Is It Safe to Drive with Grinding Brakes?

Everyone has heard the squealing sound of their brakes and thought to themselves, “oh, no.” Grinding brakes are often an early sign of trouble for not only your vehicle but also your bank account. With the impending doom of what the repair will cost, you might wonder if you can just leave the brakes as they are for now. But this can spell greater doom in more ways than one.

Driving with grinding breaks is not safe, nor a good idea. Brakes are a vital component of safe driving. Even the smallest of problems can lead to big consequences. While your car might continue to run and appear fine on the surface, any form of brake malfunction can still cause an accident.

Often, early brake grinding is caused by something minor and easy to fix, such as a worn-out or dirty brake pad, obstruction by a rock or a stick, or even something as simple as cold weather. But Continuing to drive on bad or failing brakes is risky and can lead to even more problems later. You could develop actual damage to your braking system, such as your rotors or calipers, which will pose a more significant threat.

Don’t wait to get your brakes checked or repaired. At the first sign of a problem, troubleshoot and/or seek assistance from professionals. It is important to get ahead of the problem and prioritize safety.

Is It Safe to Drive with Grinding Brakes?

Many drivers experience grinding brakes. At face value, they pose no real threat. However, grinding brakes often point to larger issues or are an early sign of issues to come. Regardless, even the smallest of problems can prevent your vehicle from stopping and cause a major accident.

What Do Grinding Brakes Mean for Vehicle Health?

There are several common causes for grinding brakes of varying degrees of severity and getting to the root of the problem is important. Whether big or small, professional or unprofessional, it is best to know what is going on with your vehicle.

1. Your Vehicle Has Been Stagnant for Too Long:

If you haven’t driven your vehicle in a while, there is a good chance parts of your car have begun to rust. This is especially true if it has been kept outside. Brakes, being metal, are a potential risk for rust. If there is any rust on your brakes, it can cause a grinding sound when you press down on them.

If your brakes have rust under the brake pads, simply driving will quickly remove the rust. However, if the problem persists and the vehicle has not been used for many months, you may need to take it to a shop to make sure the rust has not spread throughout the brake system.

2. Cold Weather:

Cold weather can cause your brakes to ice over if the temperature is below freezing. The ice can create a grinding sound and cause issues with braking.

In this case, the fix is very simple. All you need to do is wait for the ice to melt before driving.

3. The Brake Pads Are Worn-Out:

Worn-out brake pads are one of the most common causes of grinding or squealing brakes. Brake pad wear happens over time as you use your brakes. When you use your brakes, the pads are pressed against your rotors by your calipers to stop the car from moving. The pads prevent the metal rotors and calipers from grinding against each other, and when they begin to deteriorate there is nothing to block the grinding.

Worn-out brake pads can lead to difficulty stopping and pose a major threat to the health of the rest of the brake system. If you hear your brakes grinding, it is important to go to a shop quickly and have them replaced. This will reduce safety risks and the chance of further damage.

4. The Brake Pads Are Dirty:

Sometimes grinding brakes are simply caused by a little extra dirt, grime, or metal particles getting into your brakes. If you hear grinding but do not experience any difficulty breaking, it might be as simple as needing to give your brakes a good clean.

In some cases, dirt can cause issues with braking by building up on the pads. This is much less common than with worn brake pads. Still, you will want to take care of the problem, as leaving your brakes dirty can lead to other more complex issues.

5. Not Enough Lubrication

Lack of lubrication may be another cause of brake grinding. Making sure your caliper bolts are lubricated is an essential and often underestimated component of brake health. Any part of the vehicle that moves consistently needs to remain properly lubricated to avoid grinding and damage. More importantly, if your bolts are not properly greased it could result in your brake system seizing and failure to stop.

The solution is simple; take your car in to have the bolts lubricated. In extreme cases, the bolts may need to be replaced.

6. Obstruction of Brakes:

If the grinding is accompanied by a scraping sound, the issue is probably due to a foreign object, such as a rock, that is stuck between a brake pad and a rotor. Once the object is removed, the grinding should stop.

Rocks especially can cause damage, so you will want to check the pads and rotors. If grinding and scraping have been occurring for some time they may need to be replaced.

7. Damaged Rotors:

If your brakes are squealing, scraping, or grinding it make be a sign of something more serious, such as damage to the brake system itself. One of the possibilities is damaged or ground down rotors.

Rotor damage occurs when your brake pads begin to wear down and the calipers and rotors begin to grind on each other. As rotors wear, they begin to have unnatural pockets and holes or become entirely smooth. Pockets or holes will cause snagging on the brake pads, and overly smooth rotors will prevent the rotors from catching the pads at all. Both cases lead to issues with stopping the vehicle.

Once it gets to this level, you will need to see a mechanic immediately and have your rotors replaced. Driving on bad rotors can pose serious threats to safety, as the chance of brake failure increases.

8. Bad Calipers:

Bad calipers pose another serious issue for the brake system and drivers. Often, if the issue is your calipers, the brakes will not grind when being used. Instead, grinding or squealing will occur while in motion, when brakes aren’t in use. This makes determining the issue a bit trickier, as it doesn’t particularly present as a brake issue.

Caliper damage can come from several sources. If the seals of the pistons break or are damaged, the caliper will not be able to properly position the pad against the rotor to stop the vehicle. Additionally, an issue with your hydraulics or brake fluid could cause the pistons to malfunction entirely, and your brake pads won’t be placed against the rotors at all.

If your calipers are not functioning properly, you may have difficulty stopping your vehicle, leading to accidents. It is important to examine not only grinding and squealing directly related to braking, but also any generally, as it could be a sign of your calipers going bad. If you have reason to suspect caliper damage, immediately seek professional assistance, and fix your vehicle.

Why You Shouldn’t Drive with Grinding Brakes

While many of the issues that cause grinding brakes are minor and can be easily fixed, this does not mean it is safe to drive. Even if the issue is as small as a little ice, it is vital to your safety that your vehicle’s brake system function properly.

If your brakes lock up or malfunction, you may total your vehicle: If your brakes are going bad, it can be difficult to know the severity of the damage. Large problems and small complications present in very similar ways. And, even if the problem is small, continuing to drive on grinding brakes can lead to an inability to stop your vehicle. A totaled vehicle is much more expensive than a brake fix.

Driving on bad brakes is a major risk to your own safety and the safety of others: If your brakes lock up due to a malfunction, you risk not only your vehicle, but also your own safety. Accidents can be dangerous and unpredictable. You don’t know if a brake malfunction will occur in your driveway, or on the highway. It is not worth putting off the inevitable to potentially cause harm to you or your loved ones.

The longer you wait the more problems arise: If a problem appears to be small and is not causing you any major issues, you may decide to wait for financial reasons or due to a busy schedule. Even if it begins small, waiting will only cause further damage to your vehicle, which will then lead to higher costs and a greater risk to your safety.

Tips for Taking Care of Your Brakes

Brake health is extremely important to a vehicle’s functionality. Here are some ways to keep your brakes in as good a condition as possible:

  • Take your car for regular maintenance checks
  • Don’t ride your brakes, i.e. leave your foot on the brake pedal
  • Regularly change your brake pads
  • Use high-quality brake pads, rotors, and brake fluid
  • Make sure to use your vehicle regularly
  • If possible, keep your vehicle in a garage to avoid weather-related and environmental wear
  • Drive carefully on rough terrain
  • Clean your car regularly, making sure to get under and around your tires
  • If a problem with squealing or grinding brakes arises, don’t wait and get it checked immediately

Frequently Asked Questions About Brakes and Brake Health

When it comes to vehicles, there are a lot of questions that can arise. We all want to be safe while driving, and brakes are a very integral part of that safety. Here are some common questions relating to brakes:

Why are my brakes grinding after I replaced my pads?

It is common for pads to squeal, squeak, or grind for a short time after being replaced. Brake pads are like a new pair of shoes and need to be broken in. New brake pads can be stiff, and it is important to give them time to settle in before panicking.

There is even a name for breaking in your brakes, “bedding.” There are some people who go as far as to use a formal technique of acceleration and deceleration in an area with low traffic. The idea is to practice slow stops first and eventually quick stops. This allows the brakes an opportunity to work.

Formally “bedding” your car is unnecessary, and you can simply drive the vehicle. The grinding should resolve quickly. If the grinding continues for a while after, there could be an issue with the quality of the pad or dirt left underneath it. It is also possible that there may be a deeper problem, such as a rotor issue.

How often do I need to change brake pads and other parts?

Brake pads damage over time with use and will need to be replaced based on mileage rather than time. The general recommendation is to replace them around every 20,000 miles. This can change depending on a few factors, such as whether you have a habit of leaving your foot on the brake pedal and riding your brakes, or if your suspension has an alignment issue. Riding your brakes puts added damage on the pads and an alignment issue will lead to quicker deterioration on one side.

Generally, other parts of your brake system won’t need to be replaced frequently, if at all, unless damaged. But it is recommended you replace rotors around 75,000 miles, depending on your make and model. If they are in good shape, it may not be necessary to replace them even at that point.

How much does it cost to fix brakes grinding?

The price will depend heavily on your vehicle make and model, as this will determine the difficulty of the job and the expense of the parts. Replacing brake pads costs around $100-300 for each pair, front or back.

To replace rotors, you will pay anywhere between $350-500, including parts and labor. Caliper issues can be extremely expensive, averaging around $130 per caliper, not counting labor fees.

You can get reduced rates for combining pad, rotor, and caliper, replacement. This allows the mechanic to do all at once while the car is already set up, reducing labor fees slightly. However, the expense can still easily reach the $1000s.

Can I just replace the brake pads if my brakes are grinding?

Replacing your brake pads is the first step for many people upon noticing grinding brakes. If you replace your old pads and continue to experience brake grinding and squealing, this hints to another issue that will need to be addressed. At that time, you will possibly need to replace other parts.

Assuming you are taking your car to a mechanic and are not doing this yourself, if there is a greater issue, the mechanic will probably catch all problems when they examine the vehicle to replace the pads. If they only replace the pads, then that is probably all that needs to be done.

How long can you drive on grinding brakes?

Ideally, you would get your vehicle examined immediately. If grinding is related to low levels of rust, icy weather, or small amounts of dirt, it will probably stop after a short while of driving.

Other than these easy fixes, if your brakes are grinding then you likely already have a significant issue at hand. Waiting will only spell more problems in terms of your own safety and increased cost. The longer you wait the worse it will get.

If you absolutely cannot get your car checked quickly and need to drive it, I suggest going no more than a week on grinding brakes. This is assuming you cannot get an appointment or have something else tying you up.

Wrap Up

Grinding brakes often hint at an issue with your vehicle’s braking system. Since brakes are an integral part of vehicle safety, this poses a major threat to that safety. Rather than waiting and risking an accident that could be life-threatening, it is best to address the problem right away.

As soon as you notice your brakes grinding, take your car into the shop for repairs. While it might seem expensive or be inconvenient, nothing is worth the risk to you or your loved ones.

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