Common Brake Problems and Solutions

It's no surprise that brake problems are some most common issues facing most vehicle owners - Braking systems have many parts that wear out and need to be replaced every few years.

In a brake system, brake pads, rotors, brake shoes, and brake fluid require the most frequent replacement. Problems with the master cylinder, wheel cylinders, brake line, proportioning valve, brake booster are less common.

Throughout my years of an auto mechanic, I have seen many problems with brakes in both cars and trucks. I have posted the most common brake problems and solutions below.

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Brake Questions and Answers

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Traction Control and ABS Lights are On

My traction control and ABS lights come on about 1 mile of driving. They stay on most of the time. What can I do to fix my brake problem? (2004 Chevy Avalanche)

Answer: The first thing that needs to be done is a code check. If these lights are on then there are codes set in your computer. Most auto parts stores and many repair shops will do this for free. After you know the code you will be able to narrow down the possibilities.

The most likely cause of your brake problems is the wheel speed sensors on your vehicle. Many times they go bad and the computer is no longer able to read them to tell how fast each wheel is spinning so it turns off your traction control system and many times your ABS system as well until the problem is resolved. There are many other things like the ABD control unit, the computer, wiring, etc. that can cause these lights to come on but they are not as likely.

It is important to get this brake problem fixed as the system will not work correctly until it is repaired. Normally, if a speed sensor does need to be replaced, it is not an expensive fix.

Brake Pressure Problem

Brake Rotor Installation

I'm having car brake problems. My 1992 Toyota Camry blew a leak in the left front brake hose, (just past the midway clamp).

The pads had been replaced about 10 days prior and other than the visual brake fluid present in the wheel well there was no notable loss of pressure while driving. We replaced both the hose and the flexible line as the coupling between the two had rusted and we couldn't separate them. All the fittings are tight, checked numerous times. We bled all the brakes, RR, RL, FR, FL, twice.

Problem is...lots of brake pedal pressure when the car is running but as soon as you start it and depress the brake pedal, it goes to the floor. We did not bleed the Master Brake Cylinder, (that was going to be our next step). Any other suggestions?

Answer: It sounds like the classic symptoms of having air in the brake lines. You normally do not have to bleed the master cylinder when you replace a brake line, but it is possible to get air in it.

I suggest you go back and bleed them one more time starting with the one that is the furthest from the master cylinder. When bleeding the brake lines be sure that the master cylinder is ALWAYS full of fluid. It would even be a good idea to get someone to watch it constantly while the brakes are being bled.

When bleeding the brakes I normally open the bleeder valve and give the pedal about five good pushes, then hold the pedal to the floor and close the bleeder valve. After the valve is closed then let up on the pedal and open the valve just a little and push down on the pedal and hold it to the floor and close the valve. Do this about five times for each wheel.

This procedure should get all of the air out. I have rarely had any problems when bleeding brakes like that.

Leaking Brake Fluid

My car is leaking brake fluid inside drivers wheel well and the pedal goes to floor. I'm sure the leaking is the cause for the pedal to go to floor. How difficult will it be to replace and repair the problem assuming its a leaking line. (1996 Chrysler Cirrus)

Answer: Thanks for using my website and asking me your question. There are two common things that can cause this type of problem.

The first thing that might be happening is that you might have a caliper piston seal that is leaking. If this is the case it is just a matter of replacing the brake caliper and bleeding the brake system.

The most likely cause of this problem is a bad brake hose. Many times they break where the metal line turns into a flexible rubber line. If this it the case then you just need to replace the line and bleed the brake system.

Either way it should not be too hard or expensive to repair. I hope this helps with your brake fluid leak problem.

Brake Light is On

My 1996 Acura Integra LS brake light on the dash stays on without the brake being on, what brake problems should I look into?

Answer: The first thing to check is that your emergency brake is not stuck on. Try to engage it then let it go and see if that makes the light go out or flicker or anything. This is a common cause for brake problems.

Another thing to look into is the switch at the top of your brake pedal. If it is faulty, it might cause your brake light to stay on. An easy way to check this is to have someone watch the lights while you pull up on the brake pedal. If the brake lights go off then that is most likely your car brake problem.

You also should check your brake fluid level in the master cylinder reservoir. If it is low it will cause the light to come on even though your brakes are working fine. If you find that it is low then you need to track down the leak.

There is no reason for the brake fluid to be low unless it is leaking out somewhere. You'll want to check around your wheels to see if a wheel cylinder or caliper is leaking. If no, look under your dash where the brake pedal goes through the firewall. If it is wet, it means the master cylinder is leaking. Finally check the master cylinder to see if it is leaking externally.

Power Surges and ABS Light is On

I just spent $1,200 having repairs done on my 2003 Windstar. I had the front sway bars replaced on both sides, front wheel bearings replaced on both sides and the power steering fluid motor replaced.

The power steering fluid motor was cracked and was seized to the frame and they had one heck of a time getting it off.

Anyway, as soon as I left the lot and put the brake on for the first time the brakes crunched (just like you are sliding on ice in the winter) and the ABS light came on and stayed on. The only time it goes out is when I turn my vehicle off, but it goes on the first time I brake again.

Also when I put my cruise control on, the van surges forward and then slows down (as much as 10 kmh per surge) . For instance if I put it on cruise at 100 kmh (62mph) it will surge and drag between 110 kmh and 90 kmh but does not stay steady at 100 kmh like it used to. Also I notice while it is surging and dragging the rpm meter is also going up and down.

These two problems were not there before I had the other repairs done. I know I have to take it back in to be fixed but would like some idea what the problems are and if (in your opinion) these were caused by something they did during their repairs.

Thanks for your help!

Answer: Thanks for submitting your question. I know it is very frustrating when you take your car for repairs and you have problems as soon as you drive off the lot.

The first thing you should do is take your car back to the shop that did the work. It definitely sounds like something that they did wrong. This is why:

Each wheel has speed sensors that are built into the wheel bearings. These speed sensors tell the cars computer how fast each wheel is turning. They are also used for ABS braking - If the computer sees that the wheels are sliding, it will activate the ABS system. These sensors are also used for the cruise control system. This is how the cruise control computer knows how fast the car is going.

If the speed sensors are not working properly, then it can cause all the problems that you are having. Most likely the shop did not get the wheel bearings installed correctly, or they could have even gotten the wrong parts. Either way they need to repair this car brake problem and they need to do it at no charge to you.

Vehicle Shakes When Stopping

Hey, I've got a 2004 Ford F-150 XLT Crew Cab with low km's (30,000). I picked it up 2 months ago and have started noticing that the truck shakes when I come to a complete stop. It doesn't happen if I VERY gradually come to a stop, only regular stop and go city driving or, if need be, heavy braking situations. It also only happens after the vehicle has come to a complete stop.

I watched the RPM's and they don't move, but it almost sounds like the truck is stalling out. Any information would be great!

Answer: The first thing I would do is look for a vacuum leak. It sounds like you might have one. It is possible that your brake booster is leaking which could cause your shaking. There is also a PVC elbow on the back of the intake manifold that is prone to degrade and cause leakage. These are the first things to check.

The next things to check are the IAC and the Throttle Body. Both of these should be cleaned with a good brake cleaner. You could also clean the Mass Airflow Sensor (MAF) these will sometimes cause this type of problem.

The above mentioned items are the most likely causes of your truck brake problems. That said, there are other things that could cause problem with brakes, such as injectors, ignition coils, Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system problem (The EGR valve could be sticking open), etc.

Without being able to read the datastream that the computer is putting out, it is impossible for me to give you much more help than this. I think if you check all of the items I've listed you will probably find your brake problem.

Brake Stays On

When I apply my brakes they feel like they stay on. The rotors and wheels get very hot! I have a 2003 Chevy S10 4x4 V6.

Answer: Thanks for sharing your brake question. There are quite a few things that can cause this type of brake problem. If all of the brakes seem to stay on, the master cylinder could be the culprit or you could have a problem with a brake hose. You could also have a problem with your ABS (Anti-lock Brake System).

If the braking problem was only with one wheel, I would say it is probably your brake caliper sticking... but since it sounds like it is happening to all of your wheels, then that is most likely not the case.

I recommend that you check your brake fluid to be sure that it is not really dark and degraded. If you have done all of the above but you are still having problems with braking, then you should take your vehicle down to a good mechanic or brake shop.

Squeaking Brake Problem

I have a 1994 Lexus LS400 with 161K miles. I recently took it to Mienke for front metallic break pads. The breaks are fine in the morning, in the afternoon they start to squeak. I paid $125 for lifetime breaks. Is this normal? Should I take it back to Mienke to get my money back and go to the dealer. I normally do most repair work at the Toyota dealer.

Answer: Thanks for your question Laverne. Brake squeaking is a common complaint and there are many things that can cause this brake noise problem. Some things that might be causing your brakes to squeak are low quality brake pads, long life pads, rotors that need to be "turned" (smoothed out by removing a small amount of their metal surface), dust and grime, etc.

I'm assuming that you did not have this brake problem before you took your car to them so the squeaking brakes are caused by the work that they did.

Metallic pads have small pieces of metal in them and some brands have more than others. The more metal, the more likely they are to squeal. Brake pad manufacturers use metal in place of the asbestos that they used to use.

"Lifetime" brake pads usually contain more metal in them which is why they last longer, unfortunately the side effect of having more metal is the fact that they will probably also squeal a lot more.

I would recommend that you return to the shop that replaced your brakes and just have them take a look to make sure that there is nothing wrong. I suspect that everything is fine, but it does not hurt to have them take another look.

Parking Brake Problem

My parking brake goes to the floor but will not hold the vehicle. What is causing my brake problems? (2002 Chevy Avalanche)

Answer: There are several things that might be causing your brake problem. The first is that your parking brake shoes might be worn out or they could be misadjusted.

There could be a problem with the parking brake cable. It could be broken or came loose somewhere. You need to get under your vehicle, find the cable and check to see if it is loose. These are the most common things that could be causing your brake problems. It should not cost a lot of money to fix this brake problem.

Brake Pedal Goes to the Floor

1992 Sedan Deville. Suddenly, the brake pedal goes down and feels like the car won't stop. Repair center tried bleeding the brakes. They said the right rear wheel cylinder was blocked. They said to replace both cylinders.

My brakes did same thing on way home. No leak, fluid full. Brake pads are fine.

Answer: The most likely cause of your brake problem is an internally leaking master cylinder. This is a common problem with brakes.

What happens is the seals inside the master cylinder get old and brittle or crack so they cannot hold the pressure that is needed in your braking system. Since it leaks on the inside, there is no external leaking.

If there are no leaks on the exterior of your car, then there are very few other thing that would lead to this type of brake problem.

Vehicle Shakes When Stopping

I have an 2005 Chevy Colorado with a manual transmission. When I come to a stop the whole truck shakes. Some have told me it is the clutch. What could it be? Thanks, Jeremy.

Answer: The first thing that I will say is that if your truck shakes only when the brakes are applied then you probably have warped rotors or drums. This is a fairly common brake problem. If the steering wheel shakes during braking, it indicates warped rotors. If it just shakes when you apply the brakes but does not really come through the steering wheel, then it is most likely because of warped drums.

If your truck shakes when you are not using your brakes, then there are some other possibilities for your brake problems. If your have worn suspension parts or faulty U- joints, it can cause this probelm as well. It isn't likely for a bad tire, wheel bearing or clutch to be the culprit, it is still possible.

The first thing you need to do is figure out if this shaking only happens when you brake. I suspect it does and if so then you probably need new rotors and/or drums.

Brakes Lines are Coiled

What is the reason for brake line to be coiled between the master cylinder and poportioning valve? This is on a 1960 Chevy Impala with single reservoir.

Answer: Great question! This is something that many people have wondered and something that I wondered for many years. The answer is actually very simple and probably not what most people expect.

The reason for all the coils in your brake line is simply to add flexibility. Normally a brake master cylinder is located on the vehicle's firewall and the proportioning valve is usually bolted onto the frame. The frame and body are attached with rubber mounts that actually give quite a bit of flexibility when doing things like stopping quickly.

If the brake lines were straight when this happened then would bend and eventually be weakened and break. With the brake lines coiled they is plenty of play in the line to let the body and frame move independent of each other.

Stiff Brake Pedal

I have a 1980 Chevy C10 and the people that have recently put it back together and rewired some stuff. I'm not quite sure what they have done. The brake pedal is very stiff you have to push down very hard and I'm a pretty big guy. I was just wondering if bleeding the breaks would help or if it was more than likely the booster? What do you think?

Answer: The most likely cause of your truck brake problems is the brake booster. The booster is what makes the pedal easy to push down. It could be something as simple as the large vacuum hose to the booster not being connected.

If someone has done some brake work and they are really stiff afterwards, then they should take your vehicle back to rework the brakes.

Brake Pedal Clanks When Pressed

01 Chevy Malibu 3.1 V6. Just did brake job and changed rotors, but now when I press the brake pedal it clanks. Checked caliper bolts and are tight? Not sure if rotors were not machined correctly and center is to big for hub and too much play in the rotor? Why am I having these car brake problems?

Answer: Thanks for sharing your brake question. There are several things that could be causing problems with your brakes. The first thing to check is your caliper bolts and slides. Be sure that there is no play in them and that they are tight.

Next, make sure that you have the correct shims installed. Most brake pads come with shims and if they are not installed or the wrong ones are used it could cause this type of problem.

It is also possible that the rotors were not machined correctly, but that is not likely. If I were you, I would return to the place where you got the rotors and ask them to check if the noise is caused by the rotors.

You could also take your car to a repair shop and just have them listen to your brakes. They might be able to quickly tell you what is wrong too.

Brake Pedal Goes to the Floor

Hi, my car is in the garage now. I changed all the brake system, bled the brakes, placed a new master cylinder and the brake pedal still doesn't work. What could be the problem? Is it with Ford's computers or what? Any help? (1998 Ford Windstar)

Answer: The first thing I need to know is if you bench bled the master cylinder. When you buy a new one, you need to bleed it out before installing it on your car. If you did not do this, you will need to remove it and make sure all of the air is out of it. There are usually instructions on the packaging to do this.

It sounds like you just have not gotten all of the air out of your system yet. If the master cylinder has been bled then go through and bleed the system again. Be sure to have someone watch the master cylinder the whole time and keep it full. If you let air into the master cylinder while bleeding the brakes you will just have to bleed them more.

When you bleed them again, be sure to have someone pump the pedal five to ten times for each wheel then have them hold the pedal down while yo close the bleeder valve. Then have them let up on the pedal and then open the valve and have them push down on the pedal and close the valve when it is down. So this about 5 times for each pedal and you should get all the air out.

You also might need to bleed the ABS module. If you bleed them all again and the pedal still goes to the floor then this is probably what you will need to do.

Clacking and Tickling Noise

I'm the owner of a 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee laredo 4x4 with the 4.0 L i6 and an automatic transmission. The problem is that on a hot day in heavy stop and go traffic (particularly when going from the highway to stop and go traffic) the thing develops a very loud clacking or ticking noise.

This noise varies with engine speed and occurs regardless of being in gear, reverse, neutral, or 4wd or not. The odd part is, the noise always completely goes away if the vehicle is put in park, and resumes if put back in gear. This noise also goes away completely if the vehicle is turned off and is given sufficient time to cool. This noise is also not heard in the winter.

The fact that it goes away when put in park makes me think that it is something with the automatic transmission. That said, I had already opened the thing up and serviced the thing (including replacing bad gears) 3 years (35,000 miles) ago. The torque converter was also replaced at the time. I really hope I don't need to drop the transmission again, but I can't think of what else it could be. Thanks for any advice.

Answer: Hi, Chris. The only thing that immediately comes to mind when I read your question is torque converter to flywheel bolts. If they get loose they can cause the exact type of ticking or knocking that you are having. This is the only thing that makes sense to me. Without hearing the noise, this would be my best guess.

It is usually easy to tell if they are loose just by removing the cover between the engine and tranny and shine a light up there to see if they are loose or missing. This is a fairly common brake problem.

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