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Seized Brakes: Causes, prevention & what to do

If your car has been parked and stationary for a significant amount of time you may experience brake seizure. During the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns this has been a relatively common complaint of customers of Stratford Tyres.

We are here to provide some simple advice for how to avoid your brakes seizing and what to do if you find that they have seized. There are some steps you can take yourself to prevent this from happening but in the event that it does occur, there is not always a need to seek professional assistance.

What causes brakes to seize?

It is not uncommon for vehicles which have been inactive for a period of time to experience corrosion. Corrosion is the main reason for brake seizure, particularly for vehicles parked outside rather than under cover or in a garage. The brake discs can develop rust which can lead to the brake pads getting stuck to them or even them getting stuck to a calliper piston. Slider pins can also get stuck in the same way. Because brakes are exposed to the elements and experience a wide range of temperatures they are prone to corrosion. They are also elements which are rarely serviced or examined outside of brake pad replacements.

The multiple lockdowns have meant that many vehicles have been left inactive for long periods of time with the parking brake on which can also cause brakes to seize. The corrosion which can cause brakes to seize is an ever present issue but when vehicles are in regular use, the brake discs manage themselves by wearing away the corrosion.

How do you know your brakes have seized?

This may seem like it would be obvious but there may be indications of corrosion before full seizure is experienced. Full brake seizure would prevent your vehicle from moving in either direction or even rolling in neutral as the brakes do not release when the handbrake is removed. It is simple to identify this type of seizure due to the fact the car feels like the brakes are on when you try to drive. However, it is not always immediately apparent.

If the caliper slide pins are what is seizing, your vehicle may seemingly drive as normal but the braking ability will be reduced as the brake pads will only be pressed to the disc from the piston side. In these instances the brake pads will wear unevenly and you may experience your vehicle pulling to one side when applying the brakes.

You may also experience a feeling of low power when driving, this can be due to the piston being stuck on the caliper or the pad being stuck. This can also manifest as the car pulling to the side when the steering wheel is pointed straight and not applying the brake.

The final symptom to look out for is the tell-tale smell of overheating brakes, Seized brakes which are partially released can become incredibly hot through the friction caused by driving. In some instances, smoke can even be generated. Driving with a poorly binding brake can cause enough heat to start a fire and can be incredibly dangerous. Even in instances where fire does not result from the issue, significant damage to brake discs and connected components can occur.

It should be noted that with a little added awareness of the causes and indications of seized brakes, it is more common that brake seizure will be a minor issue to be identified and managed with basic maintenance. Should you have concerns about any of the above or symptoms of brake seizure persist, you should contact a professional to advise on actions to be taken and to ensure that the symptoms are not related to other malfunctions or issues.

What to do if your brakes have seized

Depending on the level of seizure, it is often the case that rocking the car can release the brakes. To do this safely, turn on your vehicle and drive forward and reverse in succession. You may find that your vehicle feels like the brakes are on and will not budge in either direction but persist with the motion and this should release the brakes. It may also help to apply and release the brakes multiple times to release them.

Once your vehicle is freed from the grips of the brakes, driving your vehicle should help clear the corrosion as the brake pads self clean to an extent whilst being used. You may find that if the brakes have been seized for a while, there may be a little corroded bubbling which can cause a raised patch on the brake pads. This may mean you experience a slight wobble when applying the breaks. Again this should resolve itself but if it persists you may need to book in for your brakes to be fully inspected and cleaned.

How to prevent brakes seizing

If you know your vehicle is likely to be stationary for some time (few weeks to a month) there are preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of your brakes seizing.

If your vehicle is parked in a private area or a garage which is flat, you could leave the vehicle in 1st gear with the handbrake off. You can take extra measures such as placing chocks at the wheels to prevent any rolling should you wish. This method should not be used if your vehicle is parked somewhere public like on-street parking as any impact from passing vehicles could cause your vehicle to roll and cause damage or injury. Equally, this approach is unsuitable if your vehicle is parked on a slope, even with the additional use of chocks

It is recommended that you move your vehicle backwards and forwards once a week where safe to do so to help prevent seizure. This also helps prevent flat spots on your tyres and helps the maintenance of your battery.
Road salt over the winter can exacerbate corrosion so cleaning your vehicle with a pressure washer or hose around the underbody can minimise damage to metal components when your vehicle isn't in use.

Seized Brakes are not uncommon and are usually not something to be too concerned about. If you have taken measures to unseize your brakes and after driving for a short while you should notice that the corrosion is cleared. If this is not the case or you have any concerns about the performance of your vehicle then contact Stratford Tyres, our team of professionals will get you back on the road in no time!