How To Identify Brake Problems In A Car in 10 Ways

Brakes are one of the most crucial parts of your vehicle, ensuring that it stops promptly when needed. That’s why if it stops working in the middle of the driving, then it can scare the hell out of you because of all bad reasons. That’s why you need to identify brake problems before getting into it.

Recognizing common symptoms of brake issues can save you thousands of dollars in repair and avoid disastrous situations. It also guarantees that your car is in optimal condition, giving you peace of mind while driving. Here’s a guide on identifying brake problems in your car and what to do when you encounter them.

Here is How to Identify Brake Problems in A Car

Brake ProblemDescription
1. Brake Light OnUnusual noises like grinding, clicking, or thumping when applying the brakes, are often caused by worn brake pads, loose parts, or brake hardware issues.
2. Abnormal NoisesUnusual noises like grinding, clicking, or thumping when applying the brakes are often caused by worn brake pads, loose parts, or brake hardware issues.
3. Unusual VibrationsVibrations or pulsations felt in the brake pedal or steering wheel when braking, indicating warped brake rotors or unevenly worn brake pads.
4. Leaks and Spots on the GroundA spongy or soft brake pedal indicates air in the brake lines or a problem with the brake hydraulic system.
5. SpongelikeThe brake warning light on the dashboard indicates a potential problem with the brake system, such as low brake fluid or a malfunctioning sensor.
6. Burning SmellVisible leaks or spots on the ground where the vehicle is parked suggest a brake fluid or oil leak.
7. Brake Fluid LeakA burning odor comes from the brakes, often caused by overheating or dragging brake pads or rotors.
8. Squealing Noise When BrakingHigh-pitched squealing sound when applying the brakes, often caused by worn brake pads or glazed rotors.
9. Car Pulling to One Side When BrakingLeaking brake fluid can indicate a damaged brake line, caliper, or master cylinder.
10. Electrical ProblemsIssues with the electrical system of the brakes, such as faulty wiring or sensor malfunction.

1. Brake Light On

When your car’s brake light is illuminated, it indicates that something may be wrong with your brakes. While the brake light can indicate a wide range of problems, some of the most common issues include a low brake fluid level, worn down brake pads, or a faulty anti-lock braking system (ABS).

If your brake light is on, start by checking your vehicle’s owner’s manual. It’s best to contact a qualified mechanic or service center if the light remains illuminated after you’ve checked your brake fluid and pad levels.

2. Abnormal Noises

Noise is among the most common indicators of something wrong with your brakes. It could be a sign of brake pad wear if you hear squealing, grinding, or clicking sounds when you apply the brakes. Other noises, such as hissing or grinding, could mean that your brake fluid is low or your brakes are overdue for servicing.

If you feel a vibration when you brake, this could also indicate something wrong. Vibrations can signal warped rotors or uneven brake pads.

Other signs that you need to have your brakes serviced include an illuminated brake warning light on the dashboard, a spongy feeling when applying the brakes, or if it takes longer than usual for the vehicle to come to a

3. Unusual Vibrations

Disc brakes are a popular option on most modern vehicles. They offer superior braking capability and performance but require more maintenance than traditional drum brakes.

A common problem with disc brake systems is warped rotors or damaged calipers, which can cause a shuddering feeling in the steering wheel when applying the brakes. Warped rotors can be caused by improper torque of the wheels, as well as debris and grime building up on the rotor’s hub.

To fix warped rotors, they must be machined down to compensate for any warping or drag that may occur while braking. This requires removing a thin layer from the surface of the rotor so it lies flat once again and fits back within usable specifications.

While this used to be the only way to fix warped discs, now replacement brakes are much easier and affordable for most car owners. Installing new disc rotors is labor-intensive; however, depending on the vehicle and suspension design, there may not be a noticeable difference in overall performance if an owner opts for older machined brakes.

4. Leaks and Spots on the Ground

Check your parking spot for any unusual fluid leaks or spots. If you see that there’s a puddle of reddish-brown liquid under your vehicle, it could be brake fluid leaking from a worn seal or gasket in the system. This is one of the most common signs of brake failure, so you should have your brakes serviced immediately.

In addition to checking for any signs of fluid leakage, you should inspect the brake pads and rotors for visible signs of wear. If you see that the brakes are too thin or smooth, then it may be time to replace them. You should also consider how your car stops when you press the brake pedal.

If it takes longer than usual to come to a stop or if it feels like it’s slipping, then you should have your brakes inspected.

5. Spongelike

When it comes to the safety of your vehicle, having a spongy or soft brake pedal is never a good sign. The most common cause of this is a problem in the braking system – either a leak has developed in one of the brake lines or pressure has been lost in the pressurized hydraulic fluid.

This pressure loss means your brake pedal will travel further toward the floor than normal when you press it, requiring you to pump it to achieve any effect. It’s also possible that activating the fluid in the master cylinder isn’t regulated properly, meaning your brakes can’t work as effectively as they should.

No matter the cause, if you experience a spongelike or soft brake pedal, it’s important to take action and have an experienced mechanic investigate and repair whatever the issue may be.

A faulty braking system can have serious consequences for yourself and other drivers on the road, so make sure to address any problems immediately for your safety and peace of mind.

6. Burning Smell

Your sense of smell can be a key indicator of car troubles. If you smell burning when you press your brakes or hold them for some time, this may point to an issue with your brakes that need to be addressed. You should immediately pull over so that the brakes have time to cool off, as continued use while they are too hot can cause more serious issues.

If there is a burning smell combined with smoke coming from the wheels, this could indicate a more serious problem. The car is likely no longer safe to drive, and you should call for assistance immediately.

You should not continue driving even if you do not see smoke, as it will only worsen the problem or cause damage to other components of the vehicle. It is best practice to get the brakes inspected by a professional as soon as possible whenever any burning smells are present while braking.

7. Brake Fluid Leak

A brake fluid leak can be an expensive and dangerous cause of repair. Without proper brake fluid, your car will not have the necessary hydraulic pressure to bring it to a safe stop. Drivers must regularly check their fluids to prevent such issues.

The first sign of brake fluid leakage is when you notice a light-yellow tinted liquid on the ground near where the tires meet the ground.

This usually indicates damage within the brake system and should be addressed immediately. Additionally, if the brown or old liquid is present, it may signify that the brake fluid needs to be replaced.

If this problem persists and there is an increase in wet spots near the wheels, it should be checked by a professional mechanic as soon as possible. You can also manually check your brake fluid by propping open the hood and unscrewing the cap located in the engine block.

Once done, top up any levels that might have depleted to ensure safe driving habits and protect your vehicle from further damage.

8. Squealing Noise When Braking

The squealing noise that occurs when you hit the brakes is usually a warning sign that your pad wear indicator is trying to tell you it’s time for brake maintenance.

Disc brakes and rear drum brakes both contain a pad wear indicator, which alerts drivers when the caliper pads or brake shoes need to be changed. This is typically done by releasing an unavoidable metallic squeal when braking.

Staying on top of regular brake maintenance is key to keeping your car running smoothly and avoiding more costly damage in the future.

While it can sometimes be tempting to ignore this unwanted noise, replacing the pads every time your car is serviced is important so further damage won’t occur to the calipers and cylinders. Staying up-to-date with regular brake maintenance will keep your car running safely and efficiently for years.

9. Car Pulling to One Side When Braking

A pulling sensation to one side when braking is a worrying sign, as it means you have an issue with the brakes. The most likely culprit is a faulty brake caliper or brake hose, which has caused uneven pressure on one side. This can cause serious safety issues, such as difficulty controlling the vehicle, making it difficult to maintain a straight line during braking or driving.

If you experience this feeling while driving, getting your car to a local mechanic or specialist is essential as soon as possible. A professional will be able to assess the condition of your braking system, diagnose the exact issue, and make any necessary repairs quickly and safely.

It is important not to attempt repairs unless you are confident that you know what you are doing; do-it-yourself repairs can be risky and may worsen the problem instead of solving it.

10. Electrical Problems

When the ABS light turns on in your car’s dashboard, something isn’t quite right with the vehicle’s Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS). The ABS helps prevent your brakes from locking up when you suddenly and harshly slam on them.

This pulsing of the brake system allows for much better control if you encounter an emergency braking situation. Because of this, it’s important to fix any issues with the system promptly.

Without functioning ABS, your brakes could lock up when slammed on. This can cause dangerous skids that could lead to an accident. Often diagnosing and fixing a problem with the ABS is not difficult, but it potentially requires specialized tools or expertise depending on the exact problem.

It’s generally a good idea to take your car to a technician with experience with auto electrical systems to ensure they have access to all the necessary tools and information to diagnose and fix the issue correctly.

Frequently Asked Questions [FAQs]

1. What Is The Best Way To Check Brakes?

The best way to check brakes is to perform a visual inspection. Look at the condition of the brake pads, calipers, hoses, and rotors. Check for any visible wear or damage, such as rotor cracks, brake pad surface rust, or a hose bulge.

2. What Are The Warning Signs Of Brake Problems?

One of the most common warning signs of brake problems is a squealing or grinding noise that occurs when you press the brake pedal. This usually indicates that your pad wear indicator tells you it’s time for brake maintenance and should be addressed as soon as possible.

Other warning signs include a pulsing feeling in the pedal, a vehicle pulling to one side when braking, or an illuminated ABS light on the dashboard.

3. Are There Any Other Signs To Look Out For?

Yes, there are other signs to look out for regarding brake problems. If you experience a soft or spongy feeling when pressing the pedal, this could be due to an air leak in the braking system or low brake fluid levels.

A strong smell of burning is also indicative of a problem, as it usually means the brake pads have overheated. It is important to address any of these signs as soon as possible to ensure safe braking performance and avoid costly repairs down the line.

4. How Long Should Brake Pads Last?

The lifespan of brake pads is typically between 30,000 and 70,000 miles, with some lasting up to 100,000 miles. This range is influenced by various factors, such as the type and composition of the brake pads and their attachment to different brake systems and rotors.

5. Should You Replace All 4 Brake Pads At Once?

Replacing worn brake pads individually may seem like a cost-effective solution, but it can pose a risk in the long term. Replacing all four pads together is recommended for optimal vehicle performance and safety. Regular brake maintenance is crucial to ensure safe driving.


It’s important to be aware of the warning signs of car brake problems and address them immediately. Visual inspections, brake tests, and regular maintenance should all form part of a comprehensive approach to keeping your brakes in top condition. If you experience any brake issues, take your car to a qualified technician for inspection and repair. Doing so will help ensure you and your family enjoy safe, reliable driving.

John D. Archer

John D. Archer is a mechanical engineer and writer based on the area of automotive accessories at, A resident expert and professional, John is passionate about all things automotive and loves to share his knowledge. He has good experience in all kind of automotive accessories. He has worked as a chief mechanical engineer in some reputed automotive garage firm.