10 Signs Your Car Needs New Brakes ASAP

mechanic installing new brake pads

We get it—not everyone is a car nut who keeps their vehicle in pristine condition at all times. Most people aren’t even mechanically inclined enough to catch car problems before they result in a breakdown. But if there’s one part of your car that should always be in top working condition, regardless of how handy you are with a wrench, it’s the brakes.

Worn-out brakes can mean the difference between a near miss and bad fender-bender (or worse). So for safety’s sake, pay attention to these 10 signs your car needs new brakes ASAP.

1. High-pitched screeching

If you hear a high-pitched screeching noise when you apply your brakes, don’t worry—it doesn’t mean your brakes are going to give out any minute. The screech is actually coming from a little piece of metal built into your brake pads that’s intended to let you know when the pads are getting low and need to be replaced soon.  So if you hear your brakes calling, call a mechanic.

2. Visible wear-and-tear

Another way to check on the condition of your brake pads is a visual inspection. You can see them between the wheel’s spokes, pressed up against a metal rotor. If the pads are less than a quarter inch thick, it’s time to have them inspected or replaced.

3. Screeching despite new pads

Loud screeching or other high-pitch noises coming from your brakes doesn’t always mean you need new brake pads. Sometimes it means your rotors are glazed, which is caused by excessive braking that heats up and burns the metal. If you see a dark ring or blue marks on the rotors, you’ll need to replace them. And going forward, it’s not a good idea to slam on the brakes from high speeds on a regular basis—not only does it burn the rotors, but it can also warp them.

4. Brake pedal vibration

When your rotors are warped, it causes vibration or pulsating through the brake pedal. But irresponsible braking isn’t the only cause of warping. If the rotors become too old and thin, they’re also susceptible to warping and will need to be replaced.

5. Slow stopping response

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to stop quickly but it feels like the brakes aren’t stopping fast enough or they aren’t as responsive as they should be, this could be an indication of a leak in the braking system. Your mechanic will likely find either an air leak in the brake hose, or a leak in the brake fluid. 

6. Extremely sensitive brakes

If your brakes jerk your car to a stop at the gentlest touch, it could mean either you need a brake fluid exchange or your rotors have worn down unevenly. Either way, it’s a sign you need to get to a mechanic.

7. Extremely insensitive brakes

On the other hand, if you need to push the pedal nearly to the floor to get your brakes to engage, that’s also a problem. It could mean you’re low on brake fluid, there’s air in the brake fluid, or your brake pads are too thin. It could also be a symptom of a problem in your car’s hydraulic system. A mechanic will be able to diagnose it properly.

8. Driveway puddle

The easiest way to tell if your brake system is leaking fluid is to check under your car. If you find a small puddle of fluid after the car has been parked for a while, and it looks similar to fresh motor oil but not as slimy, it’s probably brake fluid.

9. Pulling to one side

If it feels like some invisible force is pulling your car to one side while braking, there’s a good chance the brake linings are wearing unevenly and are in need of adjustment. It could also be a sign that there’s some sort of foreign matter in the brake fluid, which means you’ll need to get the fluid drained and replaced.

10. Heavy grinding sounds

If you somehow missed the screeching reminder that your brake pads are getting low, you’ll soon hear an even worse sound: heavy metallic grinding or growling, which means the pads have worn down completely. At this late stage, replacement is likely out of the question—the grinding sound is coming from the metal plate rubbing against the rotor. In a short amount of time, this can scratch the rotors or even melt the metal together and cause your brakes to stick—a safety hazard that needs to be addressed immediately.

Are your brakes trying to tell you something?

If you’ve seen, heard, or felt any of the above signs that your brakes need professional attention, don’t wait. Even minor problems like worn brake pads can get very expensive if ignored. And, of course, a properly working brake system is imperative to your safety. 

At General Auto Repair, we’ve been taking care of cars for over 15 years. We specialize in brakes, alignments, complete engine repair, smog inspections, oil changes, and much more, so give us a call or stop by our auto repair shop in downtown San Diego today.