Hey, Why Is My Car Braking Weird?

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Four common causes for weird braking from a vehicle and their related parts.
The brake caliper is designed to press the brake pads into the rotor to stop the vehicle. The brake caliper is activated hydraulically by brake fluid from the master cylinder that is controlled directly by the brake pedal and ultimately the driver. If everything works correctly when the driver presses the brake pedal the caliper squeezes the brake pads against the rotor and the vehicle slows down. If some part of this system malfunctions the brakes may still be applied slightly and cause extra drag on the vehicle even when the brake pedal is not pushed.

Is Your Car Braking Weird?

Your car is braking weirdly because something in the brake system is sticky; it can be the brake pads, the caliper pins, the caliper piston, or even the emergency brake cable. This stickiness happens because of contaminated brake fluid or overall rust and weariness.

Brake caliper issues are usually serious. This malfunction can risk your vehicle's integrity and safety on the road. Instead, take control of the situation and arm yourself with knowledge of the causes and solutions.

Don't wait for the problem to worsen. Instead, consider contacting a trusted technician for professional assistance when you notice a sticking brake caliper. Taking swift action now can save you time, money, and peace of mind in the future.

Let's Get To The Bottom Of It!

  • Q: Is your vehicle pulling in one direction while driving freely?

    Also, you might be experiencing odd behaviors from the brake pedal, unusual sounds, burning smells, and vibrations when braking.

    Brake hoses flex every time you hit the brakes, wearing down over time. In addition, if the hoses break inside, they create a one-way valve that holds pressure against the caliper even after releasing the brakes. This problem can cause the vehicle to pull in one direction even while driving straight and may also result in external leaks.

  • Q: Is your steering wheel vibrating when you brake?

    The brake caliper piston has a dust boot to remove dust and debris. It also has an o-ring that seals the fluid and acts as a return spring. If dirt or water gets in between the piston and the bore, it sticks, causing problems. Brake fluid contamination can also cause rust and debris, leading to a sticky piston. This results in excessive heat, warped rotors, and a vibrating steering wheel when braking.

  • Q: Does your vehicle feel like it's constantly braking slightly?

    You may also notice smoke from one of the wheels, leaking brake fluid, extra heat around the wheels, and a gas mileage drop.

    The emergency brake cable is steel and stays inside a rubber sleeve. It connects the emergency brake handle to the brake caliper. If the sleeve gets dirty or rusty, the cable can stick, causing the caliper to stay engaged even after releasing the emergency brake handle. With the caliper engaged, the brakes slightly apply.

  • Q: Is the car making grinding noises when you brake?

    The master cylinder helps your car stop by sending pressure to the brake pads. But the brakes might not work correctly if dirt, debris, or worn parts get in the way. This issue can lead to a lack of brakes, a soft pedal, or brakes that don't release fully. These problems can wear down your brake pads and rotors, causing a grinding noise. Keep your brakes in top shape by preventing contaminants from getting in and replacing worn parts.

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Vehicle Health Inspection Proof

Explore the following typical inspection results that show a potential cause for the symptom and select the one you believe is similar to your vehicle's issue.

Sticking emergency brake cable

This proof image shows the emergency brake cable. The red arrows point to stuck parts responsible for slightly applying the brakes.

A customer reported that their vehicle felt like the brakes were always on. They noticed the car required more pressure on the accelerator pedal to move, only to stop if you didn't press it hard enough.

The technician confirmed that the brakes were constantly active during the test drive.

During a vehicle health inspection, they ensured to release the emergency brake, but it still felt tight. The technician discovered that the emergency caliper arms were bending themselves in a grasp. This problem caused the rear tires to behave like the brakes were active.

The technician forced the brake calipers to a release position to fix the issue. This position allowed the rear tires to spin freely. However, when applying the emergency brake, it stuck again. The technician concluded that the emergency brake cables were stuck internally and needed replacement.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Master cylinder failure

This proof image shows that a broken master cylinder causes. In this case, the red arrow points to wear around the rotor caused by metal-to-metal friction.

A customer brought their vehicle concerned about a high-pitched squealing noise while driving and a grinding noise when braking.

During a test drive, the technician confirmed the grinding noise and got the vehicle into the service bay to avoid further damage.

During the vehicle health inspection, the technician noted that the wheels felt slightly braking. Plus, they noticed extreme wear on the front brake pads, and the rear pads were only 1mm thick. As a result, the customer approved additional diagnostics to evaluate the brake system.

The technician discovered that the brake caliper was stuck and the master cylinder wasn't releasing pressure, overwearing the brake pads. So they replaced the master cylinder, brake pads, calipers, and rotors to restore the brake system to its original design and function. Plus, they flushed the system to refresh the brake fluid.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Brake hose internal damage

This image shows a brake hose's connection. In this case, the red arrow points to the leaking point; the wetness is leaking brake fluid. This type of issue usually disqualifies a truck during a DOT inspection.

The customer's car had a problem. They noticed fluid near the right front tire, and the tire looked shiny. The vehicle also pulled to the right after using the brakes, and the customer thought it needed an alignment.

During a test drive, the technician saw the fluid near the tire and confirmed the car pulled to the right after braking. They also smelled burning brakes.

A vehicle health check showed a leak in the right front brake hose and low brake fluid. After further investigation, the technician found that the right front brakes were taking too long to release pressure after braking.

They recommended replacing the brake lines and doing a brake flush because the other brake lines were the same age, and there was a risk of water getting into the brake fluid.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Sticking brake pad slides

This proof image shows a rust-ridden brake pad. In this case, the rust is causing the pads to be stuck, causing uneven brake pad wear.

A customer brought their vehicle concerned it was pulling to the right when stopping, making an odd smell. They asked about the alignment and tire check.

The technician noticed a drastic right pull when braking during a test drive. However, the vehicle drove perfectly straight when not activating the brakes.

During a vehicle health inspection, the technician found uneven brake wear and rust on the calipers and slide pins. So, the thinnest brake pad was less than 3mm thick, and there was no issue with the wheel bearings.

A front brake job was recommended, including replacing the front brake calipers, pads, and rotors. A brake flush was also ideal due to the brake fluid's condition. Still, resurfacing the rotors is not recommended since they are within the manufacturer's specifications.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Sticking caliper piston

This proof image shows excessive rust in a caliper piston. In this case, the rust is causing wear and tear, and the faulty brake caliper needs replacement.

A customer reported an issue with their car. When they hit the brakes while driving, the steering wheel vibrated back and forth violently. They think they may need an alignment or new tires.

During a test drive, the technician confirmed that the steering wheel vibrated when braking the car. Still, they didn't find anything else relevant.

During a vehicle health inspection, the technician found that the front wheels were somewhat stuck, as if the brakes were active. In addition, they noticed the inboard brake pads were thin, and the outboard pads were thicker.

Finally, the technician determined that the front brake caliper pistons were stuck, causing the wheels to be hard to turn. They recommended replacing the rotors, brake pads, and front calipers before performing a brake fluid flush and replacement.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Sticking caliper pins

This proof image shows heat marks on the rotor, indicating a stuck brake caliper in the brake pads.

A customer reported a problem with their vehicle's fuel economy. Plus, they feel like the car is weighted down, vibrating, and sluggishly as if it's dragging an anchor. So, they were not sure if it was safe to keep driving with this grinding noise.

During a test drive, the technician noticed that the brakes felt active without pressing the pedal. They also felt some vibration when braking at around 60 to 80 mph. In addition, the vehicle wouldn't move when put in gear and would stop when releasing the accelerating pedal.

During a vehicle health inspection, the technician found that the brake rotors had hot spots on the front, and the caliper slide pins were pretty stuck. Still, they found no damage to the piston or slide pin boots.

The customer approved a brake system inspection. After the brake inspection, the technician recommended cleaning and lubricating the slide pins, replacing the hot-spotted rotor and brake pads, and flushing the brake fluid due to the heat transfer. Finally, after the recommended changes, the car was driving safely again.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it

Typical Fixes to Address the Cause(s)

The following chapters bases themselves on experiences from our auto repair shop; we'll describe related problems' causes and fixes.

"Brake caliper replacement" fixes "Sticking brake pad slides"

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Hey, Why Is My Car Braking Weird?
Sometimes a problem is more challenging to describe than it initially looked like. If you are not sure your problem is described by this article, please find below similar vehicle symptoms, which might describe better the issue you are experiencing.

Other things your auto repair shop might talk about:

Brake caliper bolts. Brake rotor. Seized brake caliper. Braking system. Rear calipers