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How to handle squealing or grinding brakes.

What’s causing my squealing brakes?1

Most of the time, the cause of squealing will likely be worn out brake pads or shoes. How can you tell? If you only hear the noise when you apply pressure to the brakes.  As pads wear thin, they expose small steel clips called “wear indicators” that make noise when they contact the rotor or drum. They’re designed to be a warning that the brake system is at risk of failure. Pay attention. It may be time to consider changing brake pads. Another part of your car’s braking system that can cause noise is a broken anti-rattle clip, so have that checked, too.  

Not every noise means an expensive repair.

Good news: squealing brakes don’t always mean your brakes system is worn out. Or that there are major repairs in your future. Vibration can also produce a high-pitched brake noise, especially when your vehicle stops short.2  Car brakes operate loudly when they are hot or under pressure, like when driving in the mountains. And high-performance carbon-metallic brake pads are especially prone to squealing.3

Before heading to a repair shop for a new brake pad installation, take the time to identify any patterns. Is the sound worse when you first start driving? Does it go away after the car warms up? A little detective work will put things in perspective and could be helpful for your mechanic as well.

New high performance brakes tend to be noisy

When new brake pads and rotors are installed on your vehicle, the pads themselves might be responsible for the squealing. Now that asbestos is no longer used for insulation, brakes are a bit louder than they used to be.

New high-performance carbon-metallic brake pads tend to squeal louder and longer than older style brakes.  If squealing persists after 48 hours, return the vehicle to the shop. The new pads or shoes may be installed incorrectly or simply need adjusting. This work should be covered under your warranty and not cost anything additional out of pocket.

Another lesser-known cause of squealing: sticking calipers that keep brake pads constantly engaged. Over time, friction creates excess heat causing the metallic pads to crystallize. A broken anti-rattle clip or insulation can also be to blame.

There’s nothing good about grinding2

Far more serious than squealing brakes, grinding brake noise is nothing to ignore.This sound typically means the brake system is close to failing.

If you’re lucky, a small rock or tiny stone may be lodged in one of the car’s brake shoes or pads and can be easily removed. More likely though, the grinding brake sound means the pads have worn through and the metal part of the brake pad or brake shoe is now in direct contact with the brake disc or drum. This metal-on-metal friction is damaging and will quickly ruin the most expensive parts of a brake system. That’s not just annoying. It’s dangerous. Act quickly to stay safe.

Play it safe.

Any time you hear grinding brake noise, play it safe. Park the vehicle until it can be inspected and repaired by a professional. Driving it puts you, your passengers, and other cars on the road at risk.

Learn more:

How do hydraulic breaking systems work?  (reference.com)


  1. Why Do Brakes Squeal?  (yourmechanic.com)

  2. What is a Bad Brake Noise?  (pepboys.com)

  3. How to Troubleshoot Brake Problems (dummies.com)

  4. Why Are My Brakes Making Noise?  (repairpal.com)

Additional Sources:

What's Wrong With My Brakes?  (about.com)

How do you diagnose brake problems?  (reference.com)

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