There are several reasons as to why car brakes are noisy and some of these will depend on certain factors or conditions at the time.
When you hit the brakes, there are small parts usually in pairs on each side of your wheel called brake pads that press firmly on a brake disc (rotor) depending on the pressure you have applied to make the car slow down or come to a stop.
They are not supposed to squeak or be loud except in situations when you hit the brakes extremely hard to avoid impact or an accident. In which case it’s not the brakes that are usually loud, but rather the screeching of the rubber from your tyres as it drags to a stop against the tarmac or ground.
In Uganda during very slow shifting traffic jam, you see and discover all sort of things about our cars such as the number of cars running around on near empty fuel tanks (these people should invest in stock trading, they can handle risk), cars with radiator cooling issues, those with braking issues, etc.
Alas, there’s that noise you hear whenever brakes are being applied in some of the vehicles including many motorcycles like a loud squeal of a mouse mourning its kids you just poisoned. It is hard to ignore and 60% of the time, the brakes may have a problem, but there are also other reasons.
You should always ensure that your car’s brakes are in good condition and functional because they are arguably one of the most important parts on your car and very crucial to your safety and others.
With our crazy roads where pedestrians just cross the road with thoughts of where to find money to buy sugar and bread for home without caring to look either side, taxis joining the road like they are driving in their compound, indiscipline drivers in front of you who might be on WhatsApp or checking the Uber app or bodaboda riders who think they are the only ones on the road; you need your brakes to work!
In fact, in the past, checking the brakes was always part of the service checks for your car anywhere you went whenever your service was due. That’s no longer the case in Uganda, at least at most service centers unless you tell them too. They only check the oil, oil filter, air cleaner and you’re sent off.
After the reading what we are sharing below, you should be able to do some very basic checks or diagnosis of your car’s brakes and hopefully plan that visit to your mechanic.
These are the reasons why most car brakes are noisy:
1. The brake pads might be worn-out.
The most common reason why most brakes give off that sharp irritating noise is because they are due for replacement.
Most brake pad manufacturers add a small thin metal indicator on the pad that will start making a loud sound whenever you’re applying them because it is brushing against the brake disc metal.
In case you don’t know, the brake disc, is that round shiny metal inside your car wheel. It is what the brake pads grip to make your car come to a stop.
The next time your car makes very sharp and loud noises when you apply the brakes and you haven’t just replaced your brakes, it might be time to check if they are worn-out and replace them.
2. You’ve just fitted brand new brake shoes/pads.
Some new brake pads will squeak when they have just been fitted into your car largely depending what type of brake material they have, but this shouldn’t go on for so long.
This is because they may have a thin smooth layer that is manufactured on them to keep them in good condition during storage until they can be placed into a vehicle. This layer is very thin, and if you drive regularly, it should deplete within a week or less.
If the noise continues beyond this, you might want to visit a trusted mechanic for a quick review.
3. The material the brake pads are made of.
There are many types of brake pads varying mostly based on price, composition and performance. The most common are ceramic, semi-metallic, Organic or Non-Asbestos Organic (NAO) and low-metallic NAO.
Semi-metallic brakes may contain more than 30% – 60% metal or graphite to increase friction and are usually very abrasive eating away at the brake disc thus very noisy. They also don’t perform well at low temperatures and extremely high so you would need to use some extra pressure on the brake for the car to stop if the car is cold from a start or you’ve driven for long. They are durable and last long.
Organic (NAO) brakes are made high temperature resins, fibers, rubber, glass and other materials. They are softer, less noisy, create a lot of dust on the wheel and get worn out faster than the semi-metallic brakes.
Low-metallic NAO brake pads are made of organic materials and about 10 – 30% metal such as copper or steel. They are a tad-bit noise too and generate a lot of dust as well, but they are good brakes manage heat well.
Ceramic brakes are mostly made of ceramic fibers, some copper, nonferrous filler materials and bonding agents. They are less noisy or dusty and wear down slowly but are usually expensive. They are also usually used in supercars, but there are versions for regular cars.
In Uganda, the most commonly used brake pads are semi-metallic and organic with some low-metallic NAO. You should choose a brake pad type based on how often and how fast you drive your car.
4. The brake pads might be fake.
Although quite rare today, probably because people are now slightly more aware about fake parts, there are still some fake brakes being sold today.
Fake brake pads look just like other ordinary pads and truth be told are very hard to distinguish, even veteran mechanics at times fall prey to this. That is why they buy from only vendors they usually trust.
A fake brake pad might be made of a combination of wood like material (according to reports) and metal filings, but the moment you place them in, they will be so loud – you will want to shrink inside your car and the more you use them, the louder they get.
In fact, they are a safety risk because sometimes they will not brake effectively no matter the amount of pressure applied. If you are a victim of this, for the sake of your life and others, just accept the loss and replace them with brand new genuine brakes.
5. You might have a warped Disc.
The amount of times I have driven my friends’ cars and discovered they had a warped disc, but they argued otherwise are countless. This is more common than most people know.
Brake discs warp overtime, there is really nothing you can do to stop it, you can just delay it by taking better care of your car. The most common cause of warping is using the metallic or worn out brake pads. They dig into the brake disc and cause grooves,
A good brake disc should be shiny and smooth, if it has tiny grooves (bumps) in it, you might need to have it smoothed or replace it. You can feel for these by running your fingers down along the brake (rotors are hot and will burn your fingers, wait for them to cool).
Ceramic brakes and organic brakes cause less disc wear since they are gentler on the rotor, however, when they wear out and the metal indicator, we talked about starts making noise and scratching against your disc, then it might create those grooves.
A grooved disc might be hard to notice for most drivers, but you can feel it whenever you apply your brakes. The brake pad might vibrate or send feedback to your foot, there might be a grinding like sound due to the friction against the groves.
Sometimes, it will feel like your brakes are delaying to work when you first step on them. Like they are “missing a beat”.
You should always go to your mechanic or nearest petrol station to check this and be sure. Today you will probably not need to replace the discs unless the damage is too extensive, otherwise they will just remove them and take them to be re-smoothed by machine then re-install them and you’re good to go.
6. The brakes might need re-fitting.
We may not want to admit, but however good or experienced a mechanic is, they also make mistakes. When they fit in your brake pads, the mechanic might make a few errors unintentionally or because he/she was temporarily distracted.
The brakes might be loose or too tight on the rotor or they might have been poorly calibrated or adjusted after placement. So, one pad or both are too close to the rotor thus making noise.
It could also just be that he/she didn’t check the brake fluid or balance it out to provide enough pressure for the brake hydraulic system to function right, so it lets in more air than the required force when you apply the brake paddle.
You can always check your own brake fluid when you flip the hood of your car around the engine area, but you won’t be able to see the tube that is actually near the brakes. This is best done and measured by a mechanic or your car service professional.
I really hope this article helps you understand your car and brakes better, I wrote it based on experience as well as a lot of help and consultations from an experienced mechanic at 13A garage. He was very descriptive and resourceful.
We would love to hear some of your experiences with noisy car brakes, your stories could cover something we missed or help someone reading this resource too. Please share with us in the comments below.
This article is not meant to act as advice for you to fix your car by yourself or ignore potential mechanical problems advice. We strongly recommend that you always take your car to a fully qualified mechanical professional every time you suspect that there is something wrong with it and listen to their advice.
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Lawrence writes about tech, lifestyle, politics, business, crypto and occasionally entertainment. He writes for Newslibre and Spur Magazine while consulting with numerous international companies on strategy, community management and marketing.
He has contributed to the journalism, open source, film, youth, web, Andela and Mozilla communities.