Squeaky Brakes: Why They Happen and How to Fix Them

By: Sarah Siddons  | 
Mechanic crouching down next to a car, holding a screwdriver.
Although it may be nothing, you should have a mechanic check out your breaks if they’re squeaking. See more brake pictures.
Lisa F. Young/istockphoto.com

When brakes start to squeak, it can be more than just an annoying noise; it can be a sign that something is wrong. Squeaky brakes can panic a driver, since brakes are arguably the most important safety feature in automobiles. Sometimes that concern is warranted, as the brakes are going bad. Other times, however, there ­may be nothing wrong at all.

Understanding why brakes squeak and knowing how to fix them is crucial for maintaining your vehicle's safety and performance. This article will explore the common causes of squeaky brakes and provide guidance on how to address this issue.


Not All Noise is Bad Noise

All cars make noise, and some brake noise is considered normal. Different driving conditions can affect brake noise, including severe braking, dusty or sandy conditions, or even humidity.

Certain high-pitched brake noise happens because the semi-metallic brake pads used on newer cars are harder. It's a safer and longer-lasting alternative to the asbestos material it replaced, but the noise can be annoying [source: Davis].


Have a compact car? A high-pitched squeal often happens on smaller cars and is heard in the first few stops when brakes are cold and damp. Certain brands can be noisier than others, but there's an upside - these harder pads that have more metal generally last longer since they're stronger.

Why Do Brakes Squeak?

Brake squeaking can occur for various reasons, ranging from normal wear and tear to more serious mechanical issues. Here are some of the most common causes:

Worn Brake Pads

The most common cause of squeaky brakes is worn-out brake pads. Brake pads are designed with wear indicators that produce a squealing sound to alert the driver when it's time for new brakes. This sound is created when the metal indicator rubs against the brake rotor.


High Metal Content in Brake Pads

Some brake pads are made with a high metal content, which can cause squeaking when they rub against the brake rotor. While such a brake pad is often more durable, the trade-off is increased noise.

Glazed Pads and Rotors

Over time, brake pads and brake rotors can become glazed with a shiny surface due to high heat and friction. This glazing can cause brakes to squeak when applied.

Dust and Debris

Accumulation of dust and debris between the brake pad and rotor can also lead to squeaking. This is often a result of normal wear and is usually resolved with cleaning.

Lack of Lubrication

The brake system has several components that require adequate lubrication to function smoothly. If calipers and other parts are not properly lubricated, they can cause squeaking brakes.


How to Stop Brakes Squeaking

Fixing squealing brakes involves identifying the cause of the noise and addressing it appropriately. Here are some steps you can take to eliminate the squeaking:

Inspect Brake Pads

The first step is to check the condition of your brake pads. If they are worn down to less than a quarter inch, it's time for new pads. Consider choosing brake pads with a lower metal content if high metal content is the issue.


Clean the Brakes

Dust and debris can be removed by cleaning the brakes with a brake cleaner spray. Ensure the area around the brake pads and rotors is clean and free of any foreign particles.

Check for Glazing

If your brake pads or rotors are glazed, they may need to be replaced or resurfaced. Resurfacing the rotors can restore their smooth surface and eliminate squeaking.

Lubricate Moving Parts

Applying brake lubricant to the caliper slides and other moving parts of the braking system. When done correctly, lubrication can prevent the squeaking noise caused by friction.

Professional Inspection

If you've tried these steps and the squeaking persists, it's advisable to seek a professional mechanic's inspection. There could be more complex issues at play, such as problems with the brake caliper or rotor misalignment.

Remember: Brakes are designed to make noises when they're going bad to warn you, so it's actually a good thing. It's certainly better to find out your brakes are going bad by hearing a squeak than jamming on the brake and not being able to stop.


Pinpoint the Source of the Squeaking or Squealing Noise

Squeaky brakes can be a nuisance and a sign of potential brake system issues. You need to review all brake components to find out what's making noise. By understanding the common causes of brake squeaking and knowing how to address them, drivers can ensure their vehicle remains safe and sound.

Regular maintenance and timely repairs are key to preventing brake noise and ensuring the longevity and reliability of your vehicle's braking system. If you're ever in doubt, don't hesitate to consult with a professional mechanic who can provide expert advice and service. Remember, when it comes to brakes, it's always better to be safe than sorry.


­This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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  • Allen, Mike. "How to Fix Squeaky Brakes: Auto Clinic." Popular Mechanics. Feb. 2007. http://www.popularmechanics.com/automotive/how_to/4212402.html (Accessed 11/5/08)
  • Davis, Austin C. "Brakes - Disc Brake Noise Explained." Trust My Mechanic. http://www.trustmymechanic.com/htmlmessage9.html (Accessed 11/5/08)
  • Just Brakes. "FAQ." http://www.justbrakes.com/xfaq.htm (Accessed 11/5/08)