Four Unmistakeable Warnings of Brake Failure

Last Updated on February 5, 2024 by John Robinson

Your car relies on a careful balance of mechanical systems to keep you in control of your vehicle at all times. One of the most important components of your vehicle is undeniably the braking system. Without working brakes, it can be nearly or even entirely impossible to bring your car to a stop safely. Car brakes can fail unexpectedly, but in many cases there are warning signs that indicate possible problems before they occur. 

In this article, we discuss four potential warning signs that your car’s brakes are performing less adequately than expected. If you detect any of these symptoms of brake failure, take your car to a certified mechanic as soon as possible to get the issue(s) resolved. Should any of these problems result in a collision, a car accident attorney in San Antonio may be able to assist you. 

Screeching & Squealing Sounds Signify Worn-Down Brake Pads

The sound of metal against metal is both distinctly unpleasant and quite memorable. If you hear ear-splitting squealing or screeching noises every time you apply the brakes, this is a great sign that they aren’t performing well. Believe it or not, your brake pads are actually designed to make these sounds when the brake pad material is thin. Your car’s brake pads have a metal piece that scrapes against the rotors as a sign that your brakes are nearing the end of their lifespan. 

While occasional squeaking during cold starts or heavy braking can be normal, persistent loud squealing demands immediate attention. Ignoring this warning can lead to worn-out pads damaging the rotors, increasing stopping distances, and risking brake failure in critical situations. Don’t wait for the music to fade entirely; heed the first whispers and head to a qualified mechanic for brake pad replacement.

A Loss of Stopping Power is an Early Indicator of Problems

Your car’s brake pedal should feel firm and responsive. If you notice that applying pressure to your brake pedal doesn’t translate to an immediate response from your vehicle, this may be a sign of an issue. The brake pedal may even feel soft or unresponsive under your foot. 

This loss of responsiveness can be tied back to one of many potential factors. In some cases, air may have found a way into your brake line. This can happen due to improper bleeding or an undetected leak. When air reaches the brake line, it can form pockets that reduce your pedal’s responsiveness. If your vehicle’s master cylinders are beginning to fail, they may not generate enough pressure to keep your brake pedal responsive. In some cases, something as simple as low brake fluid levels can cause the pedal to sink deeper before engaging the brakes!

Whatever the root cause of your woes, it’s essential to seek professional assistance to diagnose and correct the issue. Waiting can cause you to eventually lose control of your brakes entirely, resulting in an accident. 

Never Ignore Dashboard Warning Lights

At some point, just about all of us have surely been guilty of neglecting a dashboard warning light or two for longer than we ought to. If you notice that there’s a warning symbol for your vehicle’s braking system, it’s important to get to the bottom of the issue as soon as possible. 

Low brake fluid levels, often indicated by a red exclamation point, are a common reason for a warning light to come on. This can be an early indicator of a potential leak or air intrusion. Either of these issues can reduce the system’s capacity to transmit pressure and bring your car to a stop. Malfunctioning ABS sensors, often depicted by an orange wheel with skid marks, might also trigger a warning light. This error signals issues with the electronic system that helps prevent wheel lock during braking. In some cases, a non-specific electronic issue can be highlighted, which may have an adverse effect on your car’s braking. 

As soon as you notice warning lights on your display, it’s time to act. If you’re driving, pull over when it is safe to do so. Consult your car’s manual to determine what the warning light means and take your car to a mechanic to have the root cause fixed. 

Your Car Shouldn’t Normally Give Off Burning Smells

Brake issues aren’t generally detected through our sense of smell. However, if you notice a strong, acrid odor coming from your car after applying the brakes, this isn’t a great sign. Overheated brake pads can give off a distinct burning smell. This is frequently due to excessive wear, glazing, or improper use. If the damage is more extensive, you may be smelling burning brake fluid. In this case, the burning smell will be more chemical. 

Burning smells coming from your brakes can hint at potential fire hazards, reduced stopping power, and increased risk of complete failure. Never neglect unusual or alarming smells coming from your vehicle. Stop the car immediately, avoid further braking, and seek professional attention to diagnose the source of the smell. 

When in Doubt, Err on the Side of Caution

By being attentive to unusual sounds and smells coming from your car, you can proactively address potential problems before they escalate into emergencies. In many cases, regular brake inspections and professional maintenance are sufficient to keep your car running at full power for many years to come. We hope this article helps you and your loved ones stay safe on the road!

John Robinson
John Robinson

Howdy! I’m John Robinson from Levittown, New York. I am a mechanical engineer for 15 years and already had an established car repair company. I developed a personal relationship with cars since I was a kid. I always love the sounds and smell emitted by a car or truck and even at construction machinery. Since then I have been married but my love for cars only grew.