Brakes & Suspension / How Tos / Tech Articles

How to Diagnose Common Brake Issues

Brakes. No other system on your vehicle can cause so much frustration, yet be as vital to your safety. You can spend hours chasing leaks, noises, pulls, and other assorted brake maladies, only to have them crop up again.

Fortunately, the brake experts at Bendix can give you a hand diagnosing and correcting your brake woes. They put together this handy list of common brake problems, their possible causes, and suggested fixes.

Once you figure out what’s ailing your brakes, Summit Racing has the high-quality Bendix pads, rotors, drums, and other components to help you put that brake system into better-than-new condition. The smile on your face when you touch the pedal on your new binders will be thanks enough for us.

Problem: I just changed my pads and rotors. The car stops fine but every time I change direction from forward to reverse, there is a clicking noise coming from the brake.
Cause: Most modern cars have an anchor bracket style caliper that uses stainless steel clips to load the pads in a certain direction. These clips are spring steel and can wear out.
Solution: Most high-quality brake pad kits will come with new clips. If you did not get new clips, they can be purchased separately as part of a hardware kit. Be sure to lubricate the clips with a high performance synthetic brake lubricant.

Problem: I had my rotors machined and installed them along with new pads. When I apply the brakes, I hear a rhythmic thumping sound.
Cause: Rotor finish is critical to proper brake operation. A rough rotor finish acts like a screw to draw up the pads. When the pads snap back to original position, they make the thumping noise you hear.
Solution: Check freshly machined rotors for grooves. If they look like an old vinyl record, either sand the rotor surface with 180-grit sandpaper to remove any ridges, or remachine the rotors on a very slow speed to remove the ridges.

Problem: I had serious brake fade after driving down a mountain. Of course, my brakes got very hot. Now I feel the brakes fading when driving in heavy city traffic.
Cause: Brake fade is actually the brake fluid boiling. When the fluid boils, it gets air bubbles in it. These bubbles are not compressible, resulting in the fading pedal. Once this occurs, your fluid will have much less resistance to boiling over.
Solution: Always inspect your pads and change your brake fluid after any major brake fading situation.

Problem: After replacing my pads and rotors, I hear a chirping sound when I take my foot off the brakes. The sound goes away when I apply the brakes.
Cause:  Rust under the rotor can distort the rotor face. This distortion will wipe against the friction material on the pads with every rotation of the tire, causing the “chirping” sound you hear.
Solution: Clean the wheel hub surface thoroughly where the rotor mounts against it. Use a torque wrench to tighten the wheels.

Problem:  I have a lot of brake dust on my wheels. I used brake pads that are supposed to be low-dust, yet my wheels keep turning black.
Cause: Excess dust is usually due to improper caliper retraction. The caliper has a square-cut seal that is designed to keep the fluid inside the caliper. The seal also “rolls over” when the brakes are applied, kind of like winding up a rubber band. When the brakes are released, this seal unwinds and retracts the caliper piston, moving the pads away from the rotor. A worn seal will allow the pads to lie against the rotor, resulting in rapid rotor and pad wear and that ugly dust.
Solution:  If the calipers are corroded or have high mileage on them (especially on a vehicle that does not receive regular brake fluid changes), chances are the square-cut seal is fatigued. Replace the calipers with either new or high-quality remanufactured calipers.

Problem: When I redid the front brakes on my front-wheel-drive car, the brake pedal doesn’t “feel” right. I expected the brake pedal to sit higher, more like it was when the car was new.
Cause:  The rear brakes are out of adjustment. A front-wheel-drive vehicle will go through several sets of front brakes before the rears will need to be replaced, and oftentimes the rear brakes are not inspected.
Solution: Always inspect the rear brakes when you do front brake service. Remove the rear drums and check the brake shoes. If the shoes and drums are OK, clean the brake with brake cleaner and lubricate the landing area on the backing plates as well as all pivot points. Then adjust the shoes to the proper clearance. Your brake pedal will go back to its original position.

Problem: When I redo my brakes, they never seem to last as long as the original equipment brakes did. Is this because the OE pads are better than aftermarket pads?
Cause: Not restoring the brake system to OE condition.
Solution:  When you do a brake job, don’t just reline the brakes. Restore the system to like-new. Use new or properly machined rotors. Use premium friction materials. Disassemble the caliper as far as possible and clean it thoroughly to remove all rust and corrosion. Replace the caliper hardware and lubricate everything per spec. Bleed and flush the brake fluid. Burnish the pads for proper break in. The result will be new brakes that will last as long as the original brakes did.

Problem: I have a late model vehicle with antilock brakes. Just before I come to a complete stop, my pedal drops and pulsates. It only does this below 8 miles per hour and not all the time.
Cause: Dirty or rusty ABS sensors.
Solution:  Whenever you are doing brake work, inspect and clean the ABS sensors. Carefully clean the sensors with brake cleaner and remove any metal filings. Inspect the tone rings for cracks or missing teeth and replace as necessary.

Problem:  I am having a hard time getting my pads to fit in the caliper anchor. I put the new clips in and the pads fit so tight I am afraid they will not work properly.
Cause: Rust on the anchor brackets.
Solution: Clean the brackets thoroughly and inspect them for wear. If the anchor is worn, it needs to be replaced. If there is rust under the clip, it can cause brake drag and/or uneven wear.

Problem: My brakes are dragging after doing a routine brake job.
Cause:  When pressing the caliper pistons in, you can force too much brake fluid back into the master cylinder. This can block the vent on the master cylinder, causing the brakes to slightly self-apply when they are warm. You can also push the caliper piston into the dirty fluid accumulated in the caliper piston bore, causing the piston to stick.
Solution: Flush out the dirty fluid by attaching a hose to the caliper bleeder screw, opening the screw, and bleeding the fluid into a suitable container. This prevents the master cylinder from becoming over-full and stops dirty fluid from being pushed backwards into the braking system.

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  1. young ford says:

    I have a 750li bmw. I had the sensors, pads and rotors changed. Now, whenever brake, if I press the peddle hard, I get this ,continously clicking in the left front wheel.the clicking stops when you release the brake peddle. Anytime you press hard while breaking, I get this, click click click, continously clicking, again, it’s on the wheel.

  2. I have new pads rotors and sensors. When I brake hard, I get this clicking on the front left wheel

  3. I have an ’05 Magnum SXT (RWD), and the front brakes make what sounds like a water tap partially opened- that ‘resonating/moaning-type’ sound. It seems to be limited to the passenger side, and the sound is evident only when average road noise is such that it doesn’t drown out this sound (i.e., it’s audible only when nearing an actual STOP- approx. 30 km/hr and slower).

  4. I just replaced my front brake pads and now hear a steady clicking noise when driving and the faster I go the faster the click

  5. I had my brake pads & rotors replaced on my AWD Chrysler Pacifica but now coming from the front driver wheel I hear a slight noise when I put the car in gear & when I turn to pull out of my parking pad but then after awhile a hear it no more except for when it rains & my front driver wheel gets wet, then it always makes that lil sound.

  6. i have a 1965 mustang we have just fitteds new shoes and drums to the rear now under light braking i can feel the pedal pulsing in and out like some thing is out of round

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      Two things: First, have the drums mounted on a brake lathe and start a very light cut. You will know immediately if the drum is out of round. Second, keep in mind the brake shoes are rebuilt items very often. Check to make sure the backing that the lining is bonded too is not bent or out of round causing an uneven application to the drum surface.

      • I know this is an old thread, but i thought i’d weigh in. I had a ’66 mustang w/ power drum brakes that had the same problem after having the drums machined, new shoes, full system flush. At first I over-tightened the lug nuts w/o using a torque wrench. When I found this could be a possible cause, I went back and loosened them and re-tightened them to 70 ft/lbs, then again to 85, then to 100. That helped reduce pulsation, but didn’t completely fix it. Then I learned that my tires were out of balance and surprisingly it created the same kind of brake pulsation that an out-of-round drum would. Once they were rebalanced everything was perfect.

  7. So I need my Rotars replaced they were diagnosed professionally, they said my Rotars were getting very “low.” I am having them replaced do I need to change the break pad clips as well..? or no..???

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      The clips you refer to are there to stop brake pad squealing. Sometimes called anti-rattle or anti-squeal clips, yes they should hold the pads tight in the caliper. If these clips are weak or rusty, it would be best to replace them. Often, they are included when you receive a new set of brake pads which should be replaced at the same time you replace your brake rotors!

  8. Judith Williams says:

    4 months ago I had the pads rotors and calipers replaced on my front brakes. Today while driving home, my brakes completely went. There is brake fluid around my front right tire.I tried refiling the brake fluid, push the brake down and all the fluid came out again on my front right tire, I have no brake pressure what so ever. Weary of taking it back to the same shop, Any idea what this could be?

  9. Judith Williams says:

    Sorry it’s actually my front left tire

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      With so many new parts recently, it is possible but unlikely any of those parts are at fault. It sounds like a possible bad rubber flex hose or a rusty steel line that has failed coincidentally. Without further investigation, there is really no reason to suspect faulty installation.

  10. I have a 2005 Lancer 1.6 CVT. The car is solid but recently the brakes are giving me a bit of trouble. Upon inspection the pads had worn off and so I replaced the pads with new genuine ones and had the rotors resurfaced. After a while a squeaking noise appeared while driving which was diagnosed as missing clips to hold the pads in place and worn out shims. I replaced those as well with genuine parts.

    Currently, when I press the paddle lightly the brakes emit an intermittent squeaking sound but this sound disappears when I press the pedal medium to high (near full). This sound does not appear while I am driving and the pedal is not pressed. It also does not appear when the car is moving after being stationary for a few hours (such as parked outside office all day or in the garage at night). This sound starts coming after the car has been driven for a good 10-15min.

    What could be the problem?

  11. Also, the problem only occurs in the front right wheel. All others are fine.

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      There are a multitude of reasons for brake squeal; but in this case it is most likely the resurfacing process not being done correctly. The surface of the rotor MUST be as smooth as possible, as any high spots such as a spiraling effect from the cutting bit tend to drag the brake pad causing it to vibrate or oscillate in its mounting creating a high pitched squeal. This can be a difficult thing for some shops to accomplish so, it’s always best to install new rotors and pads at the same time and follow the manufacturer specific bedding process for the brake pads for best results!

  12. I have a 2000 Toyota Camry, the breaks were replaced maybe about 5 years ago. Just recently, there’s a groaning noise coming from the right front area, when I apply the brakes. We did take it to a shop for a routine check and asked to have the brakes checked and the shop said that the brakes were fine. Is it safe to operate the car in this condition?

  13. vincent falco says:

    i put on brakes when releace a thump only when i releace

  14. vincent falco says:

    in the rear drum breaks

  15. Keeping your brake system always fit confirms your safety. The FAQs given here are worthy for you as you could match your desired one from these and then get the way to sort it out. If you are not still satisfied with these, you should make an appointment with a skilled professional. He could understand your issue and able to quench your curiosity. Diagnosing the problems with your vehicle’s brake system should be given top priority as it directly deals with your life. Never compromise.

  16. I have a 1999 Ford ranger when I press on brake pad noice goes away when releasing it comes back any suggestions?

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      Jan, please give the Summit Racing tech line a call at 1-800-230-3030 as they will have a few follow up questions for you.

  17. I have mitsubushi lancer 2005 my front disc break work late
    however rear break shoe work quickly and car spin even on slower speed, I changes master cylinder, front brake pad ,rear brake shoe , even both read front disc turn
    my still no progress what is the issue why its happened.
    even its spin in slower speed.

    your prompt reply will be highly appreciated..

  18. I have a 2004 Ranger,I put 2 new calipers 2 new rotors and where I messed up I believe.I dropped the drivers side caliper still connected to the caliper.Now it will half strike !Then u feel a jerk on the left when the brake releases.Ive been told the line is bad now.Help.Its a great truck.Bought it new.But I cant drive it like this!

    • Hey Donnie, what you’re saying is that you dropped the caliper still connected to the flex line and it may have damage the brake line? Then yes, a kink or bend in either the hard line or soft line can affect braking performance.
      If the caliper is new and it doesn’t look like the piston is fully retracting, then a bent line could absolutely be causing your problem.
      Before you go replacing parts however, make sure your floating caliper pins are lubricated and slide smoothly on the bracket.

  19. Carol Phillips says:

    Have a 2001 Honda Accord, recently had disc rotors machined and hand brake cable adjusted and lines flushed & bled by professionals and now the hand brake won’t hold. When on a slope with hand brake on the Honda now moves forward and when parked on flat ground with hand brake on and put car in drive and it drives forward. Was thinking the new brake pads ‘Bendix general CT’ are not gripping as well since rotors were machined-resurfaced. The hand brake was holding prior, just had to pull it up further. Please help, canard now unsafe parked on any incline, pads now slipping with hand brake on.

  20. Scott Tyler says:

    94 Buick, new master cylinder bleed system, brake pedal fades to floor only when running , block line at master cylinder to front bales no fade,

  21. I just did a brake job on a 2011 Honda Pilot, pads and rotors all around. Now driving the car the brakes are dragging and heating up. I did use a c clamp and old pad to push the caliper piston back in but I did not clamp the rubber brake line ahead of the caliper and open the bled screw to drain the fluid in the caliper out. I did however bleed each caliper after all parts were swappe with a vacuum pump. Is this normal? Is bleeding alone enough to get the pistons to release or the “vent” to unclog as mention is a cause of sticking brakes? Thanks

  22. My dad’s car has been making a clinking noise for the past three weeks. I like how you mention of your vehicle is making a clicking noise it can be because the stainless steel clips are wearing out. Thank you for the information. I’ll provide this information to my dad so he can take his car to a brake shop.

  23. Pingback: Garage Goal #7: Maintaining or Repairing Your Brakes - OnAllCylinders

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