Brakes Locking Up In Reverse? 4 Causes, 4 Fixes


Frustrated by your brakes locking up in reverse? Brakes are designed to slow and stop your wheels, but only when you engage them with the brake pedal. So, brakes that lock up even when you’re not intending them to are a clear-cut sign of a problem.

But what would cause them to lock up only when backing up?

When your brakes lock up in reverse, you need remove your wheels and inspect each brake closely. You’ll likely find over-extended brake caliper pins, damaged brake rotors or broken brake pads. The same problem can also occur if one or more caliper bolts break or come loose. When any of the above happens, they can lock the brake rotor and prevent the wheel from moving. 

Don’t worry if your brakes are locking up in reverse and you don’t know what to do. This guide will tell you everything you need to know, starting with the most likely causes and how to fix each of them quickly.

Why Are My Brakes Locking Up In Reverse?

Experiencing your brakes locking up when going in reverse can be pretty confusing. However, there are several logical explanations for it, each with solutions you can use to resolve the issue quickly.

Here’s why your brakes are locking up in reverse and what you can do to fix it:

1. Over-Extended Brake Calliper Pistons

The first thing you must do when your brakes lock up in reverse is to check for over-extended brake caliper pistons.

That piston has a very specific purpose. When you step down on the brake pedal, the brake system extends that piston to press the brake pad against the rotor. That will generate the friction that slows your wheel down.

However, if the brake pads are extremely worn-out, the piston will continue to move until it over-extends itself. When that happens, the piston will stay extended because it cannot return to its original position.

As a result, the brake will remain locked even when you reverse the vehicle.

How to fix it: Firstly, you’ll have to manually push the brake caliper piston back to its original position because it can’t do that itself.

But remember that the root cause here is the excessively worn-out brake pads. You must replace the brake pads with new ones to ensure that your calipers do not over-extend again.

You can also prevent this problem from happening again by replacing your brake pads regularly. Those pads typically last for 30,000-50,000 miles.

worn brake pad with rotor

Read: What Causes Brake Squeal While Driving?

2. Damaged Brake Rotors

Another reason your brakes are locking up in reverse is that your brake rotors are damaged. This is also another problem that happens because your brake pads have become excessively worn out.

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The brake rotor attaches directly to your wheel and turns along with it. So when you want to slow down, the brake pads pinch the rotor to generate friction and slow the wheel down with it.

However, worn-out brake pads will no longer have any material to press against the brake rotor. Instead, the metal backplate starts grinding against the rotor, causing the rotor’s smooth surface to become rough.

The longer that continues, the more it’ll cause a deep lip to form on the rotor’s outer diameter.

Of course, that is extremely damaging to your brake rotors. But more than that, it will also cause your brakes to lock up when you put the vehicle into reverse.

How to fix it: You can tell that worn-out brake pads are the root cause of this problem. So, you must first replace those pads with new ones and remember to do it again before they wear out in the future.

But don’t forget that the brake rotors have already suffered extensive damage.

You can resurface your brake rotors if the damage is only superficial. However, if the damage is extensive enough to cause your brakes to lock up in reverse, you must then replace them with new ones.

broken rotor can cause brakes locking up in reverse

Given how critical the brake system is to your car’s overall safety, this is not a repair you want to skimp on. A replacement is always the best option if you can afford it.

Read: What Happens When Brakes Overheat?

3. Broken Brake Pad

One or more broken brake pads can also cause your brakes to lock up in reverse, even if you can drive forward without any problems.

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A brake pad consists of a metal backing plate to which the pad materials are attached. The pad materials will gradually wear out with extended use until nothing is left but the backing plate.

Ideally, brake pads must be replaced long before the backing plate becomes exposed.

Although this doesn’t happen often, a part of the metal backing plate can break and move freely. Putting your wheels in reverse can cause that broken part to jam against the rotor and prevent the entire wheel from moving.

How to fix it: Needless to say, you must replace the broken brake pads with new ones. There is no way around that.

However, you must also inspect the wheel carefully to remove all broken pieces stuck around the rotor. Never assume that the broken pieces have fallen to the ground, as some might still be stuck where you can’t see them clearly.

Lastly, you must also inspect your brake rotor and surrounding components for any signs of damage. Unfortunately, the jammed pieces you removed might have been scraping or grinding against other components, causing extensive damage.

By performing a thorough inspection, you can catch any other problems while they’re still minor. Not only will that keep your car safe on the road, but it’ll also save you money by preventing more extensive repairs later.

Read: 4 Signs Of Warped Brake Rotors (With Pictures)

4. Brake Calliper Bolt

brake caliper bolt

Lastly, your brakes can also lock up in reverse due to one or more broken caliper bolts. As the name suggests, these bolts are responsible for securing your brake calipers in place.

However, suppose they aren’t torqued enough or have come loose due to excessive vibrations. In that case, the loose bolt will allow the caliper to turn upwards and hit the wheel’s inside. That can also happen if the bolts were to break for some reason.

When that’s the case, the reversing motion of the wheel can cause that loose caliper to jam and lock the wheel, preventing it from moving at all.

How to fix it: You can fix this problem by replacing the brake caliper bolts together as a complete set. That means replacing the broken or loosened one and the others together. 

Doing so will ensure that all your caliper bolts are in excellent condition and will wear out at the same rate.

Again, it’s always important to inspect your braking system to ensure that no other components are affected by this problem. A broken or loose bolt could cause damage to its surrounding parts, so it’s best to perform any additional repairs together.

Read: Brake Pads vs Brake Rotors – What Are The Differences?

Final Thoughts: Brakes Locking Up In Reverse

Brakes should only lock your wheels when you engage them with the brake pedal. So, you clearly have a problem when your brakes lock up on their own, especially if it only happens in reverse. Your brakes are locking up due to an over-extended brake caliper piston, damaged rotors, broken brake pads, or a broken caliper bolt. When you troubleshoot these components, be sure to inspect surrounding parts for any damage as well.

Read: Bad Brake Booster (Signs & Causes & Fixes)

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