When a car drifts, it’s often misdiagnosed as an alignment issue but it could be your brakes. Learn what causes this problem and how to spot it.
Brakes have several means of telling drivers that they need some attention and TLC. That usually involves an unwelcome sound, or a strange or ‘weak’ feel at the brake pedal. There’s another popular and often-misdiagnosed way your vehicle’s brakes may try to signal you that something is wrong too.
When you apply the brakes in your vehicle, it should stop quickly from an initial pedal press and in a straight line. Sometimes drivers note that their vehicle pulls to one side or the other while braking. This is commonly misdiagnosed as an alignment problem though it could indicate a serious problem with the vehicle’s braking system.
What makes a car pull to one side during braking? In simple terms, it’s a difference in braking force between the front wheels. Generally, the vehicle only stops in a straight line if the braking force at each front wheel is equal. If that’s not the case, perhaps because the brakes on one side are not working as well as the other, then the vehicle will tend to pull to one side.
Imagine you and a friend are in a rapidly-moving canoe. You need to stop, so you each drive your paddle into the water at the exact same moment, but your paddle is bigger than your friend’s is. This creates an imbalance, with more stopping power on one side than the other. As a result, the canoe will try to pull, or ‘steer’ in one direction, instead of heading straight.
The braking system in your vehicle is considerably more complicated than the one in a canoe and a pull to the side while braking indicates that one of your front brakes is not performing properly. Leaving things unchecked can cause accelerated brake wear, brake component damage and reduced safety.
Numerous culprits may responsible for this.
For instance, a damaged brake pad can cause a pull to the side. Sometimes, low-quality brake pads crack during hard use. In some cases, this crack deepens over time until a piece of the brake pad friction material is dislodged. This effectively makes the brake pad smaller, reduces the braking performance at that wheel and results in a pull to the side.
Brake caliper problems can also cause a pull to one side or the other during braking. Failure to properly clean, maintain and lubricate the brake calipers may cause one or more of them to stick, in which case, that specific caliper can’t brake as powerfully as needed, if at all. This reduces the brake force on a single wheel which can result in the telltale pull.
A pull under braking may also arise from a problem in the hydraulic portion of the braking system, which employs a network of metal brake lines to transmit pressure between the brake pedal and the brake calipers at each wheel. If one of the brake lines is damaged or collapsed, or if there’s a problem with a seal or valve somewhere in the hydraulics of the braking system, the vehicle may pull when the brakes are applied too.
Just remember: though brake problems often cause this pulling sensation, issues in other systems may turn in similar symptoms. Sometimes, a pull to the side can be caused by a worn suspension system or steering part, unevenly worn or improperly-inflated tires, the shape of the road surface or a worsening alignment issue.
In any case, your favorite automotive technician can quickly and effectively diagnose and address unwanted steering pull under braking, ensuring you benefit from maximum stopping power, safety and control.