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Squeaking brakes are a matter of physics—totally unavoidable even if your car is taken care of like a beloved toddler. This usually isn’t the sign of anything too wrong. But squealing brakes can be a sign your brake pads are wearing out. So what do squeaking brakes mean and when should you worry?
Why Do Brakes Squeak?
Sound is made of vibrating waves. At specific speeds and applied pressure, the friction in your brakes can cause a squealing sound. Your brakes are a metal brake disc sandwiched tightly between two brake pads. When pressure is applied, the rubbing materials or matter in the brakes create sounds. Each squeak runs at a frequency specific to the conditions that cause that vibration. That doesn’t mean that your brakes are not working. You just have to figure out and change those conditions.
There are several reasons brakes can squeak that are nothing to worry about.
Not-to-Worry Reasons Brakes Get Noisy or Squeak:
- Dust, sand, other intruders can get into the brakes, causing brake noise
- Weather, especially cold weather, can cause brakes to squeal
- Snow, rain, or high water can cause a superficial layer of rust that will go away after braking a few times
- Heavy loads can mean a lot more pressure on the brakes, which can squeak as the heat builds and swells the parts
- Strain from steep or long downhill drives can also heat the brakes to squeal
- Newer cars use a harder car brake pad, which is a lot safer than older models—unfortunately harder pads squeal more
- Popular semi-metallic brake pads tend to squeal, but there are alternative brake pads that are quieter
- Morning grind and noisy brakes can also come from overnight moisture, which will stop as the brakes shake off the moisture
What you should worry about (and check) is if the sound is coming from worn out brake pads.
A Sound of Safety: The Built-in Brake Squeak
The sound you are hearing when you brake may be a good thing for your safety. Most brake pads have a built-in piece to alert drivers that it’s time to change the brake pads. When the brake pads wear thin, the little piece of metal drags along the metal brake disc, making a high-pitched sound when applied. That sound means you have reached the recommended wear limit and should replace the brake pads.
How do You Fix Squeaking Brakes?
Squeaking brakes are as easy to fix as they are an annoying problem to endure. It should also be an affordable fix. There are a few options for fixing squeaks:
1. Manage your driving
The simplest solution is to deal with squealing brakes, especially if your brakes only squeal when strained. Working a brake hard with frequent use, heavy loads, or steep declines will heat up your brakes, causing them to squeal.
- Downshift into a lower gear rather than relying on your brakes when driving down steep grades.
- Safer driving distances between cars help avoid overusing or slamming on brakes.
- Limit your load weight to reduce pressure on the brakes (use an appropriate vehicle for the haul).
2. Brake Lubricants
Just like you might grease a squeaking door, a lubricant or brake grease is an easy solution. They come in a variety of forms, including tubes, cans, and sprays. Brake lube is especially helpful for people whose brake noise is coming from rust, dust, or sand.
3. Anti-squeal adhesive
Anti-squeal adhesives, or damper pads, take a different approach than lubricants. A sticky film or fluid is applied to the area where the brake pad attaches. These are intended to absorb the vibrations that cause brake noise.
Alternative Types of Car Brakes
Semi-metal brake pads are more common—having a better price point to durability—but, there are other types of car brakes. Brake pads come in three types:
- Semi-metallic (semi-met)
- Non-Asbestos Organic(NAO)
Organic or ceramic brakes may be quieter, if the drawbacks are worthwhile. Consider your regular driving and car care when choosing a break pad replacement.
1. Semi-metallic Brake Pads
Popularity is well deserved for semi-mets; they have the best stopping power of the lot. The metal fibers that the brake pads are made with also do a great job and conducting heat away from the rotor to the backing plate.
Why not use semi-metallic brake pads? They are noisier, wear down the rotor quickly, and can rust.
2. Non-Asbestos Organic (NAO) Brake Pads
Organic, non-asbestos brake pads (NAOs) are quieter and cheaper brake pads than semi-metallic pads (aka semi-mets). That’s a big plus. NAOs are made with organic fillers that reduce vibration and heat. The downside is that they wear quickly.
If you choose organic brake pads, make sure you do maintenance more regularly. Note that often NAO brake pads come stock in new vehicles.
3. Ceramic Brake Pads
The most expensive of the types of brake pads, ceramic brakes take a close second place to semi-metallic brakes for stopping power. The benefits are that ceramic brake pads are quieter and don’t produce rust or dust.
If you commute in stop-and-go traffic, have heavier loads, or your regular driving patterns include frequent stopping, go with semi-metallic brake pads.
To learn more about safe driving habits, traffic tips, and car maintenance, visit idrivesafely.com