Brakes Locking Up (Causes & Solutions)

One major part of the vehicle that is essential for safety is the brakes. As such, when you notice the brakes locking up, it is a dangerous situation that will pose a huge threat to your life.

This article explains the reasons why you have a brake lock up and what you can do to fix it.

What Does Brakes Locking Up Mean?

Brakes locking up can simply be said to be any situation whereby a vehicle’s brakes do not release as they should when applied.

When this happens in any circumstances, it is very dangerous, especially when you are driving. This can lead to a crash in some critical cases.

In contrast to what people believe, the brakes locking up doesn’t imply that the vehicle’s brakes are clenched to the extent that there’s a lock-up of the Full wheel.

As defined, the brake lock-up is a scenario whereby the brakes of the vehicle do not go back to the “rest” spot after you apply it.

Reasons for Brakes Locking up

Brakes Locking Up

1. The Road Conditions

For vehicles that do not have ABS, loss of traction in between the treads of the tire and the surface of the road when you stop on slippery or wet roads can result in brake lock up.

Regardless of how hard you push the pedals of the brakes, when the tires stop spinning, the tires will keep sliding on the smooth surface.

This occurs due to the tires not having anything to hold onto to produce tractions that are needed to put a stop.

To completely stop on a slippery surface, the ABS does the pumping of the brakes instead. This will allow the tires to nearly but barely skid.

2. Mechanical Failures

ABS-equipped and standard vehicles can experience brake lock-up due to issues such as rusted rotors, old brake pads, and installation of brake pads on one axis that can slowly heat up than the other pads.

Changing old pads and driving normally should be able to wear down anything but a severe build-up of rust. As soon as the brake pads heat up, you should not encounter braking problems.

3. Bad Brake Calipers

ABS and Non-ABS: Old, broken, or rusted mounting and missing hardware can result in the binding of disc brake calipers, also overheating the rotors and brake pads.

Overheating can result in premature wear of the brake pad leading to brake lock-up and rotor wear that can cause your vehicle to pull to a side when you stop quickly.

4. Bad Hydraulic System

ABS Non-ABS ABS: Brake Lock-up can occur when brake fluid is low, improper brake fluid is used, or brake friction material is saturated with brake fluid.

A broken brake hose trapping fluids inside the caliper would act the same way as a binding caliper. The rear wheel can lock up when there’s heavy braking because of a bad brake system.

ABS only: Contaminated brake fluid could destroy an ABS pump. And a damaged ABS pump would lead to a bad braking system, which can result in the brakes locking up. When you notice a leak of brake fluid, do not drive the car.

Also Read: Low Brake Fluid Symptoms (How to Fix)

5. Faulty Wheel Bearing and Wheel Speed Sensors

ABS only: The wheel speed sensors take the wheel speed measurements using the ring gear on the wheel hub’s bearing, which then passes the information to your car’s ECM ( Engine Control Module).

An old wheel hub bearing, faulty speed sensor, or worn-out ring gear that passes incorrect data to the Engine control module can, for absolutely no reason, activate the ABS when you want to stop, which will result in the brakes locking up.

Inspect the pressure of your tire. Tires with low pressure can roll at various speeds than the rest tires, which will send the ECM incorrect data.

6. Failing ABS Computer

A failing ABS computer that comprises the ABS module/controller and the ABS pump could result in the brakes locking up.

An issue related to the ABS electronics or computer can lead to defective braking performance. This will also engage the ABS dash warning light, calling your attention to how soon you need to visit your mechanic.

Also Read: What Is ABS Sensor & Why ABS Sensor Light Comes On?

7. Driver Reaction to Conditions of the Road

If lock-up of brakes happens when you are stopping, do not panic. Remain calm.

For Non-ABS cars, pressing the brake pedals can help to maintain traction if, for example, slippery roads or mechanical problems cause the brakes to lock up.

For vehicles that are ABS-equipped, holding your foot firmly on top of the brake pedals would automatically engage the ABS whenever the computer suspects a slippery road.

Additionally, holding down hard on these brake pedals engages the ABS when the system malfunctions.

On the contrary, do not pump the ABS brakes. This can confuse the ABS computer and make it hard to steer and stop the vehicle. The ABS is designed to notify you when there is a problem with the system.

8. Bad Brake Booster

The brakes locking up might result from a damaged brake booster. The brake booster in the vehicle has parts that move at its front and back ends.

When the diaphragm inside the booster becomes faulty, it will not take in or hold the atmospheric pressure, resulting in complications in pressing the brake pedals down.

Also Read: 9 Bad Brake Booster Symptoms (& Replacement)

9. Faulty Master Cylinder

One important part of the car brake system is the master cylinder, usually located opposite the brake pedal beneath the bonnet.

Braking systems depend on it for effective operation. When this component is damaged completely, it can lead to the brakes locking up immediately.

Since you know the possibilities of what happens whenever there’s a brake lock-up when driving, you would know the importance of inspecting the vehicle brake system from time to time.

If you suspect any of these causes, ensure to repair it immediately.

What to Do When Your Brakes Lock up When Driving

Brakes Locking up

When you experience brake lock-up, especially when driving, it could be a frustrating experience.

However, to prevent such an event from turning into a worse situation, there are various key steps you can follow. These key steps are:

1. Don’t Panic

One of the main steps is not panicking. Even though this can sound like something easier said than done, know it’s your primary responsibility at that point in time to keep your passenger and also the other drivers around you safe; you’ll have to do everything in your power to ensure the safety of everyone.

Anxiety can make it difficult for you to think clearly about the rest of the right steps to take.

2. Look for a Place You Can Stop

Another step you need to consider is looking for a safe location to stop. Swiftly scan the environment to discover which spot is available for you.

Wide driveways, parking lots, or empty spaces are good spots you can use for this motive.

3. Carefully Exit the Roadway

When you discover the spot you want to stop, carefully leave the roadway. Also, consider all the vehicles around you, though this could be hard to do at that point.

If you must cross lanes, ensure you indicate with a signal. Remember that any decision you make at that moment will affect the situation.

4. Come to a Stop, Set E-brake if Necessary

When you’ve exited the roadway, carefully bring the vehicle to stop. Setting the emergency brake could provide some level of stabilization If the vehicle seems to be going from one side to the other.

You should always remember that setting your emergency brake when your vehicle travels at high speed poses its own risk.

5. Have Your Vehicle Towed for Fixing

Regardless of the situation, you should not drive your vehicle after a brake lock-up unless a repair has been done. Even if the repair location is not far, the vehicle should be towed to the point.

How Do You Fix a Locked-up Brake?

When a brake locks up, the solution is determined by the cause.

Since we know that various Mechanical issues can lead to brakes locking up, firstly, you’ll need to check the vehicle and find out the actual cause of the issue before attempting to fix it.

For Damaged Brake Lines

To perfectly repair faulty brake lines, you need to change them, but you need to ensure that you get the brake line recommended for the vehicle.

It is very necessary. Whenever one of the brake lines on a wheel is bad, and you need to replace it, you should also replace the brake lines of the other wheels as there’s the possibility of them going bad.

When replacing damaged brake lines, you will need new brake lines, quality brake fluid, some rags, and important mechanical tools such as a screwdriver, lug wrench, and jack stand. You can make use of a car lift instead.

You will need your car to be raised. See the mesh line that goes through the piston housing to the metal side of the brake line.

Using a screwdriver, take out the retainer clip at the hose fittings. Once you’ve removed the brake line’s fittings from the point of connection, put a can or rag beneath the point of connection to collect the brake fluids that would come out. Brake fluid should not come into contact with your skin.

If any components are somewhat attached to the line, gradually remove them.

Since you’ve removed the brake line, use the reversal process to replace the new brake line. It is very easy. You can call your mechanic if you have doubts about performing this task yourself.

For Sticky Calipers or Faulty Brake Pads

The process of repairing a sticky brake caliper is not complicated. Yet, because it’s an important part of the brake system, you’ll need to be mechanically inclined to fix it.

To do this, you will need to raise the affected side of the wheel with a jack, or you can use a car lift to lift the whole car. After this:

  1. Unscrew the brake caliper with the right socket.
  2. Also, take the caliper out from the brackets.
  3. Remove the brake pad.

Make use of a brake cleaner to wipe out debris, grease, or dust from the surface of the caliper. And ensure to clean the caliper’s pin.

Examine the brake pads. When you find any defect, you should replace it. Afterward, grease the caliper pins and put them on the brake pads.

After that, put the caliper into the bracket and tighten it into the right position. You can now tighten the wheels and put the vehicle down.

For Faulty Master Cylinder

When you notice a fault with the master cylinder, you’ll need to change the cylinder. Purchase a master cylinder that is recommended and install, bleed the brakes and replace the worn-out brake fluid. Inspect the entire wheels and clean any drops of fluid. Repairing this damage can also help avoid brakes locking up when you park them for long.

Check out this video for more tips on how to fix locked-up brakes

Frequently Asked Questions – Brakes Locking Up

How Do I Stop My Brakes From Locking Up?

For a car that doesn’t have ABS, when you notice the brakes locking up, release the pressure on the pedal, then continuously pump the brake till your car stops. As you stop, you will sense a pulse beneath the pedal and vibration if the car has an anti-lock brake that prevents sliding and locking up.

What Would Cause Brakes to Not Release?

Brakes not releasing most often result from a seized brake pad or caliper. This mainly happens as a result of aging or rusting. Usually, you would sense that your vehicle is pulling to a side whenever you hold down on the brakes.

Can Abs Cause Brakes to Lock Up?

The ABS is structured to avert the wheel from being locked up when there’s heavy braking, which also prevents loss of traction. Nevertheless, there will be situations whereby a damaged ABS module could act erratically, resulting in the brakes locking up even during normal driving conditions.

What Does It Mean When Your Brakes Are Grabbing?

One of the reasons why brakes are grabbing is because of damaged brake pads( grease, dust, fluid), loose brake mounting bolts, misaligned calipers, sliding pins, and/or seized caliper pistons, along with damaged rubber hoses or brake lines. These are all critical issues.

Will Air in Brake Lines Cause Brakes to Lock Up?

If air goes into the brake lines, either due to a wrong bleeding process or leakage point in the brake line, instead of compressing the brake fluid, it would compress the air forcefully. As a result, the brake functions poorly and may, in the end, cause brakes to lock up when there’s a high accumulation of air in the brake lines.

Conclusion – Brakes Locking Up

There are several reasons why the brakes on a vehicle can lock up. This includes using wrong brake fluid, overheated braking system, broken or damaged parts (pistons, caliper, rotors, brake pads, etc.), broken parking brake, defective ABS components, and more.

If you notice this, take your vehicle to an auto repair shop to have it fixed by a professional

We hope this post was of help to you. Please feel free to check out our other blog articles if you want to get more tips for preventing car troubles!

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