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What Happens When Brakes Overheat?

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What Happens When Brakes Overheat?

A car’s brake system is a critical component in its overall safety. Brakes generate friction to slow the vehicle down, naturally generating heat. Of course, a little heat is normal, but what happens when there’s too much, and the brakes overheat?

You’ll first notice it in the brake pedal when your vehicle brakes overheat. The pedal sinks deeper than usual when you press down on it, and it’ll remain soft when you release it. Besides that, the brakes will squeal loudly when they get too hot, and the excessive heat and friction will generate smoke from the affected wheel.

Overheating brakes are a hazard to you and other road users. So, you’ll want to read through this guide to understand what happens when the brakes generate too much heat. You’ll also discover why this problem occurs and how you can fix it.

How Do You Know If Your Brakes Are Overheating?

When sitting in your car, it can be challenging to know whether or not your brakes are overheating. That’s because your brakes are located at each wheel, visible only to people outside the vehicle.

Still, there are symptoms you will notice when your brake starts to overheat. Knowing and understanding those symptoms will help you troubleshoot the issue more effectively.

Here’s what will happen when your brakes overheat:

  • Brake pedal sinks more than usual: When your brakes start to get hotter than usual, you’ll notice the brake pedal sinking lower than normal. That’s because various brake parts get softer due to the excess heat and don’t provide the same resistance when pressure is applied.
  • Brake pedal feels soft when letting go: Normally, your brake pedal will come right back up when you let go of it. However, that’s not the case when your brakes are overheating. Instead, the brake will softly rise to its original position when you depress it.
  • Squealing noises: Like other car parts that overheat, noises are another clear symptom. The overheating brake will cause squealing noises that get loud enough for you to hear inside the vehicle cabin.
  • Smoke coming out from brakes: Wherever there’s heat, something ends up getting burned. That’s why you’ll notice smoke coming out from your wheels. More specifically, that smoke comes from the vehicle’s brake system.

Learn to notice these signs to stop the car and check your brakes quickly. You’ll find that the brakes were overheating for several reasons, which you’ll dive deeper into below.

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

Why Do Brakes Overheat?

Braking systems function by creating friction that slows your vehicle wheels down. Heat is a natural byproduct of that friction, so manufacturers design their brakes to dissipate as much heat as possible.

Still, you’ll find that brakes can overheat due to human error and component failure.

Here are the reasons your brakes are overheating and how to fix them:

Aggressive Or High-Speed Braking

First, your brakes are overheating because you’re driving aggressively and at high speeds. Those driving behaviors don’t just involve a lot of accelerating, but they also include a lot of forceful braking.

Doing that for an extended period will cause your brakes to become much hotter than they can manage. As a result, they’ll overheat and demonstrate one or more of the symptoms listed in the previous section.

How to fix it: Aggressive and high-speed braking are human driving behaviors, which means you can fix them by changing how you drive. For example, a smoother driving pattern with gentle acceleration and braking will help brake components avoid overheating.

However, you might want to rethink your brakes if you’re using the car to race, go off-road, or otherwise use it in challenging applications.

Stock brakes can’t cope with regular high-speed and forceful braking. That’s why you should invest in a heavy-duty brake system that can dissipate heat more effectively. Those systems will have no problems preventing overheating.

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

Wrongly Installed Brake Pads

Human error can also cause overheating brakes by installing brake pads incorrectly. 

One of the most dramatic examples of this problem is when someone installs their brake pads the wrong way around, forcing the backing plate to grind against the brake rotor.

That metal-on-metal contact will quickly lead to overheating, the squealing sound you read about in the previous section, and of course, smoke coming from the brake system.

How to fix it: Firstly, you must remove the brake pads and inspect them to ensure they’re free from extensive damage. If the problem was only going on for a short period, you can use the same brake pads but reinstall them correctly.

However, if the problem has been going on for an extended period, you must consider replacing the brake pad.

Inspect the brake rotor’s condition, as it might have also been damaged.

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

Jammed Brake Caliper Pins

Brake caliper pins can also play a role in brake overheating. Each brake caliper can have 2 or more pins that extend to push the brake pad against the rotor. That happens when you press down on the brake pedal inside the vehicle.

However, those caliper pins can get stuck and keep part of the brake pad touching the rotor even when you’re not using the brake.

As a result, the brake pad continuously grinds against the rotor leading to overheating and the many symptoms described in the previous section.

How to fix it: Thankfully, there are a variety of solutions you can try to fix jammed brake caliper pins. Cleaning and lubricating them should be your first solution.

However, be wary of extensive rust, as replacing the pins at that point would be safer.

Read: Warped Brake Rotors (Signs & Causes & Fixes)

Sticking Brakes

The most severe cause of brake overheating is when the brakes get stuck. Earlier, you read about a stuck piston that only keeps one part of the brake pad stuck. However, components can fail and continuously press the whole pad against the rotor.

That typically happens due to rusty brake calipers, stuck parking brake cables, broken brake hoses, or even dirty brake fluid.

Whatever the root cause is, it prevents the brake pad from releasing from the rotor. Instead, it stays permanently engaged with no chance of cooling down and therefore overheats.

How to fix it: Firstly, this problem requires a thorough inspection to find the root cause. After that, the solution could be as simple as replacing the dirty brake fluid with fresh fluid instead.

But suppose you find rusty brake components, whether that’s the calipers, the pins, or anything else. In that case, the best solution is always to replace them with new parts.

Remember: the brake system is critical to your safety and everyone else on the road. So, this is one component you do not want to skimp out on regarding repairs and parts replacements.

Read: Resurfacing vs Replacing Brake Rotors

Final Thoughts

Overheating brakes will cause many different symptoms you can smell, hear, and feel. For instance, when you press on it, you’ll find that the brake pedal sinks much deeper than usual. On top of that, the brake pedal will remain soft when you release it.

Other symptoms of brake overheating include squeaking noises and smoke coming from the wheel.

Generally, overheating occurs due to aggressive and high-speed braking, wrongly-installed brake parts, or components that keep the brake engaged even when you’re not using it.

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