and rotor, and it may help the to wear both surfaces evenly when they are new.
- Match the corrective action(s) to the problem you experience. You may not need to do all these steps to correct your noisy brakes.
- Inspect your brakes or have them inspected as soon as you notice a problem. Besides preventing a safety hazard, you may save money by correcting a small problem (worn brake pads) before it becomes a big problem (damaged rotors).
- Lubricate the moving parts of the brake assembly for smooth operation.
- Bad brakes are a safety issue. Noisy brakes are a warning sign that the brakes may be bad, but noise alone is not always a hazard. Have noisy brakes checked if you are not sure.
- Always have the car inspected if brake noise is accompanied by other braking problems, such as pulling to the side upon braking.