How to Diagnose a Brake Problem

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If you notice braking problems, the first thing you should do is bring your car to a capable mechanic. Although many things can cause brake problems and brake failure, you can identify some of the possible causes yourself. Below are some general guidelines.

Difficulty:
Moderately Easy

Instructions

Things You'll Need

  • Brake Pads
  • Brake Fluids
  • Car Manuals
  • Telephones
    • 1

      Check the brake fluid if the brake light is on (see "How to Check Brake Fluid" in the Related eHows).

    • 2

      Understand that a high-pitched scraping or squealing noise that goes away when you step on the brake tells you that the brake pads are worn - but only with brake pads that have wear sensors attached.

    • 3

      Note that a grinding, metal-against-metal sound when braking indicates that it's too late: Your brake pads or shoes are completely worn away, and you are now ruining the rotors or drums. You should have gotten the brakes checked earlier!

    • 4

      Feel the brake pedal. If it is soft or mushy or gets harder and higher when you pump it, you might need to bleed the brakes (which gets air bubbles out of the brake lines).

    • 5

      Note that if the brake pedal slowly sinks to the floor when you step on it (or intermittently), you might be in need of a new brake master cylinder.

    • 6

      Drive the car at low speed, braking as needed. If the brakes squeal, you might need new brake pads, or the brake rotors might need to be resurfaced or machined.

    • 7

      Understand that if the car pulls to one side when braking, you might have insufficient hydraulic pressure in one part of the brake system, or one brake might be sticking. Front-end problems can also cause this symptom.

    • 8

      Consider your rotors if you feel a pulsation when stepping on the brake pedal, particularly when braking at higher speeds. This symptom may indicate warped brake rotors. The rotors will need to be either machined or replaced.

    • 9

      Remember that smoking brakes, usually accompanied by a very bad smell, indicate a stuck brake caliper or wheel cylinder. This symptom may also be caused by driving with the hand brake on or by a stuck hand-brake cable.

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