Why Are My Brakes Grinding and How Can I Fix Them?

Grinding brakes is one problem you can’t ignore.

byChris Teague|
Maintenance & Repair photo

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Cars make so many different noises it’s easy to get confused. Some of them are happy sounds, like the burble of a V8 engine, but some are absolutely awful. The squeal of a slipping serpentine belt, the scrape of a muffler dragging the ground, and—perhaps worst—the sound of grinding brakes. 

If everything’s going as planned, your car’s brakes should make very little to no noise when you press the pedal. You might hear a little rubbing, but nothing that sounds or feels rough. When a part or parts start to wear in your car’s braking system, they can rub against each other in ways that would make Marvin Gaye mad.

The good news is that brakes are both cheap and easy to fix, as long as you don’t ignore the problem until something else breaks as a result. The Drive’s editors will get into what causes brake problems here, and talk about what it means if you start hearing the dreaded grinding sound when you press the brake pedal. Let’s get after it. 

You don't need to be a pro to fix your brakes., Depositphotos

How Do My Brakes Actually Work? 

Assuming you’ve got disc brakes, your brake pedal causes a buildup in pressure in the brake fluid, which forces the calipers to move. Calipers are almost like clamps but have brake pads in place of the contact surface that normal clamps have. Disc brakes get their name from a rotating disc that spins with the car’s wheels. When the brake pedal is pressed, hydraulic pressure forces the caliper to clamp down on the rotor. Friction from that contact is what slows the vehicle.

What Makes Brakes Grind?

If you hear an unpleasant grinding noise when you press the brake pedal, it’s time for brake maintenance. There are a few usual suspects to check first:

Brake Pads

As the brake pads wear, the surfaces that are needed to generate friction and stopping power can become too worn to function properly. When this happens, the pads’ metal backing plate can come into contact with the rotor, making an awful sound and potentially damaging the rotor in the process.

Brake Rotors

If your brake discs (rotors) become worn from years of use, their surfaces can become pitted, damaged, and grooved. In some cases, the rotors can even become warped. Every 20,000 miles or so, you should plan on needing to perform a brake service that includes at least pads, and potentially rotors.

Rust and Corrosion

If your vehicle sits parked for long periods of time, the rotors can gather rust and dirt. Much of the time, the rust is just on the surface and will wear off as the vehicle moves, but before it does it can make some funky sounds. It’s best to drive your vehicle occasionally to stop this from happening, if possible.

How Much Will This Cost To Fix?

You’re in luck! Fixing brakes is quite affordable, even if you have it done professionally. Many people will just do the work at home, because it’s not rocket science, but for those that are too busy or limited on space, you’re not going to go broke. 

Pads will cost between $100 and $200, rotors can cost upward of $600, and calipers can range between $100 and $200 each. Of course, these are just estimates, and may not line up with your specific vehicle. This is especially true if you drive a performance car, large truck, or vintage vehicle.

Brake Terms You Should Know

Get educated!

Disc Brakes

Disc brakes are a relatively new innovation in automotive technology. The systems use a rotating disc (also known as a rotor) that is clamped down upon by a caliper and brake pad. That clamping action and the resulting friction are the forces that stop a vehicle.

Drum Brakes

There are a few different types of drum brakes but in general, the systems are composed of a rotating metal drum and an internal brake “shoe” that is pressed outward onto the drum to slow the vehicle. 

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is used in braking systems to provide the hydraulic pressure needed to move various components. When the driver presses the brake pedal, it’s brake fluid that travels through the system and makes the calipers clamp down on the spinning rotor.

Anti-lock Brakes 

Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are a safety feature that helps drivers maintain control of the vehicle under heavy braking situations. Before ABS, brakes could lock when the driver pressed the pedal with great force. Once the brakes locked, the vehicle would continue traveling in the same direction it was before the lock, regardless of steering inputs. Anti-lock brakes prevent this condition by rapidly pulsing brake pressure on and off to allow slight wheel movements so that the vehicle can remain under the driver’s control.

New pads can make a big difference., Depositphotos

FAQs About Brake Grinding  

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. I Don’t Have Time To Get My Brakes Fixed. Can I Just Ignore That Noise?

A. Even if it were possible to ignore the noise, it’s a terrible idea to drive with grinding brakes. The chances of getting into a serious accident and hurting yourself or someone else is far greater if you can’t properly stop your vehicle. Beyond that, you could damage other parts of your car, and let’s just be honest here: That noise is going to cost you some friends.

Q. How Can I Prevent Brake Grinding?

A. It’s not really possible to prevent brake wear. Every time you drive your car, you’ll presumably want for it to stop, which will require the use of brakes. Components like brake pads are considered “common wear” items, which are designed to wear out as they are used. You can certainly prevent grinding by keeping up with your brake maintenance, but the wear of pads and rotors is an unstoppable tide.

Q. Can I Save Money By Using Budget Pads?

A. Sure, you can save a few bucks up front by picking off-brand discount pads, but don’t come yelling at The Drive when you’re lining up to buy more after just a few thousand miles. You get what you pay for with almost everything in life, especially automotive wear items like brakes.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors! 

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)


Featured Products 

There’s a whole world of products that can help you both diagnose and fix brake problems, but we don’t want to overwhelm you with sales pitches here. Because of that, we’ve chosen a handful of our favorite products. These are things that are affordable, received solid customer reviews, and that we feel could truly be of use.

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com