7 Clear Signs Your Brakes Need Repair: Is It Time to Act?

Dashboard warning lights

Most modern vehicles are equipped with dashboard warning lights. If a brake warning light pops up, don’t drive. Turn your car off. You might inspect your vehicle’s brake fluid reservoir to see if it’s low. Afterward, bring your vehicle to a professional.
Here are some of the dashboard warning light brake symbols and what they mean:

Squeaking or squealing noises

Brake pads have a wear indicator that produces noise when the brakes are near the end of their lifespan. Brake pads become squeaky for a variety of reasons, including:
  • Accumulation of dust and debris between the pads and rotors
  • Brake pads and rotors can become glazed from overheating, which creates a smooth surface and causes squeaking.
  • Brake calipers sticking
  • Poor-quality brake pads
There are also temporary reasons that might cause brake squeaking:
  • Moisture or water from heavy rain or driving through a large puddle might cause brakes to squeak, but only until they dry out.

Soft or spongy brake pedal

If your brake pedals are soft or spongy, this indicates an issue with the hydraulic components of the brake system that are responsible for sending energy from the brake pedal to the brake pads. There are several reasons why this might be happening:
  • Air in the brake lines is the most common cause of soft or spongy brake pedals. Air can enter the system during brake fluid changes, component replacements, or because of a brake fluid leak. Air compresses easier than brake fluid, which makes your brake pedal feel soft.
  • If your brake fluid is leaking, hydraulic pressure drops. The loss of that pressure can make the brakes feel spongy, and braking takes more effort. If the vehicle leaks out all the fluid, the brake function will be lost entirely.
  • Worn brake components like brake pads, rotors, shoes, or drums can cause excessive pedal travel, meaning you will have to apply more force onto the brake pedal for it to work.
  • Brake fluid contamination can cause the fluid to boil, leading to air in the system.
  • If the master cylinder is faulty, it may not be able to maintain the correct pressure, which makes the brakes feel soft.

Vibrations or pulses

Feeling vibration or pulsation when putting your foot on the brake may indicate warped brake rotors. The caliper pushes the brake pads against the rotor, and when it’s warped, the brake pads can’t keep even pressure applied to both sides, causing vibration.

Longer stopping distance

Longer stopping distances may happen slowly over time, but notice if it takes longer than usual for you to stop. Slow stops usually indicate an issue with a brake system component, but sometimes it means you need new brake fluid.
If your brake fluid is old or contaminated, it lowers the hydraulic pressure, requiring a lot more force to get the same braking performance.

Leaking brake fluid

If there is fluid near your wheels or under your vehicle, it could be brake fluid. Again, a leak means less hydraulic pressure, resulting in many of the issues mentioned.

Grinding noise

If you hear a grinding noise, it’s a severe problem. The backing plate is showing through because your brake pad has worn down. Once this happens, the backing plate comes into contact with the rotor, which emits a grinding noise.

Preventive maintenance

If these issues arise, take your car to a trained professional. Brake issues can be life-threatening. It’s essential to keep them maintained:
  • Every 2–3 years
  • Every 30,000 miles
  • If you experience any of the seven issues listed above
Automotive tech providing a brake service

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