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The Various Causes of Pulsating Brakes

Few things are as dreadful as hearing a squeaking or grinding sound, feeling the steering wheel shake, or the brake pedal pulse while applying the brakes in your car. Sure, everyone needs to change their brakes every once and awhile, but it’s not always the end of your brake’s expected lifetime when these symptoms start to show their faces. Knowing the various causes of brake pulsation can help you avoid the potentially costly problem and save you money by getting the most out of your brake system.

First things first, if you have an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and you’re feeling pulsation when you have to brake quickly, that’s normal. ABS’s automatically pulsate the brakes for you while braking hard to prevent them from locking up and causing the vehicle to slide into whatever you’re trying to avoid.

Unfortunately, one of the most common causes of vibrating, pulsating or grinding brakes is also the reason they sometimes seem to persist even after being “fixed”. Improperly-installed brakes, rotors, calipers, and even wheels can cause the problem to persist or even get worse. All that hardware is designed to have extremely narrow margins for error when installed and having your brake pads or rotors offset by just a fraction of an inch can cause serious damage and potential brake failure in your vehicle. For that reason, it’s extremely important that you use proper techniques when reinstalling these parts and your wheels after you have service done. Be sure you properly measure the clearance on all the parts you replace, clean away any debris from new parts before they’re installed, and consider using sandpaper to add a nondirectional rough finish to rotors you install for better braking friction. When you’re finishing up, use an accurate torque wrench, and remember that the nuts of your wheel should be torqued in a star pattern and in two-step increments. Avoid using lubricants while you measure the torque as it can lead to inaccurate readings and potentially over-tightened nuts. During the installation steps, it’s important that you thoroughly clean and remove rust from any parts you’re reusing to avoid excess friction and grinding, and make sure you use all new hardware every time you do service on your vehicle.

Another common cause for vibrating or pulsating brakes is heat spots on your rotors. The parts in your brake system are designed to operate within certain temperature conditions and exposing your car to excess heat due to extreme temperatures or friction from hard braking can actually damage your brake pads and rotors. When your rotors overheat, material from your brake pads can melt and glaze onto your rotors, and the friction forms uneven spots on the braking surface, known as heat spots. In minor cases this can cause shaking, noise, and vibration, while more serious cases can lead to increased braking speeds or even brake failure.

Whether it’s caused by heat, driving habits, normal wear-and-tear, or manufacturing error, imperfections in your parts can also cause brake pulsation. Checking that your rotor surface is flat and isn’t warped when you install it can save a lot of time and hassle later. As stated before, making sure to clean parts and use new hardware in installation ensures secure fits and helps to avoid unnecessary damage and grinding parts later on. Finally, ensuring your parts all have the proper alignment and clearance can go a long way in maintaining the health of your vehicle.

There are plenty of variables that can cause shaking, wobbling, noisy, or pulsating brakes in your car. By ensuring you use high-quality clean parts, new hardware, and properly align and install your brakes, rotors, calipers, and wheels you can significantly reduce the chances of encountering brake issues later on. Not only does this keep you safe behind the wheel, but it saves you valuable time and money down the road. If you’re looking for discounted new parts or tested pre-owned OEM brake pads, rotors, calipers, hub bearings, brake cleaners or even someone to do the service for you, Holbrook Auto Parts has everything you need to get back On the Move!

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4 thoughts on “The Various Causes of Pulsating Brakes

  1. Hi there! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone 4! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the outstanding work!

    1. So glad you find the information useful, have a great day!

  2. “Great information. Lucky me I discovered your website by accident (stumbleupon). I’ve book marked it for later!”

    1. Thank you!

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