Your brake system is a marvelous mechanism. It can stop a 4,000 lb car at the press of your foot.
But all that braking generates a lot of heat through friction, and if you’re not careful, it could lead to your brakes overheating.
How can you tell when your brakes are overheating?
In this article, we’ll explore four signs and three causes of overheating brakes and if it’s safe to drive with overheated brakes. We’ll also cover ways to cool down and prevent your brakes from overheating, plus five FAQs about brakes.
This Article Contains:
- 4 Signs of Brakes Overheating
- 3 Common Causes of Brakes Overheating
- Is it Safe to Drive With Overheated Brakes?
- How Do I Cool Down Overheated Brakes?
- How to Prevent Brakes From Overheating?
- 5 FAQs About Brakes
Let’s get cracking.
4 Signs of Brakes Overheating
Identifying signs overheating brakes early can save you from expensive repairs and potentially life-endangering situations.
The most common signs include:
1. Your Brake Light Comes On
An illuminated brake light on your dashboard signifies an issue with your braking system. It could mean your brake pads are overheated or the emergency brake is engaged.
If the light isn’t because of the emergency brake, it’s best to have a professional examine your brake system soon.
2. Squeaky Sounds From Your Brakes
The brake pad or brake shoe has a high-friction material (also called brake lining) that prevents metal components from rubbing against each other.
This brake lining, though durable, may wear out faster when your brake pad or brake shoe is misaligned. When this happens, the metal components grind against each other, generating squeaky sounds and excess heat.
3. Brakes Feel Spongy or Soft
When air accumulates in the brake lines, your brakes may feel spongy or soft.
Air in the brake line or brake hose could turn into steam or water when the brake fluid heats up. This may prevent the brake fluid from flowing properly, reducing your braking power. In some cases, it may result in complete brake failure.
But here’s the thing: Soft or spongy brakes could also signify low brake fluid, which could be due to a damaged brake line or master cylinder.
4. Smoke or a Burning Smell From Your Brakes
The buildup of brake dust or corrosion may cause the brake pads to stick to the disc, preventing the wheel from spinning freely.
Similarly, seized brake calipers or wheel cylinders may result in the pistons getting stuck.
When this happens, your brake pads or brake shoes may continue pressing against the wheel, generating excess heat, and emitting a burning smell or smoke from your brakes.
Now, let’s explore the reasons behind overheating brakes.
3 Common Causes of Brakes Overheating
These are the three most common factors behind overheating brakes:
1. Worn-Out Brake Pads or Brake Shoes
Driving with worn brake shoes or brake pads may cause your brakes to overheat.
Without sufficient friction material, your brake pads or shoes won’t be able to prevent the metal components from rubbing against each other, generating excess heat.
Brake pads and brake shoes last roughly 30,000-35,000 miles with urban use.
2. Improperly Installed Brake Pads or Brake Shoes
Your brakes rely on friction to bring your car to a halt. If the brake pads or brake shoes are misaligned or incorrectly installed, they may squeeze against the metal components unevenly.
Your brake pads, brake shoes, or brake rotor may wear out faster, reducing the effectiveness of your brakes.
3. Low-Quality Brake Parts
A poor-quality brake part will wear out faster, often overheating your brakes.
That’s because the quality and composition of your brake parts are vital in ensuring your brake system operates efficiently.
For example, low-quality brake pads or shoes may not have the right gripping power or may not align with your vehicle’s specifications.
Also, a substandard brake part may not be designed or tested for weather conditions, resulting in various brake issues.
Can overheated brakes be dangerous?
Read on to find out.
Is it Safe to Drive With Overheated Brakes?
No, driving with hot brakes isn’t safe.
It could result in complete brake failure or your brakes catching fire.
This could land you in trouble with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (highway safety regulators) as it endangers human life.
Need a hack to cool your brakes?
How Do I Cool Down Overheated Brakes?
Try these tips to cool down hot brakes:
- Drive at a consistent speed, preferably 45 mph or lesser, for roughly 3-5 mins — avoid using the brakes, if possible. The rushing air should help cool down your brakes as your vehicle moves.
- Take your foot off the accelerator (AKA engine braking) and brake gently to bring your vehicle to a complete stop. Once stopped, use the parking brake so that your disc brakes or drum brakes can disengage from the brake rotor and cool down.
Next, let’s explore some precautions you can take to keep your brakes from overheating.
How to Prevent Brakes From Overheating?
These methods can help keep your brakes from getting overheated:
- Apply modest pressure to slow down your vehicle gradually.
- Ensure you replace critical brake parts like brake rotors, pads, and shoes when necessary.
- Use only OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) brake replacement parts.
- Get a brake service from a reputed auto service provider.
- Keep a safe distance from other vehicles while driving so you don’t have to stomp on the brakes suddenly.
Have more questions about your car’s brakes?
5 FAQs About Brakes
Let’s explore answers to some common questions you may have about brakes:
1. How Do Car Brakes Work?
Your car’s brake system uses friction to bring your vehicle to a halt by converting kinetic energy (the wheel’s movement) into heat energy.
In other words, the pressure is transmitted to your brake pads (disc brake assembly) or brake shoes (drum brake assembly) when you step on the brake pedal. The brake pads or brake shoes then rub against the wheel’s rotors, creating friction and bringing your vehicle to a stop.
PS: Most modern cars use a disc brake assembly for the front and a drum brake for the back. However, the rear brake in some vehicles may have a disc brake assembly.
2. What are the Different Types of Braking Systems?
Here are common types of braking systems found in a car or bike:
- Hydraulic brake systems: In this braking system, the brake pedal transmits hydraulic pressure from the master cylinder to the braking mechanism, creating friction to slow or stop your car or bike.
- Air brake systems: Air brake systems (typically found in heavy vehicles) use compressed air instead of brake fluid to slow or stop the vehicle. Here, applying pressure on the brake pedal delivers compressed air via the brake valves and brake chambers, resulting in the brake pads squeezing against the brake rotors.
- Mechanical brake systems: Most modern vehicles use a mechanical brake system to power the emergency or parking brake. Here, several mechanical linkages, like cylindrical rods, fulcrums, etc., transmit the force from the emergency brake lever to the final brake drum.
- Anti-lock brake systems: The anti-lock brake system (ABS) is a safety enhancement that works with your standard brakes (typically hydraulic brakes). It prevents your brakes from locking up and your car from skidding.
3. What are the Types of Brake Fluids, and Which One to Use?
There are generally four types of brake fluids you can use:
- DOT 3: The DOT 3 (DOT stands for US Department of Transportation) is a glycol-based brake fluid. It has an amber color, is highly corrosive, and has a dry boiling point of 401℉. It’s also the most commonly used brake fluid.
- DOT 4: While this is also a glycol-based fluid, it has a higher minimum boiling point of 446℉ due to additives.
- DOT 5: DOT 5 is a silicone-based brake fluid with a dry boiling point of 500℉. It costs four times more than DOT 3 and 4 and is unsuitable for vehicles with an anti-lock brake system.
- DOT 5.1: This glycol-based fluid is suitable for high-performance, race, and heavy vehicles. It costs 14 times more than DOT 3, and its boiling point is similar to DOT 5.
4. What Does Brake Fade Mean, and What Can I Do About It?
Brake fade refers to a loss of braking power due to excessive heat buildup in your brake components. Typically, this happens because of air in the brake line or improperly fitted or worn-out brake pads.
If brake fade happens, it’s best to take your foot off the accelerator, downshift the gears, and gently apply the handbrake to prevent further damage.
After bringing your vehicle to a stop, contact a reliable auto repair shop for brake service. A new brake pad or brake shoe will typically fix the problem.
5. How Do I Choose the Right Brake Discs and Brake Pads?
It’s always best to choose OEM brake discs and brake pads.
Alternatively, you can choose high-quality brake parts from a reputed manufacturer like Haldex commercial vehicle systems.
However, if you’re opting for aftermarket parts, ensure the new brake pad or brake disc is of the right shape and size.
Overheating brakes are a significant safety concern.
This brake problem is likely caused by worn-out, misaligned, or incorrectly installed brake pads or brake shoes. Thankfully, there are several warning signs and ways to cool down overheated brakes.
But, if your brakes continue to overheat, it’s best to consult a reputable auto repair provider like RepairSmith.
RepairSmith takes care of any brake problem, including replacing old worn-out parts right from your driveway. We also offer upfront pricing and a 12-month warranty on all repairs. Contact us, and we’ll get your brakes fixed in a jiffy!