When our cars make unexpected noises, we get nervous. When it’s our brakes acting up, we get very nervous, and with good reason. The nature of brakes is such that they will make noises from time to time and in response to certain conditions, but that high-pitched squealing is enough to drive someone mad if it’s ongoing. You can learn how to fix squeaky brakes at home, but first you need to know what you’re dealing with.
The Sound and the Fury
Brakes squeak because of vibration between the rotor, calipers and pads at a frequency insufferable to the human ear. Sometimes, it can’t be helped; the caliper piston must push the pads to contact the rotor to stop the car, and that’s going to cause friction on a moving object, which will in turn cause vibration. For the most part, however, the design and the materials have been developed to keep this to a minimum. It’s also possible for moisture to creep in when the temperature drops overnight, and this can cause a small amount of rust to form, which requires heat and friction to remove. In that case, you simply have to drive until the brakes heat up enough to take care of the problem themselves.
That said, when brakes make noise, pay attention. In fact, they’re designed to make a LOT of noise when the pads wear too thin, alerting you to have them replaced ASAP. This is much more than a high-pitched squeak though; you’ll notice metal-on-metal scraping and sounds of tearing. In any case, it’s your brakes: Always make sure you’re not dealing with a significant issue. Check for loose parts, worn pads and scratched or warped rotors, and fix any problems you find before they escalate.
There are a few solutions to consider for getting rid of the squeak. You could change the pads to a different friction material. That might reduce the squeak, but keep in mind that the original manufacturer parts were designed to be there, so be sure to do your research and only replace with pads that still give you plenty of stopping power. It’s also possible on some calipers to install Teflon shims between the piston and the back of the pads. This reduces the space available for vibration, and is a longer-lasting fix. Not all caliper-rotor-pad combos will accommodate shims, however, and you don’t want to wear your pads down to nothing just so you can shim them.
Another option is lubricating the backing plate of the brake pads with high-temperature grease. This is an easy (if temporary) fix that will dampen the vibration and doesn’t require changing all your pads. Finally, you can attempt to adhere the back of the pad to the caliper itself. This eliminates vibration in the caliper-pad part of the equation.
Do not, under any circumstances, lubricate the rotors or the face of the pads. This will reduce your ability to brake, potentially putting you in a very dangerous situation. Brake squeal is annoying, but there are ways to lessen it, and it’s not worth compromising your safety.
Check out all the brake products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to fix squeaky brakes, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.