Brakes Locking Up

Brakes Locking Up – All The Different Causes

Have you started experiencing the brakes locking up recently? If this is the case and this is the situation you are into, then you are at the right place because there will be a lot to cover on this topic where we will learn everything when it comes to this problem.

Having a problem like this can be a really frustrating thing to deal with. Why I’m saying this? Well, imagine how you drive on the road and you apply on the brakes and the brakes end up locking up. It happened to me a few times and frankly, it is not something that you want to happen. Especially in traffic where there are a lot of cars behind you. You could get hit and end up with a damaged car.

So, your prime objective here in this situation is to diagnose and quickly solve the problem. And for this purpose, you need to learn how to troubleshoot and find the possible cause for this problem. That’s why you need to learn a lot of the possible causes for this problem of brakes locking up happening in the first place. And we are going to help you out with that.

First, we are going to elaborate on the problem. Then we will discuss the braking system and learn how this braking system works. Then we will learn how ABS works and why it is an integral system in our vehicles. Later on, we are going to discuss the causes for brakes locking up as well as the diagnosing and fixing process. So, you would definitely want to learn more about that, if yes, follow along.

Brakes Locking Up?

Now before we delve into the problem of the brakes locking up, let’s first elaborate more on this problem why and how it happens. This will be extra useful for beginners to get a better understanding of the circumstances and how the brakes locking up happens in the first place.

So, if you feel like you are already familiar with this issue, you can jump right to the causes of why it happens. If not, keep up with us for a bit more. Now let’s elaborate on the issue.

What does the phrase brakes locking up mean? Well, it means that you are doing ice skating on the tarmac.

When the brakes lock up, the car will simply lock its wheels and will keep on pushing forward until eventually loses momentum or hits something and comes to a stop.

Brakes Locking Up

This is a situation that really nobody wants because it is so very dangerous for you and also for the cars around you. Whenever this happens, an accident is almost unavoidable if you are in traffic.

It can also cause flat spots on your tires if you brake for more than 20 ft in length. The tires will wear down at the place where there was contact and you will basically need new tires after a big lock-up. Unless you want to deal with the vibrations or noises that will be produced from these flattened tires.

In the past, locking up was completely normal since brakes had poor performance and cars didn’t have an ABS. But brakes locking up in 21st-century cars is not normal. That’s why you need to address the issue. But first, let’s cover the basics of the braking system as well as the ABS.

How The Braking System Works

Now before we understand the causes for the brakes locking up. Let’s first learn how the brake system works on a car. This will be extra useful for beginners. If you like, you can move on to the causes for the brakes locking up. If not, keep up with us for a bit more.

When trying to understand how brakes or the braking system works. You need to understand something and that this is a hydraulic system. Meaning that the work of this system is made possible with the help of a hydraulic fluid also known as DOT.

There are various types of DOT. Namely, DOT 3, DOT 4, DOT 5. Depending much on the age of the model. And another thing important to note is that they are not interchangeable. You always need to get a specific fluid for your car. But how are brakes locking up? More on that in a bit.

The next thing that we are going to cover is the mechanism of how it works. The brain of the brake system is the master cylinder that has two circuits, one for each side of your car. This is created to avoid a complete failure of the brake system. This master cylinder is connected to the brake booster that aids the braking.

From the master cylinder, there are lines that go to the wheels and carry the hydraulic fluid. There they are connected to the caliper which has pistons on it. So, when you press on the brakes, the fluid goes to the caliper and opens up the piston, which presses the brake pad to the rotor. And this makes your car stop. But what about brakes locking up? More on that in a bit.

How Does The ABS System Work?

When you have a problem with brakes locking up, you also need to understand how the ABS works on your car. Normally, if you have one. If you don’t have ABS, you can jump right to the causes for the brakes locking up. To learn more, check out our guide on what does ABS stand for in cars.

So, what is the ABS? In simple terms, the ABS is a wheel anti-lock system. This safety system is fully automated and works only when there is a need so. Meaning that this system is on autopilot and the driver basically doesn’t have any button to deactivate or activate it. So, how this system works under the hood?

This system is compromised from sensors installed on each wheel that communicate with the ABS pump installed in the engine bay. The sensors are also known as speed sensors and these sensors are measuring the speed of the vehicle.

Meaning that they sense when the brakes are pressed hard and they send a signal to the ABS controller which activates the ABS pump and sends hydraulic fluid to the brakes intermittently. Thus, avoiding brakes locking up from happening. This also helps steer the vehicle under hard braking as well as reduces the brake distance quite significantly.

So, you can understand how integral of a component is the ABS in modern cars. That’s why whenever there is a problem with brakes locking up. This is one of the first components that you want to address and see if there is an issue with this system. But more on that in the following chapters where we will discuss the causes for brakes locking up.

Causes For Brakes Locking Up

Now let’s see what are the causes for the brakes locking up. As you know, there are a number of causes of this problem and some of them are minor and some of them are very serious and require a more serious approach.

Brakes Locking Up

The first thing that we will address is the ABS and the components that could foul and cause an issue with the brakes locking up. Later on, we are going to discuss all the other possibilities why your brakes could lock up. So, if you want to learn more, follow along.

1. Faulty ABS System

The first thing that we will address is the faulty ABS. As we covered above, this ABS is an anti-lock brake system. When this system isn’t performing well, the brakes locking up will be one of the most common symptoms. So, what are the components in this system to fail and cause a problem like this? Let’s elaborate.

Bad Speed Sensor

The first and most common cause for brakes locking up too often is the bad speed sensor. As you know, the speed sensors are located on each wheel and they are measuring the speed at which the vehicle is driving.

Whenever there are big abnormalities in speed like braking abruptly from the driver. The speed sensors are monitoring this and send an instant signal to the ABS controller that later on activates the ABS pump which then sends the fluid and helps stop the car.

So, you can imagine if this sensor isn’t working properly what is going to happen. The car will poorly perform under braking and you will highly likely end up in trouble with this system breaking down.

Whenever this system is activated, you will see an ABS light on the dash. So, you shouldn’t ignore this signal with the brakes locking up quite a lot means that the system is faulty and needs diagnosing. But more on that we are going to cover later in the article after we learn all the possibilities for brakes locking up.

Faulty ABS Controller

The second most probable reason why your brakes are locking up happens is the faulty ABS controller. This controller is the brain of the ABS that gets the input from the speed sensors and then activates the ABS pump to stop the car in the shortest distance possible.

So, when this control unit fails, your ABS will malfunction and often not work and the brakes will lock up.

The ABS light will also be present on the dashboard and the system will not function or perform poorly.

That’s why whenever you experience a problem like the brakes locking up. It is very important for you to deeper investigate the problem and diagnose the issue. A problem with this system can only be properly diagnosed with a diagnostics tool. But more on that later after we cover the last probable cause for the brakes locking up concerning the ABS and that is the faulty ABS pump.

Faulty ABS Pump

And the last cause for brakes locking up because of a faulty ABS is the ABS pump itself. These ABS pumps tend to fail and sometimes when they do, the whole ABS will become inoperable. Causing brakes locking up under heavy braking.

The ABS pump as you know is the component that sends the fluid into the caliper to aid the braking of the vehicle. So, whenever there is no ABS pump that works properly, the system will malfunction and you will be without your guardian angel also known as the ABS.

This will also cause an ABS light on the dash which will indicate that you have problems with your brakes. And this should not be ignored by you. The next thing you will need to do is to jump into diagnosing and properly solving the issue as soon as possible.

But how you can diagnose brakes locking up? Well, more on that we are going to cover later in the article. But first, let’s cover the other probable causes for brakes locking up.

2. Other Probable Causes

As we mentioned above, in the following chapters we are going to cover the other probable causes for the brakes locking up and causing you problems. Remember that these causes are often the case whenever there is a malfunction or no ABS in the car. If there is an ABS that works, locking up will be close to impossible unless the calipers fail and we are going to cover that next.

High Speed

High and unadjusted speed can cause your brakes to lock up. Why is this the case? Well, this is the case because the higher the speed, the greater the chance your brakes lock up when you apply them.

So, if you are running a car with no ABS, you should be aware of this and always maintain the speed based on the road conditions and also always keep your distance from the vehicle in front of you. The higher the speed. The bigger the chance your brakes lock up and damage other people’s cars and also hurt yourself.

Bad Tires

Poor quality tires can also cause the brakes locking up situation. As you know, your car needs to have a grip whenever you’re accelerating or braking. If the tires do not have grip then you are basically driving a death trap on wheels. Is this overreacting? I think not.

This will be most common on older models of vehicles that are running old rotted-out tires that are good for nothing. Pair these tires with a car that has no ABS and you get a death trap.

Especially if you drive with unadjusted speed. Bad tires and high speeds are a bad idea. That’s why you should never do this unless you want your brakes locking up. Now let’s move to the next probable cause for this problem.

Bad Brake Calipers

Brake calipers are another probable cause for brakes locking up. This can even happen in vehicles with an ABS.

When the brake calipers fail, then this will cause lockups. So, why is this the case? Well, this is the case because the pistons that are inside of the caliper are not working as they should so they constantly apply pressure on the pad and rotor.

When this happens on one wheel, you will notice how the car is pulling on one side when you brake and also the inability of the car to move in some cases. This is the same case as the one when you want to accelerate a car with the brake pedal pressed on.

So, you need to beware of this and inspect the brakes for brake pad dust and the pads for uneven wear. If this is the case, then you might be having a bad brake caliper that is causing the brakes to lock up. Now let’s move on to the last probable cause.

Overheated Brakes

If you drive your car hard on the roads or on the track, you can expect the brakes locking up problem sooner or later.

This is most common on cars with drum brakes on the front. These cars are most often classic vehicles that are running these old-style brakes that are greatly ineffective when it comes to the modern demands on the road.

So, if you push them too much and overheat them the brakes locking up will be the next thing that you will notice.

Disc brakes can also lock up under heavy load and heavy braking on corners. Especially if they are not high-performance brakes but some stock brakes. So, beware of this if you don’t want brakes locking up. Now let’s move on to the following topic and that is how to diagnose this problem.

How To Diagnose And Fix The Brakes Locking Up Problem?

Now let’s discuss how you can diagnose a problem with your brakes locking up. How to tell if your brakes are locking up and what to do about it.

In this case, your main concern should be the ABS. Since this is the system for preventing wheel lock. This system basically prevents the wheels from locking up in the first place.

And before you jump to conclusions, you need to diagnose the system for possible problems. For this purpose, you need to see if there are any warning lights concerning the ABS and even if there are not any, it is often advised to do the diagnostics with a special diagnostics tool called an OBD2 scanner.

Just let the tool do its magic and scan the car for possible codes. Based on the codes that you get, you should further investigate the problem and try to fix it. If there is an ABS that is problematic then there should be faults concerning the ABS controller, ABS Pump, or speed sensors. In most cases the speed sensors are the ones that break and replacing them is really simple.

If the problem is the ABS pump then you will have to replace this unit as well, and this should be done by someone more experienced since it’s a rather expensive component.

If the car doesn’t have ABS you should focus on the brake calipers as well as on the drums if the car is using drum brakes. These are notorious for causing the brakes locking up to happen. But what is the cost of all this? Let’s elaborate in the next chapter.

Cost To Fix The Problem Of Brakes Locking Up?

So, we learned how you can diagnose the problem of brakes locking up. Now let’s discuss how much it will probably cost you to fix the problem with the ABS as well as if you have a bad brake caliper.

The most expensive out of the bunch is the ABS pump, this unit could easily cost from $500 on cheaper cars and up to $1,200 on more expensive vehicles.

The control module for the ABS is also very expensive. It could cost from $320 and up to $1,000 for some models.

Brakes Locking Up

Speed sensors are cheap and can cost somewhere between $25 and $85 and they are DIY friendly for replacement.

Brake calipers are not that expensive. Costing somewhere between $150 for regular calipers and up to $1,500 for some high-performance ones. For the average car, the range is between $150 to $350.

Overall, these are the costs that you will probably face if you have brakes locking up. In addition to this, you might also be needing to replace the pads and rotors on the affected wheels and these on average are $30 for the pads and $75 for the rotor. But the most expensive things are the pump and controller, so cross your fingers that they are in good condition.

Conclusion To Brakes Locking Up

In this article, we have covered quite a bit when it comes to the problem of brakes locking up. First, we elaborated on the problems and why and when it happens.

Then we learned how the braking system and the ABS systems work to provide us with an unmatching performance and safety on the roads.

Then we learned the possible causes for the brakes locking up. We learned that this is mostly caused by the ABS. More precisely with the ABS pump, controller, and speed sensors. Sometimes even the bad brake calipers can cause it. But this is less common.

Lastly, we elaborated on the diagnosing process as well as the costs. We learned how much it will possibly going to cost you to fix this problem on your vehicle.

1 Comment

  • Akirari Chard Says

    I panicked when I slammed on the brakes, but the brakes didn’t slow me down much and the brakes squealed strangely. But luckily I’m slow and can handle it. Right after that, I called someone to come and check my brakes for damage. The mechanic told me that my car had a problem with the anti-lock braking system. My ABS braking system was flickering. The car dashboard indicates a system malfunction.
    He said he was lucky to have spotted it in time and taken it in for repairs soon.

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