Fix Your Squeaky Brakes on Your Own

Along with nails on a chalkboard, a snoring spouse, and a dripping faucet, what noise irks you more than squealing brakes? Can you stop this menace without paying the brake shop? Yes, you can! First, you need to understand why the noise is happening. Then you can diagnose the problem and fix it without too much expense.

Why the Squeaking?

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Image via Flickr by Podknox

Sound is vibration and vibration is natural. Your brakes will not always be silent, but they shouldn’t be persistently noisy. How long has it been since your brake pads have been replaced? It could be time. Your brakes have a wear indicator bar that is designed to scrape when the pads get thin. You’ll hear a screeching that is impossible to ignore. Look at the pads—without removing the wheel if possible—and if the pads are under a quarter inch, replace them. Otherwise, an occasional hissing, grinding, or squealing noise does not indicate worn-out brakes but rather one of a few other possible problems:
  • If you haven’t driven the vehicle lately, you could have rust on the rotors. Driving should wear it off, or you could remove the wheel and lightly sand the rotors.
  • Your rotors may be wearing in the body but not on the edge, forming a rust ridge. Remove the wheel and sand down the raised rim of the rotors.
  • Road salt or grit could have gotten between the pad and rotor, causing scoring. Your rotor will have grooves like a record. It needs to be resurfaced or replaced along with the pads.
  • The dust shield behind your rotors is bent and/or rusty. Remove the wheel and reshape the shield.
  • Your brakes are no longer properly lubricated. But how do you relubricate the parts?

Lubricating Your Brakes

If none of your brake parts are worn out, it’s probably a matter of friction that can be cured with the proper lubrication. Jack up your vehicle and take everything apart. Take pictures along the way to be sure you can put it all back together. Check all the components for rust. Clean everything with fine sandpaper, a coarse brush, or a wire wheel on your drill. You’ll need two compounds: silicone paste and copper anti-seize lubricant. Remove and clean the guide pins. Apply a layer of silicone paste. It can withstand the high temperature of your brakes and will not damage the rubber dust boots. Paint a light coating of copper lubricant where the brake pads glide against the calipers and to the back of each pad. There’s no need to add too much. Be sure to get no lubricant on the rotors or face of the pads, of course. You want friction there, not lubrication. With all parts of your disc brakes clean and properly lubricated, the noise should go away. Brakes operate in a harsh environment with extreme heat, copious amounts of dust, and all the slop and grit the road can throw at them. Sometimes they need some love. If this is your first time getting into your brake system, now you know how it all works.