3 Reasons Your Brakes Smell Burnt

When friction surfaces overheat, they can produce a distinct acrid smell. On manual transmission vehicles, this can sometimes be the result of an old or burnt-out clutch. For most drivers, however, the source of a noticeable burning odor is usually their brakes. A burning smell from your brakes can have various causes, but it's always essential to determine why your brake pads are overheating.

When you notice this smell, avoid making any sudden stops and minimize the use of your car as much as possible until you can have it diagnosed. The burning smell can indicate that your car may need repairs. In the meantime, check out these three likely reasons that your brakes are overheating.

1. Stuck Calipers

Your calipers compress your brake pads against the rotor, providing the friction required to stop your car. Hydraulic fluid (your car's brake fluid) controls the actuation of the caliper pistons, extending and retracting them as you press and release the brake pedal. If the calipers get stuck in an extended position, your brake pads can drag against the rotors even when you are not pressing the pedal.

Depending on the severity of the problem, stuck calipers may not initially produce many symptoms. You may notice excessive brake dust on one wheel or the car pulling to one side while braking. If the pads drag enough, they will produce an excessive amount of heat and create the distinctive smell of burning friction material.

2. Damaged Brake Hoses

Hydraulic brake fluid flows to your calipers through a series of hard and soft brake lines. Although the hard lines rarely fail, the soft brake hoses can crimp, become clogged, or degrade with time. When this happens, it can prevent hydraulic fluid from returning to the reservoir. Since the brake fluid remains in the calipers, the pistons remain extended, and your brakes will drag.

A damaged brake hose can produce similar symptoms to a stuck caliper (and can be the underlying cause for a sticking caliper). Additionally, you may notice that your brake fluid level is slightly lower since fluid cannot flow back into the reservoir after you press on your brake pedal.

3. Driving Habits

Finally, some driving habits can cause your brakes to overheat and smell burnt. Constant panic braking from high speeds or riding the brake pedal while traveling downhill can both create an excessive amount of heat. In either case, the solution is to brake in a smooth and controlled manner whenever possible. Braking in this way will extend the life of your brake pads and reduce the likelihood of causing damage.

Note that anytime your brakes overheat, it may cause your brake fluid to become burnt and ineffective. Even if you believe that your brakes are fine, you should have them checked and diagnosed by a professional brake technician. In many cases, you will still need a fluid flush and bleed to replace the burnt brake fluid.

If you need more information about brake repair, contact a local auto service.