Skip to Content

Are Your Brakes Smoking? Here’s What You Should Do

Author: Qualified mechanic John Cunningham. Published: 2021/11/10 at 6:57 pm.

This page is dedicated to helping you find out why your brakes are smoking on one side. On this page, you’ll find a short video outlining the top reasons, and below, I’ll share some top brake repair tips, and I’ve added some links to tools you’ll need to complete the repair.

Smoking brakes are not a good look, and it means we have a serious issue. The video above gives you a feel for the most common causes. And here, I’ll share a few tips below to help you nail the repair like a pro.

Mechanics Smoking Brake Diagnosis Tips

Check brake fluid reservoir level – overfull can cause brakes to apply slightly

Drive the vehicle until warm – placing a hand close to each wheel hub to gauge heat soak (helps identify the problem wheel)

Front brakes or rear brake problem? – rear brakes commonly incorporate the parking brake and so are treated a little differently

Remove the problem wheel and inspect – placing a screwdriver in the calliper to push the piston back helps to quickly fault find a frozen calliper piston. A frozen calliper needs to be replaced, and brake components on the same axle are commonly replaced in pairs.

Is the caliper free to float? – most callipers are floating, meaning they are free to slide over and back on rails or pins. With the piston retracted, the calliper should be free to move; if not, it’s likely the pins or rails are corroded. Cleaning and lubing usually solve the problem,

Remove the brake pads – check for brake pad contamination cracked or otherwise damaged. Damaged pads often stick in the pad seat and cause brake drag and smoke. Cleaning the pad seat and lubing will fix the issue.

Wheel-free movement – with the pads removed, check the wheel is free to move. If the wheel is sticking, suspect a wheel bearing issue.

Brake Repair Tools You’ll Need

Brake fluid moisture tester, this simple tester is a really fast way to check the moisture content of your fluid. Brake fluid should be changed every three years. Moisture inside the hydraulic system is as you know bad for a couple of reasons.

First, it reduces brake performance when the fluid gets hot, and second, moisture inside the system attacks metal components causing corrosion. This will lead to caliper, brake line, master cylinder, and possible brake controller damage. Picture links to Amazon.com.

Useful one-man vacuum brake and clutch bleeding kit that won’t hurt the pocket. It’s perfect for occasional brake maintenance chores, is easy to use, and gets the job done. Picture links to Amazon.com.

Compact brake line flaring tool, the best thing about this tool is its size. This little guy is ideal for flaring brake lines while on the vehicle, but the handle is detachable for bench work too. Flares 3/16 SAE double flare steel and copper. Picture links to Amazon.com.

The Autel MaxiCOM is a shop-level tool. It is capable of reading, clearing fault codes, coding a new battery, placing the EPB module in service mode, and calibration after the repair. It is also capable of activating ABS modulator solenoids when performing a full brake bleed procedure. Picture links to Amazon.com.

Preston is a leading supplier of quality automotive fluids. This is DOT 3, so remember to check your reservoir cap before ordering. Amazon sells this product, and it is conveniently delivered to your door. Picture links out to Amazon.

3M makes top-quality products. Brake cleaner is likely one of the most used products in a pro shop. It is used not just to clean brake components and prevent brake squeals but also to clean spilt liquids like brake fluid, and oil grease. The cleaner is an aerosol and is powerful enough to flush grit from components. Picture links to Amazon.com.

A head-mounted lamp is like having a third hand, a real advantage when battling. This rechargeable LED head-mounted lamp is conveniently sold and delivered by Amazon.com.

About the Author

John Cunningham is a Red Seal Qualified automotive technician with over twenty-five years of experience in the field. When he’s not writing about car repair, you’ll find him in his happy place – restoring classic cars.

You may find the following links helpful: