The pedals in a manual-transmission Subaru Legacy include gas, brakes and the clutch.

Your Car Jerks When Braking: Now What?

As you approach an intersection, the traffic light turns yellow, then red just after you apply pressure to the brake pedal. The next moment, your vehicle jerks slightly before coming to a full stop. This is an uncomfortable sensation, one you may have experienced before, but this time you are greatly concerned. If your car jerks when braking, you need to determine the cause and find the correct solution. These three steps will get you started.

1. Rule Out the Obvious

If you’re part of the small group of car owners with a manual transmission, the occasional jerk while shifting isn’t uncommon. Sometimes, the driver doesn’t time the release of the clutch with each shift, causing the vehicle to jerk.

If you downshift from a high gear to a lower gear — such as from fifth to second gear — your car may jerk, especially if you haven’t reduced your speed. By practicing controlled downshifts, you’ll find the problem has nothing to do with the brakes, but lies in your style of driving.

2. Check Your BrakesCar at stop light

Unsurprisingly, a car jerks when braking if there’s a problem with the brakes. Typically, brakes will squeal, squeak or grind, particularly with warped rotors. Further, you’ll feel some vibration as you apply the brakes, causing a slight jerk to the vehicle as you come to a stop.

The problem may only be air in the brake lines. If that’s the case, use a brake bleeder kit to bleed the brakes. You may also need to replace brake pads and replace or resurface worn rotors. While you’re at it, check the tires to ensure sufficient tread remains, then rotate them as needed. Lastly, inspect the spare tire to ensure it has sufficient air.

3. Inspect the ABS

Today’s vehicles have antilock brake systems (ABS), which help your vehicle come to a safe stop, especially in slippery conditions. Specifically, the system includes sensors, an electronic control module and a hydraulic control unit.

Usually, when the ABS system is malfunctioning, a warning light switches on in the instrument panel. Faulty sensor wiring or metal shavings or other debris may be contributing problems — the latter causing false feedback. Use an ABS scan tool to check for fault codes, which will identify the problem. Finally, when the work is done, the fault code should disappear or you can clear it with your diagnostic tool.

Always follow your owner’s manual to schedule due maintenance items at the proper intervals. Handling simple tasks early on can help you avoid larger issues later, including brake problems.

Check out all the brake system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on brake problems, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

about author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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