From strange noises to odd vibrations, many things can be unsettling to us when we’re driving our car, and especially when we’re driving it at speed or when we have to brake. If you’ve ever noticed that your car shakes when braking and have wondered why that happens, then today’s blog is certainly for you.
Car vibrations come in various forms. You might sense them through the gear shift, or through the steering wheel, or even through your seat. Today, we’re focused primarily on the shaking you might experience when you’re pressing the brake pedal down.
Short Answer - Why Does My Car Shake When Braking?
The simple answer to this question is that there is something wrong with the brakes system. All of the following can contribute to the kinds of shaking and vibrations that you sense when you press on the brake pedal:
- Brake rotors
- Brake pads
- Sticking brake calipers
- …or possibly something else like the alignment or suspension
Below we’ll look in a bit more detail at each of these factors and what they contribute to the shaking effect:
1. Car Shakes When Braking: Your Brake Rotors Are Uneven
No matter how well you protect your brake rotors in the short term by changing the brake pads on time, they will still warp over time. The reason for this is that the natural by-product of braking is a great amount of heat from all that friction.
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This force gradually creates wear on the surface of your brake rotors and because the wear on the surface Is uneven, the natural result is warping, where the surface loses its even flat qualities and becomes imbalanced.
A warped brake rotor can technically still do its job because it can make contact with the brake pad, but it won’t make even contact and that will take away from your smooth braking experience.
Sometimes, it gets so “unsmooth” that the limited contact starts to produce vibrations that you feel in the car. If your car shakes when braking at high speeds, on the highway or freeway for example, then this is a likely scenario.
If you’ve looked after your brakes well and changed to quality brake pads on time, then the warping effects can be held off for quite a long time. Always invest in quality components when maintaining and fixing your brakes.
2. Your Brake Pads Need Changing
The more usual effect you get when you apply the brakes with worn brake pads is the production of the squeaking/squealing sound that you might associate with faulty brakes. In the worst cases, vibrations can also emanate from the brakes and be felt within the car
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With brake pads, it’s not always their wear and tear that’s of the biggest concern. Sometimes brake pads also get dirt, oil and other contaminants on them, which adversely affects the grip they have on the brake rotor. When the grip is faltering, so too will the braking and one of the results of that can be vibrations and shakes.
Listen out for the first signs that your brake pads are approaching their limit when it comes to pad thickness. That’s what the squeaking sound is for, it’s actually there by design. The vibrations, on the other hand, are not, and indicate instead that you’ve let things go too far.
3. The Brake Calipers Are Sticking
Just to be clear, brake calipers are the part of your braking system that presses the pads against the rotor. To do this, it relies on brake fluid in its lines that push the calipers while you are pressing on the brake pedal. As you might know, brake fluid has very good hydraulic pressure properties.
If the calipers are sticking, then they don’t press the pads against the rotors and the result of that is not only diminished braking ability, but also vibrations that you particularly feel through the steering wheel. If this is found to be the problem, then a mechanic will have to lubricate the slide pins, typically with lithium grease.
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It’s quite intricate work and involves some disassembly of the brake system. Therefore, it’s not the best task to be attempted at home even by the most enthusiastic amateur.
4. Alignment and Suspension
Ultimately, it might not actually be a direct component of your brakes that is causing the vibrations. Another cause is overall wheel alignment being off, which leads to excessive tire wear and even damage to suspension components in the worst cases.
Suspension components including tie rods, ball joints and wheel bearings, if damaged or naturally worn out over time, can have a direct negative impact on what happens while braking. This includes causing unwanted vibrations and shaking.
Getting your wheel alignment fixed up is the best way to deal with this. Under normal circumstances, a wheel alignment should be carried out on your car about once every two or three years. However, you should also do a wheel alignment --- or at least have the alignment checked --- after any collisions or accidents that you have experienced, even minor ones.
Why You Need to Get Brake Shudder Fixed Immediately
You might not initially think much of that shaking, especially if at the moment it’s still fairly minor. If the car shakes when braking at high speeds, however, it might cause fatal lapses in concentration, or even, if serious enough, to lose control of the vehicle to some degree. Therefore the first reason you should get brake-induced shaking fixed immediately is for you and your passengers’ safety.
Another reason to fix it is to avoid more costly repairs. As with most issues in your car, what starts small easily turns into a huge and expensive problem to fix if not addressed in a timely manner.
If you detect a small amount of shaking or juddering when applying the brakes, take your car to the auto shop and let a mechanic take a look. A small repair now will save bigger problems later on.
Summary: Fixing The Problem of Car Shaking When Braking
To summarize, the following solutions are the most common that mechanics will use to solve your car’s shaking while braking.
- New brake pads and possibly new brake rotors may be needed to solve the problem, depending on the exact cause.
- Conducting a proper wheel alignment
- Grease the brake calipers
- Replacement and repair of suspension components, e.g., tie rods, ball joints and wheel bearings
Of course, there could be other unique reasons why your car shakes when braking, but the above causes and mentioned solutions cover the vast majority of cases.
How Can You Avoid Brake Shuddering In the Future?
The first thing you can do is to always invest in the right brake components for your car. If you’ve undergone repairs or maintenance, and opted for cheaper options in an effort to save money, these cheaper components could actually be the main driving force behind your brake juddering.
Your brake pads, for example, can cause scorch marks to appear on the rotors if they are of a poor order of quality. If cheaper brake pads are damaging another component, then you’ve got a false economy, because you’ll end up spending more replacing those brake pads and also getting new rotors at the same time.
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Another key factor to avoiding your car shaking when braking is your driving style. If you are someone who likes to push the car hard from the get-go, accelerating fast and then waiting until the last moments to put on the brakes, then you’re putting undue strain on the brake components. Your brakes are already among the most wearable components in your whole car, so adding to that stress is never a good idea.
If you give yourself more distance and brake more lightly, then wear and tear on the brake pads and other components will be lessened and you can avoid getting to the point where your car is juddering when you brake. The many components in your braking and other systems work in a careful balance. If you drive too hard, you can upset that balance.
Finally, ensure you keep up with all maintenance on your car, and especially the brakes. Change them when they need to be changed, and have the brakes serviced at least every 25,000 miles and certainly no less frequently than every 50,000 miles.
Keeping the key components of your suspension in good order and ensuring that you have proper wheel alignment will also go a long way to ensuring that you don’t end up enduring any shaking when pressing the brake pedal.
Avoid short-term “savings” that you think you’ll make by skipping maintenance and get your car the repairs it needs when it needs them. Minor glitches quickly turn into major catastrophes when it comes to the mechanical workings of cars.
Conclusion: Look Out for the Signs
Similar to strange smells and weird noises, unexpected vibrations through the gear shift, brake pedal or steering wheel are always indicative of something wrong with the vehicle. Don’t panic, though, because it’s not always as serious as you imagine.
The good news is that shakes and vibrations are very noticeable because they are outside of our regular driving experience. This means we notice them very quickly.
When you do notice any shaking, regardless of how seemingly innocuous or minor it is, ensure that you book your car in for a service and get the problem fixed. A small problem with a small bill now is far better than a more complex and expensive problem to fix later.
Don’t forget also to invest in the right components. You can’t afford to cut back too much when it comes to brakes.