Why Your Brakes Squeak, Squeal, and Grind

When you press on the brakes, a lot happens behind the scenes to bring your vehicle to a stop. But what does it mean when those brakes start to squeak or grind even when you’re not braking? We have some tips to help you pinpoint the cause of those sounds.

Types of Brakes

Disc brakes are the most common. These use pads that press against a disc or rotor when you apply pressure to the brake pedal. The second type of brakes is called drum brakes, which use a curved shoe to press against a hollow drum. While drum brakes were once located on all four wheels, they’re located on just the back wheels of some of today’s vehicles.

Check out Brake Services FAQs as well as the Complete Guide to Disc and Drum Brakes for more information on disc and drum brakes and common repairs.

Easy-Fix Solutions to High-Pitch Problems

There are a handful of reasons your brakes might be squeaking, whether you have disc or drum brakes. The most common include:

  • Small rocks, dust or sand getting into them. All we need to do is take those bits of debris out and you’ll be driving squeak-free again.
  • Overnight condensation or other moisture that collects on the brake rotors. This water can rust your brakes over time. If you keep your car in a garage, you’re less likely to experience this.
  • Winter and cold weather can sometimes cause brakes to squeak. Just part of life when you live in an area that sees a lot of snow or colder temperatures.
  • Excessive loads can cause the brakes to overheat, which can cause damage resulting in noises. Try to avoid overloading your vehicle to prevent this.
  • Poor installation or craftsmanship can play a role in squeaky brakes. When using inferior parts or brakes are not installed properly, it can cause noises and other issues.
  • Improperly lubricated, sticking or seized calipers can cause noises when the brakes are being applied or not. Properly installed calipers and hardware can make a big difference.

SUV on a rough gravel road

That Noise Could be Your Brake Pad Wear Indicators

If you’ve ever heard a squeaking sound from your wheels that went away when you apply the brake pedal, it’s likely your brake pad wear indicators. These indicators, installed by the brake manufacturer, are small tabs of hardened steel that hit the rotor and cause a squealing sound. They are only able to cause the sound when the brake pads wear down enough to expose the indicator. This is a sign you could need new brakes.

Ignore the warning, and the next step could be that your brake pads wear down to the point that they are aggressively grinding. This can reduce your stopping power and possibly ruin your rotors or other parts of your braking system.

Technician adjusting disc brake on car

Pay Attention to Grinding Noises

When it comes to grinding noises, it could indicate that your brake pads have absolutely no friction material left. This means the exposed metal where the brake pad once lived is now rubbing on the metal of the rotor. This requires immediate attention. Metal-to-metal friction can cause irreversible damage to additional parts of your vehicle’s braking system and limit your stopping power.

Les Schwab Tip: Many of today’s vehicles now have rear disc brakes, which can make the same noises.

Squeaking from the Rear Wheels

If you have drum brakes in the back and hear squealing when you press on the brake pedal, it could be dust causing the issue. Oftentimes, all it takes to tackle this problem is a good cleaning to remove the brake dust and add some well-placed lubrication. By keeping specific contact points on a drum brake system lubricated and adjusted properly, it can prolong the life of the brakes.

See Do I Really Need Brake Service for more reasons to get your brakes inspected — especially before you take a long trip.

Your Brakes are Important

Stop by Les Schwab for a free visual brake check. Our technicians are trained to keep your disc and drum brakes working squeak-free. If there’s nothing wrong with your brakes or it’s a simple fix, we’ll often do it for free and send you on your way. If you need repairs or new brakes, we can show you all the options and take care of the installation. We’ll also provide you with a full inspection of the tires, suspension components, steering linkage, shocks, and struts to ensure your family’s safety.

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