Car Shaking When Braking – Common Causes & What to Do

When your car shakes when braking, it can be a sign of a big problem. Learn the common causes and what to do to keep your car safe.

Car Shaking While Braking

You may want to shake, rattle and roll, but not necessarily while you are heading down the highway. Any time that the car is shaking when braking, it’s a sign that something isn’t right. You should pay attention to these indicators and get your car looked at as soon as possible.

In this guide, we cover all of the top reasons why your car may shake as you try to slow down to a stop. We also look at the next steps you should take to ensure your on-road safety. At the end of the guide, we show you the best way to prolong the life of your brakes.

Causes of Car Shaking When Braking

The most common cause why a car is shaking when braking is due to warped, worn, rusty or damaged brake rotors. It can also be caused by poor wheel alignment, unbalanced wheels, or suspension problems.

1. Warped or Damaged Brake Rotors

Warped, rusty, worn, or damaged brake rotors are by far the most common reasons why a car is shaking while braking.

The brake rotors operate as discs. They attach to the hub assembly of the wheel and are located between the brake pads. As the pads squeeze together, the friction against the rotor helps you slow down the vehicle. 

These brake rotors can become warped, leading to vibrations as you brake. You might also hear a grinding sound as this occurs.

If you feel a shaking steering wheel while braking, it is likely warped front brake discs. But if the whole car shakes under braking, but you can’t feel it in the steering wheel, it is very likely that the rear brake discs are causing the problem.

RELATED: 7 Symptoms of Bad Brake Rotors (& Resurface Cost)

2. Wheels Out of Balance

The wheels can also get out of balance, which would lead to shaking when you apply the brakes. If you drive with the tires under or over-inflated, there could be a balance issue.

With this condition, you are putting more strain on the vehicle suspension and causing the tires to wear out faster than normal. That’s why regular wheel balancing is necessary to ensure a smooth drive and braking too. 

RELATED: 5 Symptoms of Unbalanced Tires (& Tire Balancing Cost)

3. Bent Rims

If you’ve hit potholes or curbs, you might have bent a wheel. This condition will cause some shaking while driving and braking. 

You may only notice it lightly when driving at slower speeds or braking, as the wheel rotations are slower. However, the shaking could also pick up as you increase speed. 

RELATED: Why is My Car Shaking? (8 Common Causes & How to Fix it)

4. Suspension Issues

Another reason your car might shake while driving and braking is if there’s a problem with the suspension. As you travel over potholes and road imperfections, the suspension takes a beating. 

It’s possible that there’s an issue with an axle or the CV (constant velocity) joint. When these joints get damaged, the vehicle is known for shaking. 

RELATED: 5 Symptoms of a Bad CV Joint (& Replacement Cost)

5. Poor Wheel Alignment

When the wheel alignment is out of whack, you may notice shaking while braking and when driving normally. With the wheels aligned, the vehicle should drive in a relatively straight line unless the road pulls it otherwise.

If the car is veering to either side because of the alignment, you might notice the shaking even more as you are braking. Either way, it’s important to get the wheels aligned so you don’t have to fight to stay on the road so much. 

6. Worn Brake Pads

The brake pads of your vehicle aren’t meant to last forever. As you brake, the material on the pads slowly wears down. Once the pads need to be changed, you might hear strange noises and feel some vibration.

With that said, you can also deal with some vibrations when using newer brake pads. If there’s a defect with the brake pad, expect that some shaking might also occur. 

7. Sticking Brake Calipers

The brake calipers are needed to push the brake pads into the rotor. As you hit the brake pedal, hydraulic fluid fills inside the caliper’s chambers. This pressure forces the piston outward to push into the pads, thereby putting pressure on the rotor. The harder you push on the brake pedal, the more fluid is pushed out to increase the braking pressure. 

Sometimes, calipers can get stuck, making it impossible to apply the brakes. In other cases, the caliper can become stuck when it is engaged, so the brake pads are never released from the rotor. Either way, you may feel vibrations, although being stuck while engaged should cause issues even when you aren’t on the brake pedal. You could also smell something burning in this situation. 

Car Shakes When Braking: What to Do

Check Brake System

Most often when the car shakes while braking, you can count on something being wrong with the brake system itself. For that reason, you want to inspect the brake system before you go any further. Ideally, you will start by looking at the brake rotors and pads. If they are worn, you should replace them whether it will fix the shaking or not. You may spend $115 to $300 per axle to change the brake pads. 

If the brake pads are worn, it’s possible that the rotors are to blame. Rotors can warp over time, especially when used with bad brake pads or a sticking brake caliper. In some cases, it’s possible to resurface the rotors and keep using them. Otherwise, you will need to replace them with new ones. It might only cost $30 per rotor to resurface it, while replacement often costs $150 to $450 per axle.

RELATED: Should I Resurface or Replace My Rotors? (When to Replace?)

Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with stuck brake calipers, but it does happen. A little lubrication might help break the caliper free. If not, you need to have it replaced, which could cost $200 to $300 each. 

Evaluate Tires

If you find that nothing is wrong with the brake system, it’s time to move on to the tires and wheels. It’s best to check the tire pressures first since this is the easiest aspect to deal with. If any of the tires are improperly inflated, fix that before moving on. 

Regular wheel alignments are important for keeping the tires in their best shape. On average, it’s best to have the alignment performed every 6,000 miles. This maintenance task might cost $50 to $150, but some companies offer these services as part of a package deal. Additionally, wheel balancing should be performed on average every 6,000 miles. You may also spend $100 to have all four wheels balanced

If the issue is a bent rim, you could be looking at a larger expense. Depending on what kind of rim you are using currently, you could spend anywhere from $150 to $500. 

Inspect Suspension

If you can’t find anything wrong with the tires or brakes, the suspension is probably the only other area that could be causing problems. It can be tough to diagnose suspension issues with so many working components to inspect. 

You want to inspect the axles, CV joints and other suspension parts. As far as repair costs are concerned, you could be looking at a variety of expenses, depending on what is broken. 

See a Mechanic

If you can’t find the problem or you don’t feel experienced enough to handle the diagnosis, it’s best to visit your local auto repair shop. Research local shops in your area to see which one can handle your needs for a reasonable price.

You want to choose a shop with plenty of experience. In some cases, it’s best to visit the dealership if you want to deal with technicians that have been certified in a particular model. 

RELATED: Grinding Noise When Braking? (Here’s How To Fix it)

Extend the Life of Your Brakes

Buy Quality Brakes

If you want the brakes to last, you must start by purchasing high-quality parts, to begin with. Cheap parts might save you money initially, but they aren’t going to last as long.

Some manufacturers will offer a warranty on the parts. If you can pay a little extra for the warranty, it might be worth it down the road. 

Stop Slowly

The way you drive makes a big difference in how the brakes last. Keep your distance from cars in front of you, so you don’t need to brake quickly.

You also don’t want to brake harder than necessary. Aside from that, avoid braking simply to slow down your speed. Instead, consider just taking your foot off of the gas to slow down naturally. 

Don’t Use Left Foot

Unless you drive a manual transmission vehicle, there’s no reason to get your left foot involved. By tapping the brake pedal with your left foot, you make it easier to ride the brake.

Instead, learn how to drive with one foot. This way, your foot has to be removed from the gas before you can brake, therefore reducing how much time you spend on the pedal. 

Lighten Load

The more cargo you have in your vehicle, the more braking power is needed. To reduce brake wear, you can lessen the load and give the components a relief. 

At the end of your day, take out everything that you don’t need. You should also consider how much aftermarket equipment is included in the vehicle and how the weight will affect braking performance. 

Perform Maintenance

Your brakes require maintenance just like the rest of your car. Start by regularly checking the brake fluid and topping it off as needed.

You should also have the brake pads checked regularly. If you keep reliable brake pads on the car, you won’t need to replace the rotors as often.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my front end shake when I brake?

The most common reason why a car’s front end is shaking when braking is due to worn, warped, or damaged front brake rotors. It can also be caused by bad brake pads, unbalanced tires or other suspension issues.

Is it safe to drive when your car is shaking when braking?

It depends, if the shaking when braking is due to slightly warped brake rotors, it can be relatively safe. If it’s because of rusty or worn brake rotors or other failed suspension parts, it’s most likely not safe. To determine if it’s safe to drive you need to inspect and find the issue first.

How do I know when my rotors are bad?

The easiest way to tell if your rotors are bad is to visually inspect them. If they look rusty or cracked, that is a strong sign that they are bad. You can also measure the thickness of them and if they are too thin compared to the manufacturer’s specifications, you need to replace them.

Can unbalanced tires cause vibrations when braking?

Yes, unbalanced can cause vibrations when braking. However, you are more likely to notice vibrations all the time when driving at higher speeds and not just when braking.

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