The leading symptoms of seized brakes

There are plenty of symptoms of seized, stuck, and bound brakes; here are a few of the top contenders.

  • The car pulls to one side
  • It feels like the brakes are on while driving
  • Grinding noises coming from the wheels
  • The car feels low on power
  • Fluid leaks from your brake calipers
  • Poor fuel economy
  • The car slows down quickly by itself
  • You have trouble setting off
  • Your car won’t move!
  • There’s a smell of burning
  • Smoke is coming from your wheels
  • Fire emitting from the wheel mechanism

However, the symptoms shown aren’t always related to a seized caliper. There are plenty of moving parts in your car’s brakes, and any of them can cause the failure to function.

What are the leading causes of brakes seizing?

  1. Inactivity
  2. Corrosion
  3. Penetration by dirt and debris causes the pads to stick to the disc
  4. Skewed brake pads
  5. The handbrake cable or mechanism jams or hangs up
  6. Water absorbed into the brake fluid can cause corrosion
  7. The caliper piston boot cracks or hardens, allowing water in and corrosion to take place
  8. The slide pin can seize on single pin calipers
  9. Slide pin seizure, causing pads to press the disc from a single side instead of clamping from both
  10. Lack of lubrication

The key reason for most brake seizures is corrosion and inactivity. Although, yes, sometimes a spring, bolt, or other parts will give out, there could be some kind of movement in the brake pads, or something that shouldn’t be in there (think grit and gravel) will infiltrate the system to jam up those parts and seize your brakes.

Given the temperatures your brakes work under—under such friction—the continual pressure from a jammed or seized caliper results in extreme temperatures that can set any grease or other leaking flammable fluid alight—so don’t write off a brake fire either.

Corrosion leads to seizing

When a car has been inactive over lengthy periods, any moisture on its unprotected metal parts encourages rust and corrosion. On brake discs, corrosion can build reasonably quickly, especially on cars parked outside in wet and cold conditions.

It might take months for brakes to seize, but the work done by the damp atmosphere starts quite quickly. Have you ever felt your brakes pull or stick when you set off, even when your car has only been sitting for a week or two? Well, that’s the corrosion developing its hold on your brakes already.

Most of the time, regular use of your brake pads, rubbing against the discs, stops corrosion from developing. Look through your wheels, and you’ll usually see shiny metal rings around each disc where the braking takes place, along the edges of each disc, maybe not so much. That part of the disc could show the signs you’d expect from being sat outside for most of its life.

Hand brake cables and rear brake calipers

When the hand brake cable isn’t fully lubricated or allowed to dry out, it doesn’t always have the free movement it needs to release the rear brakes. Although this isn’t exactly a seized caliper, it can lead to being one and certainly manifests the same range of symptoms.

How do I release a seized brake caliper?

Unless you’re a seasoned DIY mechanic, you don’t—your garage does. Sometimes, the problem is easily rectified with a little lubrication applied to cables and mechanisms; other times, it will be more severe and complicated to resolve.

When it comes to a car’s brakes, we’d suggest leaving all the work to a professional. Safety should be the number one concern for all drivers, and when it comes to stopping your car, it’s one of the most important parts of road safety for drivers.

However, if you’re a competent home mechanic and fancy the job, you’ll need a selection of specialist tools, wheel jacks, lubricants, brake fluid and bleed tools, and possibly new replacement parts.

The first step is removing the wheel and carrying out a visual inspection. Then, see what happens when the brake pedal is operated. If the discs and pads have stuck together, removing and cleaning them and possibly resurfacing them could be all it takes to get things back to the best health. In other cases, they might need removing, repairing, or replacing completely.

Can you drive with a seized brake caliper?

No. The longer the brake pads continue to grind against the brake discs, the more wear they’ll suffer. Eventually, when the brake pad material has ground away completely, the base material will start to dig into the brake disc, causing far more severe damage.

That’s if your wheels haven’t caught fire by then!

Even without a fire breaking out, the heat generated under the constant friction can warp or damage other parts of the brakes or wheel hub. So, as you can see, driving with seized calipers is hard no.

Repair or replace? How to rectify your seized brakes

If you’re lucky, those pesky brake problems will have been spotted before they got too serious, either during a routine inspection or at your annual service.

However, if they’ve stuck fast and need sorting immediately, the decision as to whether they can be repaired or they need replacing (or a selection of components will) is a decision for a qualified mechanic.

Fixter can help with all your brake issues, from caliper replacement to a brake fluid flush. We’ll even carry out a free, no-obligation brakes check to put your mind at ease whenever you have any doubts about your braking safety.


About Fixter

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