Selecting Auto Service

Why Do Brakes Grind And Is It Dangerous?

Your ears are often an excellent diagnostic tool for dealing with automotive issues. Your car is a constant companion on commutes and errands, so it's natural to attune yourself to the sounds it makes when operating correctly. If something begins to sound amiss, there's a good chance that your ride is trying to tell you that it needs a little attention.

While many components on a vehicle can produce noise as they fail, you should always pay attention to your brakes' unusual sounds. You may know that a squealing or squeaking brake means that a pad change is in your near future, but what should you do if you can hear grinding from one or more wheels?

The Causes of Brake Grinding

Under normal circumstances, only the brake friction material and metal rotors come into direct contact. When you hit the pedal to slow your car down, these two elements come together to bleed away speed. Since the high levels of friction and heat produced will inevitably wear down any material, manufacturers use "soft" brake pads to ensure this sacrificial part wears away first.

However, the squeal you hear when your brakes need replacement isn't actually due to worn friction material. Instead, manufacturers embed a small piece of metal (a warning strip) into the pads. When your brakes have a minimum amount of material remaining, the warning strip makes contact with the rotors and squeaks. This annoying noise alerts you that it's time to change your brakes.

Unfortunately, a metal-on-metal grinding noise indicates a much more severe problem. Once most of the friction material on your pads burns off, your rotor may come into contact with the backing plates or even the caliper. These two metal surfaces will produce a grinding sound and will eventually cause permanent damage to your rotors or calipers.

The Dangers of Grinding Brakes

You should always treat grinding brakes as a critical repair issue. Once you hear this noise, you know that your pads are worn well beyond the critical service stage. Not only does this reduce your stopping power, but it also damages the rotors. Ruining your rotors this way can often add several hundred dollars to the cost of an otherwise routine brake service.

Additionally, driving on grinding brakes for too long can eventually damage parts of the caliper. These parts are significantly more expensive and typically last for a vehicle's lifetime when given proper care. Allowing your brakes to progress to this stage can leave you with a hefty repair bill or even a catastrophic brake failure.

Because your brakes are essential to your vehicle's safe operation, it's imperative never to ignore persistent grinding noises. If you hear this sound, contact a qualified repair shop for break servicing as soon as you can.