Reasons Why You Hear a Clunk when Braking

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Do you have a new clunking noise coming from your car when you hit the brakes? Before you start looking for a quote on new brakes, you may want to check some other things. Chances that your brakes are what is clunking is one of the last things it is. 

There are a lot of things that clunk when they start to wear down. Your brakes can make a lot of noise, but clunking is not usually one of them. 

Common Clunking Parts

1. Suspension System

One of the most common, if not the most common, clunk comes from a vehicle’s suspension

Even if you only hear the clunk when pressing the brakes, your suspension could be the culprit. Your suspension is what keeps your braking smooth. Problems with your suspension can cause braking to be rough and hard to control. 

The problem now lies in what piece of your suspension is the culprit. There are a lot of moving parts in this department and they connect to each other in some way. 

2. Worn or Damaged Struts

Struts support the vehicle by keeping it stable, smoothing the ride, and control body roll. When these start to wear out they begin making a clunking noise. As they get worse you will notice more movement in the steering wheel and your vehicle bottoming out more. 

One way to diagnose worn struts is to put the vehicle on jacks. Using a flashlight, you can check the struts for dents, leaking oil, loose bolts, and bad bearing plate. Checking the tires for sideways movement can also be a helpful diagnosing option.

3. Control Arms

Keeping your suspension connected is what control arms are for. Steering vibrations and clunking are both very common signs of control arms wearing out. When in normal operation you may not hear any noises. With horizontal movements, like the body moving up and down while braking can reveal worn control arms. 

Diagnosing clunking control arms means jacking up the vehicle and looking at them and the bolts that hold the min place. Again, checking your tires for incorrect movement is part of finding a problem.

4. Ball Joints

Your car has a ball and socket joint very similar to the one in your hip. These ball joints are what allow a pivoting motion between your control arm and steering system. They are what makes proper up and down and side to side movements of your wheels. 

One of the first signs of worn ball joints is a clunking noise. Steering vibrations and wandering steering to the right and left are two other common signs. If ball joints are worn or damaged wheels can be moved incorrectly just by shaking it. 

To truly diagnose a bad ball joint, you need to find where it is, squeeze it with channel-lock pliers for any kind of movement. Next, make sure the castle nut and cotter pin are still in place.

5. Shock Absorbers

Shock absorbers are what control the movement, or spring, of your suspension. By doing this, your shock absorbers are what keeps your tires on the road instead of bouncing all over the place like a cartoon.

Bad shock absorbers make losing control of your car more of a possibility. Your car’s ability to stop will actually lessen and you will need more room to do it. The same way a semi-truck can’t stop on a dime, neither will you. Hydroplaning and losing control around corners are more problems caused by bad shock absorbers.

If you can see signs of cupping on your tire treads, then your shock absorbers are worn out and need to be replaced. Along with your tires.

Sway bar links are also known as stabilizer bar links and that is what they do. They are another piece of the suspensions that stabilizes and smoothes the ride of the car in all types of conditions. 

These links are attached to the body by way of the body mounts, which are also discussed a little later. 

The clunking heard from a bad sway bar link will actually come from the tire area. You will mostly notice the noise when going over speed bumps and around corners. This will cause your steering to be loose and will allow your car to sway back and forth a lot more. 

The best way to check for a bad sway bar is to do it when having your tires replaced. It can also be done anytime you have a service did that requires them to take your wheel off. 

Possible Clunking Brake Problems

1. Drum Brakes

A lot of cars have drum brakes, instead of disc brakes, on the rear end of a car. Drum brakes do not have calipers, rotors, or brake pads. Instead, they have a wheel cylinder that uses pistons to push brake shoes against the drum that is spinning, in turn stopping the wheel from turning. 

The way brake shoes ride on the surface is very similar to a record player needle riding on a record. If the surface isn’t smooth, the shoe can bounce back and hit the backing plate, causing a thump or clunking noise. 

Drums of drum brakes do need to be resurfaced every now and then, just like the rotors of disc brakes. 

Other Causes of Clunking Noises

1. Parking Brake Cable

A fairly common problem is a parking brake cable has come a little loose. This allows it to move within its bracket and make a rattling noise. It can also be bumping against any suspension part that it runs through. 

2. Loose Bolts

There are a lot of bolts holding your car together. Vibrations and other factors from driving down the road can cause them to come loose. So can someone not tightening them properly the last time apart was serviced. 

Bolts holding your caliper in place could be loose allowing the caliper to shift and move around. Your caliper is what holds the brake pads and then squeezes them when you engage the brakes. 

3. Body Mounts

Holding your body to the frame is your body mounts or body mount bushings. Bad body mounts cause the body of your car to sag, or not sit properly, putting it in a bad position or bind.

Visible signs of worn or bad body mounts are doors or fenders that don’t line up correctly with the rest of the body. Misaligned doors require a little, or a lot, more effort to open or close. The seals on doors and windows could become misaligned as well and let water leak where you really don’t want it to go. 

Water leaking into your car is how you end up with rust, which is a bad enough problem on its own. 

Common Brake Noises

1. Grinding

If you have started hearing a grinding noise when you hit your brakes, you may have missed earlier signs that they were needing some attention.

A grinding noise is a noise your brake will make when you have little to no brake pad left. Once you hit this point you are more than likely doing damage to the actual rotor. Once you start damaging the rotor, ensuring that your next mechanic bill isn’t going to be a cheap one. 

2. Squeaking

A squeak can be as simple as cheap pads that are often made with large metal flakes in the material. With metal in the pads and your rotors being metal, you get that fork being scraped across a plate sound. 

If you hear a squeak while moving down the road that seems to actually go away when you brake, then you are still in luck. You haven’t hit the point of no return, rather your brake indicator is rubbing your rotor. This means it is time to schedule your next service.

Conclusion

Cars have a lot of moving parts made with a lot of different materials. Even though your brakes do need regularly scheduled maintenance, one thing that you shouldn’t have is a clunking noise coming from them. 

The majority of clunking noises are signs that some part of your suspension is worn or damaged. Your suspension is just as important as your brakes since it allows you to keep control of your vehicle. Especially when braking. 

If you hear a clunking when you brake, take a minute and try to make sure it isn’t coming from something else. You may have to turn the radio down and drive around the block a time or two. If you notice the clunking when hitting bumps or turning, it is more than likely something in your suspension. 

This isn’t to say a clunking noise can’t be coming from your brakes. If you have drum brakes it is very possible. Otherwise, take a second and see how rough your car is riding before taking it to the shop for new brakes.

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