Car Sounds: Grinding Brakes

Mechanic fixing brakes
Grinding sounds from your brake are telling you it's time for service!. Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

While some noises coming from your front disc brakes are no big deal, a grinding sound is usually bad news. At the very least, it signals a problem with the brake pads—either the pads are too worn to smoothly stop the vehicle or the original brake pad was defective and is falling apart prematurely. Sometimes a grinding sound means that your pads are too far gone and a full replacement of the brakes themselves is in order.

Noise From Below

Your car's braking system is the most important safety feature on your vehicle, and it's worth learning a little bit about how it works. Depending on the age of your vehicle, you might have standard friction-type brakes that work by simply applying pressure to a pedal, or you might have more a sophisticated anti-locking system.

Likewise, it helps to know if you have disc or drum brakes. Disc brakes are considered superior to drum brakes, and almost every car in the United States uses them on the front. But they are not immune to wear and tear.

Early Warning Signs

Every vehicle's brakes will emit a squeal and a whine when the pads get low. Brake pads are designed to get noisy when they are nearing their worn point, so even your basic, bare-bones model will give you this hint. Newer, advanced vehicles are equipped with sensors that measure how much brake pad is left and will actually alert you via a dashboard warning light if your pads need to be replaced soon.

Those are the early warning signs. If your car is making a squealing sound when you apply the brakes, you should look into the matter quickly. Leaving disc brake repair until later can result in costly brake component replacement. There have even been cases of calipers needing to be replaced, and that will definitely up your repair costs.

Always Inspect, Never Assume

Front brakes usually need replacement far more often than rear brakes, so if you are hearing a grinding sound it's probably the front brakes. But never assume it's the simplest answer. Inspecting your brake pads will reveal the answer. Some things to look for include excessive brake dust, especially if it seems to be focused on one wheel. Metal shavings visible anywhere around the wheels are a serious indicator that your pads are beginning to eat into your brake discs, and this is a sure way to turn what might have been a simple repair like brake pads into a costly full servicing and replacement. Lucky for you, you can save some money if you decide to make these repairs yourself.

Grinding is Bad News

However, if your brakes are making a grinding sound when you come to a stop, you are at the very end of the life of your brake pads. At the very least you'll have to replace your brake pads, so be prepared to make this repair. A quick brake inspection will let you know whether you have damaged your brake discs. The good news is there aren't any other possibilities. Grinding, crunching, chewing metal sounds from your brakes always mean that you've gone too long without replacing your pads. In some rare cases, a pad has failed and the friction surface leaves you all at once. Either way, the wheels are coming off and the brakes are coming out

If your brakes reached the point of grinding, there's a lesson to be learned here. Maintenance that is deferred to this degree will almost never end well. Even if you don't plan on keeping the vehicle much longer, you should keep up with regular maintenance like oil changes and brake pads. It can take very little time at all for an ignored maintenance issue to rear its head and turn into a serious money problem. Try selling a car that makes a grinding sound every time you touch the brake pedal. You'll probably have few takers until you drop the price by far more than the amount you would have paid by simply replacing your brake pads.