What’s Causing Your Sticking Brakes?

Most people (rightfully) worry about failures that cause their brakes to work, but there's another problem at the opposite end of the scale. While catastrophic braking failures are relatively rare, sticky calipers are a more common problem. A sticking brake is exactly what it sounds like: one or more wheels that continue applying braking force even with your foot off the pedal.

While sticking brakes won't prevent your car from stopping, they can cause numerous other problems. In addition to destroying your brake pads, a sticking brake can damage your rotors, cause your car to pull to one side, and even affect your brake fluid. However, fixing the problem first requires you to understand why they're sticking in the first place.

Understanding Why Brakes Stick

Modern braking systems are relatively complex but work on pretty simple principles. When you press the brake pedal, your car's hydraulic braking fluid provides the force necessary to clamp your brake pads around the rotors on each wheel. This clamping action creates friction that bleeds off your car's kinetic energy. Releasing the pedal causes the fluid to flow away from the wheels and unclamp the pads.

Sticky brakes typically indicate a problem with the last part of this process. In these situations, the pads remain closed even when you take your foot off the pedal. If your sticky brake problem is limited to one wheel, there are usually only two culprits: the caliper and the brake hose. A faulty master cylinder can cause all four wheels to stick, but that's usually a much more obvious (and serious) problem.

Diagnosing a Sticking Brake

Unfortunately, diagnosing the underlying cause of sticking brakes can be tricky, so it's a job that you'll probably want to leave to a professional. The process involves inspecting both the caliper and the brake hose. The caliper uses a piston to compress your brakes, and damage to the piston or cylinder can cause it to bind, preventing it from smoothly retracting when you release the brake pedal.

Your brake hose can also cause your brake pads to bind up. While some brake hoses may degrade and leak, others will collapse internally. Problems with the internal liner on the brake hose may not be obvious from the outside, but they can prevent bidirectional hydraulic fluid flow. There may be sufficient hydraulic pressure to close your brake pads but not enough to allow them to release.

A faulty brake hose will always require replacement, but a faulty caliper is not necessarily beyond repair. It's sometimes possible to rebuild a failing caliper, allowing you to save some money on a replacement. However, having a skilled technician check and diagnose the problem is important to ensure you're repairing the correct part of your braking system and getting a permanent and reliable fix.

Contact a company like Fast Service Center to learn more.