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 -- 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.
B-rando on October 24, 2012:
I bought a used car about a month ago. The brakes which was obvioiusly the wear indicator started squelling about a week later. I went only about another week before changing my pads but they had already started to grind metal on metal. When I took them off right side was good. Left side outside still had some pad left but inside was the metal on metal but seemed to be too muc of a difference. What could be wrong?
Rob on October 10, 2012:
I had my breaks checked an was told my pads and discs were fairly new however my abs light came on my breaks squeak and grind but only when I first get in the car after it has been idle for a while also it only happens at low speed
mike on June 16, 2012:
i just changed my brake pads on a Toyota Sienna now they squeak
Linda on May 24, 2012:
I changed my break pads 1 month ago. Everything was good. But week ago my breaks started making heavy noise. It only happens when i press on gas at a time i start the car and get outta parking lot. Its like if they sit unused for little bit, then they make noise. What could it be?
Thanks a lot
Destinie Mogg on May 19, 2012:
Hey there, I went to get my braes inspected and they told me nothing was wrong with them. However, you can hear them from a mile away and they stick in the morning. They told me when I am driving down the highway to use the brakes lightly and the gas at the same time. Unfortunately, that only keeps the squeaking at bay for an hour or so. What do I do?
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on May 01, 2012:
Is the rattling coming from the brakes do you think or somewhere else? If it's coming from the brakes, then you probably have warped rotors. If it's coming from somewhere else, the heat shield commonly gets loose and starts rattling around below the car. That is most likely it.
robert on April 28, 2012:
when i push on my brakes to stop i hear a rattling underneath?
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on December 17, 2011:
I wouldn't expect too big of a bill. The brake system should be fine, but the reason there's a vibration is because the circular metal plate called the rotor that the brakes press against to stop the car is probably a bit warped. These only cost about $35 a piece at an auto shop. And the brake pads only cost about $40 for the whole set. So the cost should only be somewhere in the range of $100 for parts and maybe another $150 at most for labor. If you tell them you want your brakes and rotors changed and ask them how much that would be, you'll probably get a reasonably straight answer.
Jennifer on December 16, 2011:
I have heard the brakes squeak for the last 6 months and there seems to be a vibration at the front of the car. should i expect a major repair bill?
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on October 26, 2011:
Hey Nancy, it sounds like you might have multiple issues happening. From what you described, it sounds like the brakes are either pretty dirty, or else your rotors are warped, or both. The humming noise is usually caused by rotors that are damaged or warped and is accompanied by some shaking or vibration.
Most of the time, people don't use brake cleaner when changing their brakes, and over time, it can cause buildup in places that can make noise. If I were to guess, I'd say that your rotors are slightly warped, and that the whole system is a bit dirty. You might try getting some brake cleaner and taking off the wheels and spraying the cleaner on the different surfaces. Here's a link to a brake cleaner that can be used without having to disassemble the brake system:
Nancy on October 26, 2011:
I had my brake pads replaced and they were making a lot of noise. It would sound like metal on metal and then sometimes they would make a loud humming noise when stopping. I thought maybe the pads were bad so I went and bought another set of better pads. My son put them on 2 days ago and everything was fine, until this morning they started making the rubbing noise again but not as loud.
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on October 03, 2011:
Is the noise pretty loud? A lot of the time, brakes just make minor noises. If you're experiencing the noise when driving fast, then it may not be associated with your brake system at all, but might be something else coming from the wheel area. Is there any shaking that happens when you brake or any other problems?
Deborah on October 03, 2011:
I am hearing a noise that sounds like my wear indicator; but when I got a brake inspection they said my brake pads look brand new. I can hear the noise more when I have been driving for a while and at first only really heard it when over 55 mph. The dealership offered to drive my car around for the rate of $100/hr until they could see what it was. Please help!
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on September 14, 2011:
Hmm, that sounds like your rotors are warped. That's usually what causes the shaking. Yeah, it could be that the pads were super cheap and caused excess heating and scraping and eventually damaged the rotors. But that would be unfortunate if a dealership were using pads that were that cheap.
Brake squeaking can be caused from dirt and debris in the brake system, so if they changed the brakes and there was still a noise, it's most likely because the system was dirty. Unfortunately for your situation, when you take it back into the dealership, they're probably going to tell you that you damaged the rotors through hard braking and probably won't admit that maybe they had something to do with the problem.
Andy on September 14, 2011:
What happens if you just purchased a used car with 100k miles on it. You noticed that the brakes are squeaking consistently and take it back to the dealership. They come to the conclusion that I needed new brake pads. So they filed the rotors and replaced the pads. 2 days later..the squeaking noise is still present. They claimed that the brakes are ceramic and it will take a couple of days for it to go away. Unfortunately, it didn't and 4 months later my brakes vibrate when I start to brake. Is it due to the fact that the replacement brakes are cheap? Did I needed new rotors? Because there is no way brakes could be exhausted and worn in 4 months.
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on January 13, 2011:
Thanks Kim :) I've been writing a lot about automotive stuff recently. It's been great exploring other topics.
Kim Harris on January 13, 2011:
Dang, Benji! This is different from your usual topics, but you're just good at explaining anything. Thanks for the helpful info.
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on January 11, 2011:
Thanks guys! It's cool to see that so many people still change their own brakes. It's a great way to save money. Haha, I'm the same way Jalus. Since I write articles on cars, people expect me to know everything about car maintenance. It sucks sometimes having no idea what the problem is.
Dr irum on January 11, 2011:
Great information .
Jalus on January 10, 2011:
Great article! I replace my own brakes too and I'm not all that handy when it comes to vehicle maintenance. It is a great way to save money and I also enjoy looking like a pro when I get under the car, that is until someone walks by and asks me a question about their own car that I can't answer!
positivevibestech on January 10, 2011:
I do my own brakes it's easy even on today's advanced vehicles. My girlfriend thinks i'm handy also
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on January 09, 2011:
Thanks guys. Sally, I'm not sure about why that would happen. I've never encountered that problem before. That's pretty odd.
Tom rubenoff from United States on January 09, 2011:
Great info for anyone who owns a car. Thank you!
Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on January 09, 2011:
Benji, a question for you. What about brakes squeaking only when they are wet? What's going on there?
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on January 08, 2011:
Thanks Doug for stopping by. I've been guilty of the same thing. But having to replace your rotors each time you replace your brake pads isn't fun. So I changed my ways.
Doug Turner Jr. on January 08, 2011:
Good advice here. I used to ignore the squeaks until the pad wore down to nothing and the grinding began. But I'm gradually changing my ways. Thanks for the hub. Cheers.