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A Guide To Brake Fade (Types, Symptoms, Causes)

June 17, 2021

Brake fade is a loss in braking power due to excessive heat build-up in your braking system.

But why does it happen?

And is there a way to prevent it?

In this article, we’ll cover what brake fade is, its three different types, and its common causes. We’ll then highlight some symptoms indicating brake fade and mention five tips to protect your vehicle against brake fade.

Finally, we’ll tell you what to do if you experience brake fade.

This Article Contains:

Let’s get started.

What Is Brake Fade?

Brake fade is a temporary reduction in (or loss of) braking power due to the overheating of one or more of your brake components. When brake fade happens, your brake system cannot generate enough friction to slow down your moving vehicle.

Unlike brake failure, where your brakes stop working entirely, with brake fade, your braking force or brake torque may return to normal as your brake temperature goes down.

But even if it’s just temporary, brake fade is a severe safety hazard since it can dramatically decrease your braking force and increase your stopping time or distance. 

Brake fade can affect different parts of your drum brake or disc braking system and falls into different categories:

3 Different Types Of Brake Fade

Three types of brake fade can affect your vehicle’s brakes.

They are:

A. Brake Pad Fade

Brake pad fade (mechanical fade) happens with disc brakes.

When a brake pad in your disc brake assembly operates out of its designed maximum temperature range, its friction material (brake material or brake lining) starts to degrade. 

This usually marks the beginning of brake pad fade in your disc braking system.

Over time, the resin that binds together the various compounds in the friction material or friction surface of your brake pad will degenerate and expel gases.

These expelled gases will create a film between the brake rotor and the brake pad. This film, in turn, can cause your brake pad to skid off the brake rotor or brake disc and prevent you from slowing down effectively.

B. Dynamic Brake Fade

Dynamic brake fade can happen with both disc brakes and drum brakes.

In disc brakes, dynamic fade usually results from using a low-quality or unsuitable brake pad set for your vehicle. It can also result from brake caliper lag (aka brake drag) — a condition where your brake caliper remains stuck to the brake rotor even after you disengage the brake pedal

On the flip side, in a drum brake system, dynamic brake fade is a consequence of the vaporization of the brake material or friction surface of your brake shoe at elevated temperatures.

As a result of vaporization, your brake drum and brake shoe cannot generate the friction needed to dissipate the kinetic energy of your vehicle effectively.

C. Brake Fluid Fade

Brake fluid fade occurs because your brake fluid (being hydrophilic) absorbs moisture. And it can happen with both the drum brake and the disc brake system.

The moisture-contaminated brake fluid in your brake line and brake hose network is likely to boil and produce air bubbles when exposed to the heat generated by heavy braking.

These air bubbles generated by the boiling brake fluid are compressible. This, in turn, reduces the hydraulic pressure that can be transmitted to your brake caliper or wheel cylinder via the brake line and hose. As a result, your braking force also comes down.

But why does brake fade happen in the first place? 

We’ll take a closer look at some common causes of brake fade next.

What Causes Brake Fade?

Every time you use your vehicle’s brakes, the kinetic energy of your vehicle gets converted into heat by friction. 

Usually, this friction heat is dissipated into the atmosphere.

In some situations, you’ll need to engage in prolonged or heavy braking, like when you’re:

During continuous or heavy braking, your drum brake or disc brake system may not have enough time to dissipate all the kinetic energy that gets converted into heat. And this heat can add up to raise your brake temperature. 

As the brake temperature crosses a certain threshold, the friction material or brake lining on your brake shoe or brake pad could start to degrade. 

Moreover, at high temperatures, instances of brake fluid boil are also common.

Essentially, your brake components will stop working as expected, and your braking performance takes a hit.

Now that you know what potentially causes brake fade in your vehicle, let’s go over some brake fade symptoms that you’ll need to watch out for:

What Are Some Common Brake Fade Symptoms?

With brake fade, the most noticeable symptom is a loss of braking power or brake torque.

Your vehicle won’t slow down the way it’s supposed to, no matter how hard you press down on the brake pedal. 

However, the brake pedal won’t feel spongy or weird in any other way. 

It’s just that your vehicle takes more time or distance than usual to slow down or come to a complete stop. Additionally, after you’ve stopped your vehicle for a while, your vehicle’s disc brakes or drum brake assembly will usually seem to have regained functionality.

If you notice this happening, have a professional mechanic inspect your braking system ASAP. Because when brake fade becomes excessive, your vehicle’s brakes may stop working entirely and result in total brake failure.

Now, since brake fade can be such a hazard, is there a way to prevent it from happening?

Let’s find out.

5 Tips To Help You Prevent Brake Fade

Here are five tips you can use to prevent or stall brake fade from happening to your vehicle:

Tip #1: Adopt better driving habits. Don’t drive too aggressively, and try to use your vehicle’s brakes periodically rather than resorting to continuous or heavy braking.

Tip #2: For applications requiring heavy braking or high braking performance, ensure that you use only brake components from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or other reputed brands. 

For example, purchase only OEM pads, OEM rotors, and OEM brake line parts whenever possible. This is because stock brakes and stock pads are usually more reliable than most other aftermarket parts.

Tip#3: Consider using a drilled brake drum set or drilled rotors in your vehicle for better heat dissipation.

Tip#4: Flush brake fluid regularly from your braking system to reduce the likelihood of brake fluid fade from moisture contamination.

Tip #5: Make use of fade stop brake coolers to cool down your brake system effectively.

While these tips can help you protect your brake system against fade, knowing what to do in situations where your braking force suddenly drops is also vital to stay safe on the road.

What Should You Do When You Experience Brake Fade?

If you suspect brake fade or feel that your vehicle’s brakes aren’t working as expected, take your vehicle ASAP to an auto repair shop or have a mobile mechanic come over.

We recommend that you request a mobile mechanic’s service. 

This is because driving with defective brakes can severely compromise your road safety.

And when hiring a mechanic, remember to ensure that they:

But where do you find a mechanic who meets these criteria?

Just get in touch with RepairSmith — an accessible and convenient mobile auto repair solution.

With RepairSmith:

Closing Thoughts

Brake fade is a decline in brake torque or braking force at high temperatures. 

It can result due to several reasons. From degradation of the brake material on your brake shoe or brake pad, caliper drag on your brake disc, brake fluid boil, and so on.

Certain preventative measures like brake coolers can help defend your vehicle against brake fade. But if you notice any symptoms of brake failure or changes in your braking performance, have your vehicle checked up by a professional mechanic.
Fortunately, if you’re looking for an accessible mobile auto repair service, you simply need to get in touch with RepairSmith. Our technicians will come to your driveway to take care of all your vehicle maintenance and repair needs!