Most people have experienced squeaky brakes at some point in their driving lives—you know the sound, that unmistakable high-pitched squeak when pulling up to a stop sign or red light. That sound often means it’s time to replace your brakes sooner rather than later, and sometimes it can be the first red flag of a more serious brake issue.
There are many reasons brakes can make that noise. Brakes that haven’t been used in a while or that have dirt or water caught in them may squeal. However, brakes also start to squeal when the pad has worn down enough that metal is exposed. If this is the case, not replacing your pads can seriously damage your whole braking system and even other parts of your vehicle.
You can do certain things to keep your brakes in working order and pay attention to indicators that mean it’s time to take your car into the shop. Following best practices will likely save you a good deal of time and money.
How To Keep Your Brakes In Working Order
Anticipate when your brakes need replaced.
Do you drive in stop-and-go traffic or up and down mountain roads? Do you drive a heavier vehicle? Are you a bit of a lead foot and brake heavily regularly? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, then you need to plan on replacing your brakes more regularly. Check your owner manual for recommendations on when to replace them, and start thinking about replacement before that. Even if you’re only driving your car to church on Sundays and to the grocery store, you will most likely need to replace your brakes before 70,000 miles.
Watch for brakes overheating.
Sometimes we’re late for interviews, late for a movie, or the time is running out on getting to the nearest bathroom. When we drive fast, accelerating and braking heavily, we can put significant pressure on brakes, especially if they’re older. If you notice squeaking in these situations, try slowing down or giving your brakes...a break. You’ll not only extend their life, but you might also notice they stop yelling at you after they’ve had a chance to cool down.
Keep the underside of your car clean.
This is especially important in areas with road salt or when driving on dusty dirt roads. While some brakes promise corrosion resistance, most braking systems can rust or get fine dust in between the pads and rotors. When this happens, the brakes can wear unevenly, or the exposed metal parts can rust. To prevent this, make sure you wash the underside of your car whenever you get a car wash or spray between the spokes in your wheel with a hose regularly.
Brakes Still Squealing? Here’s What To Do Next
Take a look at your brakes.
While doing actual repair and replacement of your own brakes is possible, it’s not the recommended first step unless you know what you’re doing. However, you can look to see the level of wear on your brakes. Get to a position where you can see in between the brake bad and the rotor, and then make sure there is at least a quarter-inch of pad. If there isn’t, then it is time to get them replaced. Ignoring worn brakes can damage the rotor, which costs significantly more to replace.
Get a feel for your car, and don’t ignore the signs.
No one knows your vehicle better than you. Mechanics may have worked on the exact same make and model, but you are the best qualified to notice a change in how your car drives. If you feel a grind or a stutter that accompanies your brakes squeaking, it’s time to take your vehicle in right away. Applying the brake should feel smooth—it should not feel like you have to cram down the brake to stop your vehicle. Also, if your car starts to wobble when the brakes are applied, this is a serious sign of rotor damage. When this happens, you should get your brakes and rotors replaced immediately.