What Causes Brake Lock-Up

The brakes on your vehicle are certainly one of its most important safety features. So, when they apply on their own or lock up when you need them most, it can be both dangerous and nerve-wracking. Here’s why it can happen and what to do if it happens to you.

When Brake Lock-Up Can Happen

While diagnosing a brake issue is important, nothing else matters in the moment when you’re dealing with a lock-up. When your brakes lock up, it often boils down to two scenarios: locking up when you least expect it (and have not applied pressure to the brake pedal), or when you hit the brakes hard.

Brake Drag or Self-Applying Brakes

Even though you may not have pressed on the brakes, residual hydraulic pressure can cause the brake calipers to activate and lock. This is the most common form of lock-up. Don’t ignore this problem as it can quickly lead to mechanical failure of other parts of your braking system.

Brakes Lock-Up When You Hit the Pedal

This can happen when you are both braking hard to avoid an accident, or braking gently to glide to a stop. Essentially, the force of applying the brakes (even lightly) can activate the full stopping power of your brakes – bringing you to an abrupt and less-than-safe stop. You might even skid. When this happens, you could lose control of your vehicle.

See our Complete Guide to Disc Brakes and Drum Brakes as well as our Brake Service FAQ.

Common Reasons Brake Lock Up

There is a long list of reasons for brake lock up. These can include:

  • Overheated braking system
  • Using the wrong brake fluid
  • Damaged or broken parts (calipers, brake pads, pistons, rotors, or others)
  • Defective ABS components
  • Broken parking brake

How To React When Brakes Lock Up

When you’re on the road and your brakes lock up, quick action could help you avoid an accident and keep your family safe.

  1. Apply pressure to the brakes and try to gain as much control as possible. If your vehicle has an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), you’ll feel some feedback in the pedal and could hear a mechanical-type noise as your vehicle comes to a stop. The feedback is the ABS working to keep the wheels from locking up and preventing you from skidding.
  2. Take your foot off the brake pedal. That way your wheels can get enough traction to possibly unlock momentarily. Then reapply pressure to the brake if needed.
  3. Repeatedly (and quickly) press the brakes over and over. You’ll likely do this naturally. Hitting the brakes again and again could disengage the brakes and/or bring you to a safe stop.

Whether you’re experiencing brake drag or brake lock-up, get to your local Les Schwab as soon as safely possible. Our technicians will ask what wheel or wheels seem to be locking up and when. Any information you can provide will help with the diagnosis and repair.

What To Do After Experiencing Brake Issues

The tires, wheels, shocks, struts, steering, and alignment all work in tandem to make driving safer and more enjoyable, but it’s the brakes that allow you to stop your vehicle and stay in control. While the cause of the lock-up could be simple, there could be other mechanical issues with your car or truck. Those issues could put you and your family at risk, not to mention others on the road.

If you experience brake lockup, get to Les Schwab. If it’s safe to drive the vehicle, do so carefully. Otherwise, call a tow truck and have it delivered to one of our stores. We’ll perform a free visual inspection and share what we find. If your brakes need a more detailed diagnosis, we’ll chat with you about what needs to be done and any charges that may apply before starting any additional work.

Free Brake Inspections at Your Local Les Schwab

When you experience braking problems, or just want to have your brakes professionally checked or repaired, get to your local Les Schwab. Our technicians have been specially trained in both disc and drum brakes, as well as how all the interconnected components work together for your safety.

During your Les Schwab brake inspection, we’ll look for brake pad wear, check hoses for cracks, and complete a full visual analysis.

After your Les Schwab brake inspection, you’ll get a full report outlining the current condition of your brakes. If your brakes need any work, our service pros will make recommendations and show you all the costs and warranties.

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