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One of the most irritating sounds in the entire world is the sound of your brakes squeaking when you press the pedal. Plenty of us have heard it before, wondering if it could be an issue with the brakes themselves or if it’s just something that brakes do. Often times, this sound comes when lightly pressing the pedal, or slowing down to a stop, usually at a stop light. Given the fact that not everyone has experience with basic car maintenance, we don’t always know how to tell when squeaky brakes are a serious issue, but the squeaks are almost always annoying to hear.

Luckily, in most cases, squeaking brakes don’t indicate a huge issue. However, it can still be frustrating, as it feels like there is nothing you can do outside of waiting for it to stop or turning up the radio. On the off-chance it’s serious, you may be ignoring a problem that can become dangerous down the road. Thankfully, there are multiple reasons why your brakes may be squeaking and several ways you can fix them.

Why Are Your Brakes Squealing?

If you want to stop brake squeal from happening, you’ll need to first understand why your brakes are squealing. The source of the squealing can depend on a variety of factors. A constant squeal when pressing the pedal can often simply be brake pads that are worn down to the wear indicators, where are metal tabs on the brake pads. These tabs are designed to tell you it’s time to change the brakes! If the squeak is less drastic, only happens when you’re barely touching the pedal, or seems to have a pulsing rhythm to it, the chances are the pads are vibrating when light pressure is applied, causing a squeak. This can be caused by several different things:

  • Sticking caliper slides causing the pads to drag on the rotors 
  • Old, worn out brake hardware pad clips 
  • Lack of lubrication on pad/caliper contact points 

Below, we will cover what each of these mean and entail.

Worn Brake Pads

Most brake pads come with mechanical wear indicators that serve one purpose; to notify you that it is time to change your brakes. This indicator will begin making contact with the brake rotor once the pads have worn down below their effective service life, which is usually when the pads have about 1/8-1/4” of material left. At this point, you will hear a nasty squeal any time you press the pedal, and no matter how hard you press it. At this point, it is time to change the brake pads.

Worn and Damaged Hardware

Brake hardware, and more specifically, the pad clips that secure the pads in their position, is possibly one of the most over-looked parts of the brake job. Many brake pads today actually come with the clips in the box, and many jobbers still overlook changing these valuable clips out! While it may not look like it, brake hardware is spring loaded, and over time, loses its tension ultimately causing a squeaking sound when you brake. Its primary purpose is to keep the pads secure in their location on the caliper, and keep any micro-vibrations or movement of the pads to a minimum. Over time, these clips go through a massive amount of heat-cycles, and eventually lose their ability to properly have spring tension. They are made to only last the lifetime of the pads – so every time you should change these clips!

Moisture Buildup or Lack of Lubrication

After a period of disuse for your vehicle, you may notice the first few times you hit the brakes, they squeak. This is actually relatively normal, as moisture builds up on the brake pads when they’re not in use. This forms rust, especially on the rotor, which can cause squeaking or a rough rubbing sound as it wears off. What is important, however, is properly applying lubricant to not only the brake pad edges that contact the caliper, but removing, cleaning, and properly lubricating the slide pins that most calipers use to “float” the caliper in between the rotor. Without these parts being properly lubricated, noise can happen. These pins live a rough life, through constant heat cycles and water, mud, and salt, and snow. Over time, the lubricant these pins glide on breaks down, and turns to rusty muck. Eventually, the pins seize, and this can cause a caliper to hang up, not relax pressure, and prematurely wear one brake pad before the other. Before this happens, the tell-tale sign is squeaking or noise. When doing a brake service, make sure the pins are properly cleaned or replaced, along with their rubber boot seals, and the cavity in the brake caliper hanger is properly cleaned out and lubricated.

Your Brake Pad Material

The last common cause of squeaky brakes has to do with the brake pads themselves. There are multiple types of brake pads, and one of the types, semi-metallic brake pads, is known for producing an occasional squeaking noise. Lack of uniformity in the pads may cause squealing, which is a known issue with this type of pad.

How to Stop Brakes From Squeaking

Now that you understand the factors that can contribute to why your brakes are squealing and what the most common causes are, you’re ready to tackle the problem itself. There are several steps you can take at home doing a brake replacement that can help stop these issues. Or, if you need to ask a professional for help, seek out one of our Preferred Shops in your area for help.

If you are confident you can safely repair your own brakes, we’ve outlined the steps you can take for at-home repairs below.

Alternatively, if you need help in navigating the right components to repair your vehicle’s braking system and stop brake squeal, we encourage you to contact us at AutoZone. A member of our team will be more than happy to assist you. Simply let us know what problems you’re experiencing, and we can help you find the tools and parts you need to solve it.

1

REPLACE THE BRAKE HARDWARE

As stated before, it’s essential that brake hardware is changed every time you change your brake pads. This means changing the pad clips, removing and cleaning the slide pins, and replacing the pin boots if they are cracked or damaged. If your brake pads don’t come with the pad clip hardware, they can be purchased separately at this time. Many times, it’s more cost-effective to simply opt for the better-quality brake pads that already have the hardware included.

2

REPLACE YOUR BRAKE PADS

In some cases, your brake pads are the issue in regards to your squeaky brakes. Whether your brakes contain contaminants, have simply worn down over time, or have become glazed, it’s possible that replacing them can solve your issue. We always recommend replacing the rotors with new pads, as well as new hardware. If you are re-using your old rotors, it’s important to have these rotors machined and resurfaced. New brake pads may squeak during the first few uses. However, the sound should quickly dissipate through use.

3

APPLY LUBRICATION TO CONTACT POINTS

As we mentioned previously, another reason your brakes are squeaking may have to do with a lack of lubrication between the contact points on the edge of the pads, where they meet the pad clips and caliper. The other place that is absolutely critical is properly lubricated is the slide pins. Make sure these pins are properly cleaned with a wire brush or Scotch pad, and you can clean out the pin bore (cavity) in the caliper hanger with a wire bristle bottle brush (sometimes referred to as a gun-cleaning brush). Really bad rust and corrosion in this cavity can be cleaned out with a drill bit just slightly smaller than the bore size of the pin. Simply run the drill bit down into the hole by hand to help loosen up some of the caked on rust and gunk, then rinse out with brake parts cleaner. Once done, re-apply brake lubricant to the pin and bore.

4

CONSULT THE PROFESSIONALS

Ultimately, the above maintenance tips should help you fix squeaky brakes. Keep in mind that, in some cases, it simply has to do with the material your brake pads are made of. However, if you take care of all of your brake maintenance and still find that you have issues with squeaky brakes, you may want to consult a professional mechanic for additional help. If you need help, check out any of our Preferred Shops in your area to help you do the job!

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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