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What Causes Brakes to Overheat?

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Just like your laptop or cell phone, brakes can also overheat. The pressure applied to brake pads generates the friction needed to either slow down or to stop your car entirely, depending on how much force you apply to the brake pedal.

Whether you’re stopping every few feet in bumper-to-bumper traffic or merely coasting to a halt at a four-way stop—your brakes are working hard to generate friction. Where there’s friction, there’s heat. Overheated brakes can show themselves in a few different ways, through different sights, smells, and sensations.

What causes brakes to overheat?

  1. Water in the brake fluid reservoir. Over time, condensation can collect within the brake fluid reservoir. When the brake fluid heats up from use, the water boils into steam and reduces the effectiveness of the brakes. This can result in a soft or spongy feeling when you press down on the brake pedal. It could also be due to air in the brake lines, brake line damage, or low brake fluid.
  2. Smoking brakes (and they smell bad). Brake pads burned by aggressive driving might actually begin to release smoke as well as smell bad.
  3. Squealing brakes. Constant, excessive friction can generate so much heat that the brake pads become “glazed,” or smoother over, emitting a squealing sound when the brakes are applied.

Avoid overheating brakes by making smooth and steady driving your goal. Always leave enough distance between your car and other objects. If you are driving downhill, try engine braking–downshifting or letting up on the accelerator to slow down rather than going straight for the brake pedal. Give yourself plenty of room to slow down instead of having to slam the brakes.

As soon as you feel, smell, hear, or even suspect brake problems, slow down and find a safe place to pull over. While you are letting your brakes cool, call a brake repair shop. Then, use your best judgment to determine whether you’re able to drive to the shop or if you should call roadside assistance for towing.

Want to know more about what causes brakes to overheat? Contact our ASE Certified technicians at Auto & Fleet Mechanic for more information about brake repair and to schedule an appointment. Our auto shop proudly serves residents in Modesto, CA, and the surrounding area.

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