Story and Photography by Jim Marotta

I think we can all agree that the braking system is the most important safety device on any vehicle. Since people place such a high value on their car's ability to slow and stop, it is smart to pay attention to brake issues.
Let's review the five most common brake complaints and how to resolve them.
1. Noise
Brake noise, or squealing, is the most obvious problem to drivers. Unwanted movement of brake components causes the noise. What's the solution? Keep brake components in place per factory specifications and properly prepare surfaces during service.
According to Chuck Kennedy, Bendix Technical Training Manager, "Today's brake systems are very sensitive to rust and corrosion and should receive a thorough cleaning in preparation for fresh lubricant, hardware, and friction material. Residual rust or corrosion left in critical areas can begin to cause brake issues almost immediately."
In addition to the normal inspections for binding, corrosion, lack of lubrication, and worn or damaged components, clean the caliper moving parts and retaining hardware. Clean pin bores with a round wire brush and cleaner to remove old lubricant and corrosion.
Caliper pins can cause binding. Clean the caliper moving parts and retention hardware of dirt, corrosion and rust. Clean pin bores with a round wire brush and cleaner to remove old lubricant and corrosion.
Pad abutments need to be clean and smooth, whether they are part of the caliper bracket or steering knuckle. If there are notches or grooves caused by pad movement, replace these parts. Damage like this can cause excessive pad movement that leads to noise and vibration.
It may be counterintuitive to clean a new or freshly machined rotor with soap, warm water, and a stiff brush, but this simple step removes fine metal particles from the surface and pores, which if left there, can embed in the friction material, causing brake noise.
Clean, inspect and adjust rear calipers or drum brake systems before the vehicle gets back on the road. If there are grooves on the backing plate shoe support pads, replace the backing plates. This prevents shoe chatter and improper brake shoe return, which leads to grabbing and premature shoe failure.
2. Pulsation
Pulsation is another issue that is obvious to the driver. Check for rotor lateral runout and thickness variations that point to pulsation issues. Do not forget to check the hubs. Hubs can be the culprit while the rotor shows the symptoms.
Checking for rotor thickness variations will help diagnose pulsation issues.
Use a polishing pad to clean as much rust as possible from the hub face and next to the studs. Leaving corrosion in these areas is one of the top causes of pulsation.
An often overlooked area is the wheel hub mounting pad. If there is rust or debris in this area, it can lead to rotor distortion and pulsation just as easily as if debris were left on the hub.
Another common cause of pulsation is uneven tightness of wheel lugs. Lighter components on today's vehicles can be easily distorted. Eliminate this issue by lightly seating and then torquing wheels to specification in two stages. On wheels with lug-centric hubs, rotate the wheel as the lugs are seated to help keep the wheel centered on the hub.
What do you do if all else fails and there is still pulsation? Check the tire and wheel assemblies for speed-dependent, loaded, radial force variations. A tire or wheel rim out-of-round or imbalanced can cause a pulsation similar to the pulsation caused by rotor problems.
3. Dust
When applying braking force, small amounts of material gradually abrade from the brake pads. This material, known as "brake dust," usually deposits on the braking system and the surrounding wheel.
The proper friction material choice can affect dusting. Different brake pad formulations create different amounts of dust, and some formulations, particularly metallic brake pads, create more dust than others. Ceramic brake pads contain significantly fewer metal particles, and therefore produce less abrasion of surrounding metal parts.
Rob Backode, Director of Product Management for Bosch Automotive Aftermarket Brake Components reports that "The number of complaints about brake dust is far, far fewer with more service shops installing ceramic-type brake pads."
Brake dust can be more than just a visual nuisance; it can badly damage the finish of most wheels if not washed off. Removing brake dust can eliminate other problems.
Some technicians tape off the brake shoes to prevent contamination during service.
4. Excessive Wear
Common complaints due to excessive wear are usually due to lack of maintenance, hard driving style, or vehicle usage characteristics. Brakes on one vehicle may last substantially longer if the owner drives it easy or takes more highway trips. If the owner overloads the vehicle, makes short, stop-and-go trips, or leaves one foot on the brake pedal while driving, the pads will have more wear and failures from the abuse.
Common complaints due to excessive wear are usually due to lack of maintenance, driving style, or the way the vehicle is being used.
Residual pressure trapped in the hydraulic system can lead to excessive wear and premature failure of friction materials. Quickly determine whether it is a mechanical or hydraulic issue by cracking a bleeder screw on a caliper that shows drag.  If fluid comes out and the caliper releases, then a component is restricting fluid return to the master cylinder reservoir. If no fluid escapes and the drag remains, then it is a mechanical issue within the caliper or slides.
Residual pressure trapped in the hydraulic system can cause excessive wear and premature failure of friction materials and surfaces.
5. Stopping Performance
Stopping performance is crucial for today's high performance vehicles and driving conditions. Poor performance can be related to a previous brake job that was done improperly, failing components, vehicle overloading, or installing the wrong type of friction material. Proper inspection, preparation, and break-in are the best ways to overcome these issues.
Pad burnishing or break-in is recommended by many original vehicle manufacturers, but not all. When recommended, a proper burnishing or break-in of the friction material and rotor surface will enhance brake performance, reduce noise, and give the best life possible for the pad materials installed. Burnishing works by mating the two surfaces together to allow proper heat dissipation. It also transfers a film from the friction material to the rotor surface that will enhance its performance.
Old Concerns, New Problems
While there are issues we no longer have to deal with on today's vehicles thanks to technological advancements, some changes create new challenges. Improvements in materials such as rubber and composites lengthen the service life of brake components. Modern, synthetic lubricants give more protection, last longer, withstand higher temperatures, and are compatible with rubber components.
Lubricants have improved in recent years, give more protection, last longer, sustain higher temperatures, and the synthetic compounds are compatible for use with rubber components.
The smaller components and lighter weight of the brake components and the vehicle itself drive many of the changes. Less mass increases the chance for noises to occur. Vehicle manufacturers use more anti-rattle clips and hardware to help control brake noise. Brake systems run at much higher temperatures, requiring improved lubricants.

Pulsation issues increased when rotors went from integral hub/rotor assemblies to over-the-stud mounted assemblies. Corrosion between the assembled hub, rotor, and wheel gives rise to runout and pulsation issues.

As vehicles continually change, we may leave some problems in the past, but we look for new tools, procedures, and information to solve issues on modern cars and trucks. Servicing modern vehicles is more exacting and detail-oriented. Leaving out important steps increases the chance for problems. Thorough inspection, diagnosis, and repair procedures are the best way to keep vehicles performing up to expectations.
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A muscle car enthusiast and drag racer, Jim Marotta is a freelance automotive writer with more than 20 years experience in the automotive industry.