Niagara Gazette — Recently I had to travel to New York City for business. I couldn’t believe the brake problems I heard and smelled (yes smelled!) while on the roadway. The problems ran the gambit of grinding, burnt brake material smells, squealing and chattering.
This experience inspired me to write a column outlining exactly what these symptoms mean, so that when they arise, you can be proactive and take care of the problem before it becomes a real safety risk and extreme cost.
When brakes grind, they have already gone beyond the first stage of needing replacement. Brake systems are set up with what are called squeal sensors. These are spring steel tabs that, when in contact with the rotor surface, generate a high-pitched squealing sound (alerting you that the brakes are low and need replacing). If ignored, the brake material wears beyond squealing to the final stage, grinding. Grinding indicates that the braking material has worn away and is now into the metal backing of the brake pads. The metal backing is grinding into the rotor’s metal face. This is dangerous and very expensive, if grinding is evident when braking, get to a shop immediately and have the brakes checked!
If you feel the pedal pulsate when braking (ride up and down against your foot), it means the brake caliper is sticking and not releasing the brake when you take your foot off the pedal. What’s happening is the caliper is staying clamped tightly and keeping the brakes applied on the brake rotor causing it to heat up. Over time, the heat causes the rotor to warp. The warpage results in pedal pulsation. In such a case, the calipers need to be freed up, cleaned, and the slides lubricated to get them moving again. Sometimes the rotors can be resurfaced but most times they must be replaced because they don’t have sufficient metal remaining to pass safety standards.