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Brake Shudder: Why Your Car Vibrates When You Brake

You’re driving down the highway, air conditioning blasting in your face, and listening to your favorite radio station when suddenly you notice traffic has slowed down completely. You step on the brake pedal and you feel a vibration coming from the brake pedal or worse, through the steering wheel. You hold on tight to the steering wheel as you come to a stop. 

You’ve just experienced brake shudder, also known as brake judder. Brake shudder occurs due to difficulties within the disc brake system and if not addressed soon, could be dangerous.Brake Shudder - Car Vibrating When Braking

How Brake Shudder Occurs

Brake shudder is a vibration that is felt through the steering wheel, brake pedal, and suspension when the brakes are applied at high speeds. The vibrations can range from mild to violent. Brake shudder can be caused by a number of things including damaged rotors, malfunctioning calipers, or new brake pads that have not been properly broken in after replacement.

The source of where the shudder is felt can clue you in as to whether the front or rear brakes are to blame for the shudder. Steering wheel vibrations are often due to an issue with the front rotors while rear rotor troubles will cause vibrations that are felt in the brake pedal. 

Uneven Brake Rotors

Brake rotors become warped over time from the heat generated from the friction produced when braking. As the exterior of the rotors wear down they often wear down unevenly. Brake pads are made to come into complete contact with the rotors to produce a smooth braking experience. When rotors are unevenly worn, the brake pads only come into contact with the rotors in certain areas producing a vibration, usually when braking at highway speeds.

Poor Brake Pad Condition

Brake pads that are worn, damaged, or warped, may cause vibrations along with a squeaking sound that indicates brake pads require replacement. Similarly, brake pads that are soiled from dirt, oil, or other toxins can cause vibrations as they attempt to grasp the rotor.

Alignment or Suspension Issues

Vehicles that are out of alignment also produce a brake shudder when engaging the brake pedal. Poor wheel alignment can cause premature tire wear and damage to vital suspension components. Likewise, over time, suspension components including wheel bearings, tie rods, and ball joints may wear out due to normal wear and tear. When these components wear out, the braking experience can be affected. If the vibrations and shaking occurs with normal braking during a turn, your suspension system may be at fault.

How to Fix Brake Shudder

A knowledgeable technician should inspect your vehicle to let you know whether replacing brake pads, brake rotors, or having an alignment performed on your vehicle is recommended to eliminate shaking and vibrations when braking.

A new set of brake pads may be the easiest way to address your vehicle’s brake shudder. However, in some cases replacing your brake rotors or having them resurfaced will fix the brake shudder. If you’re replacing brake rotors, it is recommended you also consider replacing the brake pads as well.

Using old pads with new rotors results in undesirable driving conditions because worn areas of the brake pads won’t make the proper contact with the smooth surface of the new rotors.

How to Avoid Brake Shudder

It’s common for brakes to create intense heat from the friction created while stopping your vehicle. Over time, the heat created from friction causes damage to the braking system. However, excessive heat can also be caused by driving habits, overuse, or poor-quality brake components. 

Drivers that speed from light to light and brake suddenly can wear down brakes much faster than the average driver. Though brakes are engineered to withstand extreme temperatures and are able to cool down between uses, frequent use does not allow for the proper cooling to occur, eventually leading to a spongy brake pedal feeling known as brake fade. 

Brake fade decreases the pressure in the braking system which is vital in stopping your vehicle. Similarly, overuse of front brakes could create scorch marks on rotors, along with a rather unpleasant smell that cause permanent damage, requiring replacement.

Poor quality brake pads are made with less durable materials and are less tolerable of the heat created from friction which cause them to overheat. Lower quality brake pads may also cause scorch marks to develop on rotors.

Contact a Brake Professional

Brake shuddering is a signal that your braking or suspension system needs attention. Don’t ignore the warning signs and have your vehicle inspected right away. Brake judder makes handling your vehicle more difficult and may pose a danger to yourself or others if it worsens.