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Squeaky Brakes -- Why Do My Brakes Squeak?

Updated on October 20, 2011

Squeaky Brakes -- Brake Noise

What causes squeaky brakes and brake noise in general? Does it mean that my brakes are getting damaged? Most of the time, no. Sometimes however, brake noise can be caused by brake pads that are completely deteriorated and metal on metal contact starts causing damage, shaking, and brake noise. But for the most part, if you've recently noticed that your brakes are starting to squeak, it means that your brake pads are getting low on padding and soon need to be changed in order to avoid running out and causing a massive amount of damage to the brake system. If you're not positive that the noise is coming from your brake system, check out my other article on belt squeal also.

Squeaky brakes are a safety measure to warn the driver that the brake pads are getting low. Otherwise, how would you tell if your brakes were getting low? You would just hear an awful grinding noise one day followed by sudden brake failure. That's not fun for anyone. Instead, the wear indicator gives the driver has enough fair warning to schedule an appointment with the mechanic or else find time on a Saturday to change the brakes themselves. In the next section I'll describe how this process works.

Squeaky brakes and brake noise is most likely caused by this little guy that's impacting the rotor.
Squeaky brakes and brake noise is most likely caused by this little guy that's impacting the rotor.

Squeaky Brakes -- What Causes it?

If you have brakes that still seem to function normally, but for some reason just started making noise one day, it's most likely that you've encountered the built in safety system known as the wear indicator. You can see the wear indicator pictured to the right. Depending on the brake pads you're using, the wear indicator might be different, but it's basically just a piece of metal that get exposed when enough of the brake pad has been worn away. This piece of now exposed metal begins to contact the rotor and make a grinding, squealing, or squeaking noise when you use the brakes. That's to let you know that you'll need to service your brakes in the near future. Depending on the brake pad, the wear indicator will pop up to let you know that you have a certain amount of miles left before your brakes are completely gone, maybe 5,000 or so.  As you can see from the picture, there's still a fair amount of brake pad left by the time the wear indicator begins to make contact with the rotor.

The wear indicator isn't the only thing that causes squeaky brakes however. Brake noise is generally caused whenever you have metal to metal contact. I've replaced brakes before where the rotor was absolutely destroyed by deep grooves that have been gouged into it from metal on the brake pad. This too will cause quite a bit of noise, but will most likely have other symptoms as well, such as shaking when you brake, or pulling to one side. If your brakes are squeaking and making noise and they seem to be acting differently, it's very important that you get them serviced. If your brakes fail, you could very literally die.

Replacing Brakes Yourself

If your brakes are squeaking and making noise, then you'll want to service them in the near future. I wouldn't wait too long because when brakes fail, you run the serious risk of personal injury. And servicing and replacing your own brakes is actually not that difficult of a job. Brake replacement is one of the only jobs I still do on my car on a regular basis. Things like oil changes aren't really worth my time since they're so cheap to have done at the shop. You can barely compete on cost with most oil change shops. And tuneups likewise are pretty cheap to have done in the shops. But for some reason, brake replacement is still generally fairly expensive, costing well over $100 in most cases. This is expensive since I can usually change brakes myself for around $35 only needing a handful of tools and about half an hour on a Saturday. If you're considering changing your brakes and have never done it before, leave me a comment and I'll give you more information. There are a lot of great tutorials out there that can walk you through the process. Best of luck!  I hope this was helpful.

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