Causes and Fixes of Pulsating Brakes

Mechanic Showing Brakes and Rotors

Pulsating brakes can be felt in the steering wheel as a steering wheel shaking, at the brakes or in the brake pedal as a brake pedal pulsation, or in the seat as a seat vibration when braking. If you feel the brakes pulsate when coming to a stop, it’s probably from bad brake rotors. We cover some signs of bad brake rotors and their causes and other possible parts that can cause the brakes to pulsate when stopping. If it turns out that worn brake rotors are causing the brakes to pulsate, we also explain what you can do to fix them.

Signs Your Vehicle Has Pulsating Brakes

Brake pulsation is usually felt when the brake pedal is pressed and the brakes are hot. It usually means there is an issue with the brake rotor and can appear as

  • Shaking in the steering wheel (usually an issue with front brakes)
  • Shaking in the seat (usually an issue with the rear brakes)
  • Pulsating in the brake pedal

Signs the Brake Rotors Are Causing Pulsating Brakes

If the brake rotors appear with any of these symptoms, they are likely the cause of brake pulsation when stopping and will need to be replaced or resurfaced. Problems with the brake rotors might also indicate there is a problem with another part, like the brake caliper.

Brake rotor scored with hot spots at the 1 and 2 o'clock position
Brake rotor scored with hot spots at the 1 and 2 o’clock position

“Hot Spots” or Heat Scores

Heat scores are from an overheating issue with the brakes. Grooved or scored sections, also known as “hot spots,” cause minor discoloring on different sections of the rotor from heat. The grooved lines in the rotor create build up, which creates “hot spots,” and the friction creates brake pulsation. These are usually caused by a stuck brake caliper piston, sticking brake caliper slider, or a sticking brake pad.

Pitted Rotors

Rotors with pitting
Rotors with pitting

Brake rotors with tiny dotted divets throughout the rotor, also known as pitting, is a sign the rotor needs to be replaced. After the vehicle sits for a period of time, moisture accumulates on the rotor. Moisture eventually seeps into the porous material on the rotor, creating “pits.” After the rust dissipates from the surface of the rotor from driving the vehicle, the pits remain.

Gouged Rotors

Brake Rotor with metal gouges
Rotor with metal gouges

Gouged rotors will have streaks of metal lines engraved from metal-on-metal contact. They can cause the brakes to pulsate, but they can also make a grinding noise. These are usually caused by a worn brake pad that has no brake pad material left, but they can also be caused by a stuck brake caliper piston, stuck caliper slider, or stuck brake pads.

Worn brake pad with no brake pad material that can cause gouging and pulsating brakes
Worn brake pad that can cause gouging

Other Causes of Pulsating Brakes

Other defective brake parts can wear out the brake rotor. These parts can cause the rotors to wear out faster or cause the brakes to pulsate or vibrate when stopping.

Damaged Flex Hose

Brake line hose
Brake line hose

The brake line hose that supplies brake fluid to the brake caliper can collapse, tear, or twist from being reinstalled incorrectly. A collapsed or damaged brake line needs a replacement. Anything disrupting the flow of brake fluid can cause braking issues.

Broken Brake Caliper Piston

Brake caliper piston
Brake caliper piston

A broken or stuck brake caliper piston can’t expand or retract, leaving the brake pads in contact with the rotor. This not only can cause pulsating brakes, but can also wear out other parts sooner, like the brake rotors and brake pads.

Stuck or Frozen Brake Caliper Slides

Brake caliper slide
Brake caliper slide

The brake caliper slides need to be greased and capable of moving in and out freely. If the caliper slider is stuck and does not move, the brake pads can wear out and damage the rotor.

Stuck Brake Pads

Stuck brake pads that can cause pulsating brakes
Stuck brake pads

The brake pads should be able to move freely within the brake caliper bracket. If the brake pads can’t move, they won’t be able to press into the rotors. A pair of brake pads pressed against the rotor can wear them out and cause you to feel the brakes pulsating when applied.

Replace the Brake Pads and Brake Rotors Yourself

Worn brake rotors means it’s time for new rotors and brake pads. We recommend replacing the brake pads and rotors together, since the new brake pads will need a clean and smooth surface to contact on the rotor.

Fix pulsating brakes yourself with quality auto parts at 1aauto.com

Find quality brake pads, brake rotors, and other auto parts at 1aauto.com. Save even more by replacing them yourself with step-by-step instructions in 1A Auto’s how-to videos for many years, makes, and models.

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Summary
Pulsating Brakes When Coming to a Stop? Learn the Causes and Fixes
Article Name
Pulsating Brakes When Coming to a Stop? Learn the Causes and Fixes
Description
Pulsating brakes can be felt in the steering wheel as a steering wheel shaking, at the brakes or in the brake pedal as a brake pedal pulsation, or in the seat as a seat vibration when braking.
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1A Auto
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