So, you just got your brakes done, or maybe you replaced them yourself. You go to take your car for a test drive and hear an awful squeak when you step on the brakes, what now? Is it normal for new brakes to squeak?
There are dozens of factors that cause a brake squeak, such as brake pads that are not lubricated or dirty caliper brackets. The rotors may need attention as well if they haven’t been addressed. Road dirt, aftermarket parts, and weather conditions can also have an effect on your brake noise.
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Why Are My New Brakes Squeaking?
If your brakes are squeaking after new pads were installed, there are lots of things to check. Most are relatively simple and don’t require too much work to correct.
These will apply to different types of braking as well, so even if you only have a squeak when braking slowly they should all be considered.
When you’re working on the car’s brakes, make sure to support the car with a jack stand for safety. Never get under a car that is supported only by a regular jack.
The Brake Pads
The first and most obvious place to check is the brake pad itself. The pad determines a lot about how your brakes work, the amount of brake dust you’ll have, and how quiet they are. Let’s explore some possibilities, shall we?
Aftermarket or Inferior Parts
If you used aftermarket brake pads for your replacements, there’s a very good chance they are the direct source of your noise.
Aftermarket pads are not always manufactured to the same strict specifications as an OEM pad. Several car brands simply don’t do well with aftermarket brake pads.
The brakes themselves will operate perfectly fine in almost every case, but they will often squeal or make other unpleasant noises. Unless you’re positive it was a very high-quality aftermarket brake pad, you should give some OEM pads a try and see if the noise disappears.
Lack of Lubrication and Shims
Like most of the moving parts on your car, the pads need to be lubed. The little metal ears that sit in the caliper brackets move ever so slightly back and forth when you step on your brakes. If they are left completely dry, there is a good chance of extra vibration when braking, which can cause a squeak.
The back of the brake pad (facing away from the rotor) needs lubrication too. Here, the lube acts more as a dampening agent, to help absorb vibration. Any place the pad touches metal (except for the rotor) should have some lube on it to help prevent noise.
Many pads use a thin piece of metal on their backsides called “shims”. Their role is the same as the lubricant, to help absorb vibration. If they are missing or damaged it’s very possible to have a noise while braking.
Pads Not Fully Seated
The new brake pad’s friction material needs to build up a little on the rotor before they really start working well. If there’s not a good contact between the pad and the rotor with this material, a squeal can occur.
The friction material should usually build up on the rotor within 3 or 4 uses of the new brakes. Sometimes it takes a little extra for this to happen, though. A few hard stops from about 40 miles per hour to 10 or less should do it.
Don’t forget that this will heat up the brakes, so don’t overdo it or you could cause damage or wind up with brake fade. This can be very dangerous. You should also make sure no one is behind you while you’re doing this so you can avoid an accident.
When it comes to your brakes, the rotors are just as important as any other component. This is also true about whether or not they cause a squeak noise. Your rotors are the round disc part of your brakes and are what the pads squeeze to slow the car.
Friction between two surfaces is what causes a vibration. In good brakes, that vibration is dampened so you can neither hear nor feel it. When there are lots of imperfections or poor quality in your parts, that vibration can get worse and become a noise.
Rotors Were Not Addressed When Replacing Pads
This is a very common mistake made by both DIY mechanics and pros. The rotors wear as the brakes are used, but not in the same way as your pads. Pads wear away with use over time, but rotors experience changes to their surfaces.
The changes can vary quite a bit. Sometimes they glaze, or they can start to rust. A rotor can also have heat damage or grooves after lots of use.
Any of these issues are possible causes of noise. If the rotors weren’t replaced or resurfaced when the pads were installed, it may be even worse. New pads and old rotors (or rotors that have not been resurfaced) rarely agree with each other and together are a recipe for an issue.
Rotors Poorly Resurfaced
If the rotors were resurfaced, it’s possible they were resurfaced poorly or were too worn for proper resurfacing. Look at the surface of the rotor. The silver part should look the same from the center and out, and all around the circumference.
A good rotor has a dull shine to it, and there will likely be a slight criss-cross pattern on the surface. If there are any rings or patterns that only occur on one part of the rotor, they may need replacement.
If the rotors were cut too thin, it may be an issue as well. Once they’re too thin they pose a safety issue, as they can overheat more easily. The thinness will also be more susceptible to vibration and noise.
Poor Quality Rotors
If the rotors were replaced with inferior parts, they may be causing your noise. Going cheap on brake parts is never a great idea. Aside from the obvious safety issues, you’ll be leaving the door open for all sorts of different noise concerns.
Low-quality rotors can be known to cause squeak concerns, pulsations, early pad wear, and many other things. There are lots of good-quality OEM and aftermarket rotors, but the bargain bin stuff might as well be left for the scrap pile.
A little research can go a long way, but sticking with well-known brands will help you avoid potential issues. Centric, Power Stop, and Bosch are all decent quality and should be relatively noise-free. When in doubt, OEM parts will always be top-notch and without issue.
Dirt, Dust, and Rain
The weather and area you live in can also have an effect on your brakes. Rain and humidity are very common nuisances that, believe it or not, can cause a squeak from your brakes. Dry and dusty climates may also give you noise issues.
Moisture and Surface Rust
An extremely common example of a brake squeak is the morning after it rains. We all know that water can cause iron to rust, but it can be amazing how quickly it can happen.
Overnight, while your brakes are not being used, a very thin layer of surface rust can build up on the rotor. It may even be so minor that it’s difficult to see, but if you have a squeak after rain you can bet that that’s the reason.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for this other than simply using the brakes enough to wear away the surface rust. If it was just one night, it may only take a few good stops. If the car has sat for a few days or more, expect to put up with some brake noise for at least a day or so.
Humidity can also cause this, though it takes a little more for it to happen. If it’s extremely humid in your area you may notice it more often, and the principles for clearing it off are the same as after a rain.
Dirt and Dust
In very dry climates there’s a lot more chance of dust in the air. Some of that dust is sure to find its way onto your brakes. Depending on how bad it gets, you could have a noise as a result.
Another source of dust is the pad itself. A particularly dusty pad may build up a nice coating of dust and cause noise. This is an unlikely scenario with brand new pads, but there may be leftover dust from your previous pads causing the problem.
With dust build-up, the best thing you can do is spray the brakes down really well with a brake parts cleaner. In extreme cases, you may have to take it all apart and use a wire brush to clean off the extra dust from the caliper brackets.
Remember, these guidelines serve for all different kinds of squeaks from your brakes. If you have a squeak noise after new pads and rotors, there are still other items to check.
Anything I mentioned above can be a cause for a squeak while braking, braking slowly, or even when not braking.
Best practices will always be to use good quality parts, install and lubricate them properly and make sure everything is nice and clean when they go back together. Do this and your brake squeaks will stay in your rearview mirror!