Do You Know What To Do If You Overheat Your Brakes?

Posted on: 30 March 2023

Did you know that your brakes are effectively an energy conversion device? Your brakes work by taking your car's kinetic energy (i.e., its movement) and converting it into heat energy through friction. Each time you stop, your brakes generate tremendous heat as they bring your car to a calm and controlled stop.

While manufacturers design braking systems to take this abuse, no material can withstand infinite heat. Heat dissipation is a key consideration for brake designers, but certain situations can create enough heat to overwhelm the rated design of your brakes. Unfortunately, overheating your brakes can have potentially severe and dangerous consequences.

Why Do Brakes Overheat?

Your brakes can overheat for a few different reasons, although an underlying failure in the braking system will likely be one of the most common causes. For example, a stuck calliper can leave your brake pads in constant contact with your rotors, producing excessive heat and brake dust. Installation mistakes can lead to similar problems, preventing your pads from retracting from your rotors.

Brakes can also overheat due to user error. Riding your brakes as you travel down a long and steep hill can potentially overwhelm the ability of the rotors to dissipate heat effectively. Towing is another common issue. The extra weight of a heavy load in your truck's bed or a trailer that's too heavy can strain your brakes, especially if you use them too often.

What Happens When Your Brakes Overheat?

Overheating can range from a relatively minor problem to one that may make your vehicle unsafe. You'll likely notice a strong, acrid smell as your brakes first begin to overheat. Burning brakes produce a fairly distinctive odour, which is hard to miss. If the brakes get hot enough, you may see visible smoke and can even boil your brake fluid, causing your brake pedal to feel soft and go to the floor.

Once you notice your brakes overheating, you should pull over safely as soon as you can. Continuing to drive your car may result in a total brake failure as the brake fluid heats up and loses its ability to provide hydraulic pressure. Driving on overheated brakes is also likely to cause more long-term damage to your braking system, potentially resulting in more expensive repairs.

How Should You Address Overheated Brakes?

Briefly overheating your brakes may not cause any damage, but longer periods of excessive heat will likely require repairs. Either way, you should have a qualified shop inspect your brakes immediately. At a minimum, you may need to replace burnt brake fluid. In many cases, you may also need new rotors or brake pads due to heat glazing.

Additionally, since overheating is sometimes due to an underlying problem, a proper inspection will help you determine if your brakes have an issue that makes overheating more likely. Remember that overheating can lead to brake failure, so it's important to repair any underlying issues and fix damage caused by the excessive heat.

For more information, contact a company such as Best Deal Auto.