Brake Seizure Tips and Advice

Do you feel as if your car is suddenly sluggish? Or does it feel like one of your wheels is dragging on the road? Does your car pull to one side as you move along? If you’re experiencing even at least one of these symptoms, then your car might have seized brakes.

Brake seizure is a common car problem, especially on older vehicles, that stems from a brake caliper failing to disengage the brake pads from the rotor. The results of course are what you would expect, the wheel with the seized brake will have trouble spinning because the brakes are engaged. In the worst-case scenario, your wheel will be stuck while the rest of the wheels are moving, dragging it along the road like an eraser on paper.

Rusty Brake Rotor

Seized brakes can occur due to various factors, including corrosion, lack of lubrication, stuck brake calipers, brake fluid contamination, worn brake components, and faulty brake parts. 

A brake seizure often occurs after you’ve left your car sitting for a while, rotor corrosion is not a problem as long as your car is moving and your brakes are being used. The same goes for slide pins and pistons which need lubrication, these components won’t get stuck unless you leave your car sitting and exposed to the elements. On cars equipped with drum brakes, the accumulation of water within the brake assembly can accelerate corrosion, eventually causing the internal components (i.e., the brake shoe, release mechanism, and return spring) to seize. 

Additionally, faults in brake components like the master cylinder, brake booster, or brake lines can lead to brake malfunction and potential seizing.

Car Wheel

As we mentioned earlier, with a seized brake caliper, you may feel as if your car is sluggish to accelerate, pull to one side of the road, or it may have the sensation of one wheel dragging on the road. In addition to those three, you might also hear grinding metal or smell burning as you drive.  

If you’re outside your car, you might also see brake fluid leaking from the calipers of the affected wheel or that the wheel feels extremely hot to the touch after a drive. In some cases, the car will not even move from where it’s parked. If these symptoms are not what’s causing the seizure, you might have to dig deeper into the brake system and check other components like the master cylinder, brake booster, or brake lines.

Short term fix

If you need to get to a place quickly, you can rock your car back and forth to get the brake pads unstuck from the rotor. You do this by driving forward and reverse in succession until the sensation that the brakes are gripping stops. We do have to remind you that this method only works if it's rotor corrosion that’s causing your brakes to seize, if the problem runs deeper into the brake system, this method will not help.

Professional Brake Service

Long term fix

The safest and surefire way to have your seized brakes fixed is to bring them to your dealer or a professional mechanic you trust and have them service your brakes for you and check for faults in the brake system. They will also make sure that components like the caliper slide pins, the caliper piston, the brake pads, and the rotors are in good working condition.

If you want to get your knuckles greasy and have some spare time on your hands, you can also try servicing the brakes on your car yourself. Do note that if you are inexperienced, you’ll need to be extremely careful and preferably have the supervision of an experienced mechanic guiding you.

New brake set

Now that you’ve fixed your seized brakes, how do you prevent it from happening again in the future?  

If you frequently drive your car, you shouldn’t have to worry about seized brakes if you adhere to your regular maintenance schedule. However, if you think that you’ll be leaving your car stationary for an extended period, such as a few weeks to a month, there are proactive steps you can take to lessen the risk of brake seizing. 

If you have a garage with a level driveway, you can use chocks or a “kalso” to keep your car in place without using the parking brake. If you have a manual car, you can also leave the shifter in 1st gear so you’ll only have to worry about it rolling forward. Needless to say, do not do this if your car is parked on the street or if you’re leaving it parked on a slope, though you might save your brakes from seizing up, you will spend a whole lot of cash for the person or other vehicle your car might hit if it rolls.

Car in storage

The second step you can take is simply driving the car for a few minutes around the block. Driving your vehicle around and using the brakes normally will clean rotor and brake pad corrosion build-up. Plus, it will also help circulate lubricants in the car’s system keeping it healthy.

Lastly, it’s also important to adhere to your car’s regular maintenance schedule. Regular maintenance will keep your car’s components, especially your brake system, in good condition.

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