8 Signs You Could have Brake Problems

Brake servicing is an important part of proper vehicle maintenance. When you take care of your brakes, they’ll take care of you when you need them most. However, even with regular maintenance, the brakes on your vehicle may require a professional inspection and servicing if you encounter one or more of these eight brake problem warning signs.


  1. Brake Light On

    If the brake light indicator appears on your dashboard, it’s either time for your regular maintenance or an alert to a potential problem. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for possible causes for the dashboard indicator. Note: in some vehicles, this can be caused by your parking brake. Release it and see if the alert goes away.

    Les Schwab Tip: see our post about dashboard lights to understand the most common vehicle alerts.

    Brake light indicators

  2. Squealing or Squeaking Noises

    New noises coming from your brakes aren’t always a sign of problems. It could just be a foreign object lodged in your brakes (a pebble or debris). It could also be your brake-pad wear indicators. These bits of metal in your brake pad come in contact with the rotor to emit a high-pitched noise when you apply the brakes. This lets you know it’s time to get your brake pads replaced.

  3. Grinding Noises

    Grinding noises, whether you have disc or drum brakes, could mean your brakes need servicing right away due to the brake pad or shoe scraping on metal contact points. A trip to Les Schwab is recommended when you hear or feel any form of grinding.

  4. Wobbling or Vibration When Braking

    If your steering wheel or vehicle shakes or vibrates when you apply the brakes, it could be that the thickness of your rotor is uneven. Brake rotors are large discs that sit inside of the wheels. When you hit the brakes, the brake pads push against the rotors, which stops your wheels from spinning.

    Over time, it’s normal for the rotor surface to wear down and possibly become uneven. Braking friction, when you apply the brakes, results in the transfer of pad material to the rotor surface. If the pad material transfers unevenly, you may experience vibration when braking. Left uneven, the material will continue to build on the uneven spots, making the problem worse over time. During brake servicing, the face of the rotor should be smoothed or evened out to correct flaws and keep you from feeling a wobble when you brake. If the rotors are too far worn to be serviced, they will need to be replaced.

    Drum brake with brake shoe

    Major disc brake system parts

  5. Leaking Fluid

    When you apply your brakes, a lot of things happen all at once. An important part of the process involves brake fluid, which is used to create hydraulic pressure against the brake caliper. If your vehicle has no brake fluid, you won’t be able to stop safely. Check your vehicle’s brake fluid often and stop by Les Schwab if you notice a decline in fluid level or leak.

    How disc brakes work

  6. Spongy or Soft Brakes

    When you press on the brakes, you want to feel some resistance. If they feel soft or the pedal goes all the way to the floorboard, it could indicate air or moisture in the braking system. It could also be a problem with the master cylinder. It’s important you get to Les Schwab when you notice these issues.

  7. Car Pulling to One Side When Braking

    While this could be caused by any number of vehicle issues, it could be a bad brake hose or a caliper issue. When this happens on the front brakes, one brake may be working while another is not. This causes pull in the direction of the side that is creating braking force (still working). If only one rear caliper is not working properly, it can go unnoticed. Get your brakes inspected regularly at Les Schwab to spot these issues before they become a problem.

  8. Burning Smells

    A sharp, chemical odor could be a sign of overheated brakes. To avoid brake failure, pull over to a safe place and allow the brakes to cool. Double-check that the parking brake is off. If there’s any smoke coming from a wheel, it may be that the brake caliper is malfunctioning and locked in place. In this case, it may be unsafe to continue driving without immediate repairs.

Les Schwab Knows Brakes and Safety

The more you drive, the quicker your brake parts will wear out. Delaying needed services could put you at risk. Anytime you experience braking problems or want to have your brakes professionally checked, get to your local Les Schwab. Our pros understand how every part of your braking system works together for your safety. Schedule your appointment, or just stop by and we’ll help you get safely back on the road.