Nothing is quite as disconcerting as having your brakes feel like they are skipping rather than smoothly and reliably slowing your car. A steady, powerful brake pedal gives you the confidence to stop your vehicle safely, so any abnormal brake feel is cause for concern.
Vibration in the pedal, jitteriness in the steering wheel, or an uneven braking action will give you the skipping sensations. All these signs point to an underlying issue in your brake system.
By identifying the potential causes of your brakes feeling like skipping, you can pinpoint the component needing repair or replacement, ensuring trouble-free braking.
What Causes Brakes to Feel Like They Are Skipping?
When your brakes feel like skipping instead of engaging smoothly, identifying the cause is the first step to fixing the problem. Most likely, your skipping brakes stem from one of several common issues:
- Worn brake pads with reduced friction area
- Warped or out-of-round brake rotors
- Loose or corroded caliper slides
- Wheel bearing failure introduces vibrations
- Faulty ABS wheel speed sensor activating incorrectly
- Stuck or faulty brake caliper piston
Let’s understand the causes in detail and get their potential solutions to ensure the safety of your car.
1. Warped Brake Rotors
Brake rotors should be flat and round to distribute friction material from the brake pads evenly. Over time and from heavy brake use, the rotor can warp where one section develops a high spot with which the brake pad makes contact harder.
As your vehicle moves and that high spot rotates under the brake pad, the harder contact causes a skipping sensation. Sometimes, it may manifest as vibration in the brake pedal and steering wheel.
The amount of warp needed to cause noticeable issues can be as little as 0.004 inches. Even minor warping can cause problems. Warped rotors gradually get worse and lead to premature pad wear.
Take out the wheel and visually inspect the brake rotors for signs of uneven wear, grooves, cracks, heat discoloration, and rust.
Listen for grinding noise when rotating the rotors by hand to identify any issues that need to be addressed.
Resurface the rotors if the amount of warp is within specifications to restore the flatness – but this is only a temporary fix.
Replace the brake pads -even with new brake rotors, the old pads may have become deformed from the uneven wear of the warped rotors.
2. Loose Or Corroded Brake Caliper Slides
The brake caliper uses slides or pins to allow the caliper piston to move in and out as the brake pads wear. When these slides become loose, corroded, damaged, or stuck due to improper lubrication, they do not allow the caliper piston to move evenly.
That can cause one brake pad to make harder contact with the rotor compared to the other pad, resulting in uneven braking force. The harder pad contact acts like a warping effect where one spot of the rotor takes more force, causing a pulsing or skipping sensation.
Loose slides also allow the caliper to cock or tilt, further exacerbating the uneven pad contact.
- Clean the slides thoroughly to remove any built-up corrosion or contamination. Use a glass bead blaster or solvent (our recommendation) to ensure they are completely clean.
- Lubricate the slides with a high-quality silicone-based caliper grease (our pick.) Apply a thin, even coating to all slide surfaces. If pitted, damaged or worn out excessively, replace them.
- Apply a coating of silicone grease to the back of the brake pads where they contact the caliper. That will help reduce noise and bind the pads to the caliper.
- Check for any caliper piston seals leaking fluid that could wash away needed lubrication on the slides. Replace any faulty seals.
3. Worn Brake Pads
As the brake pads wear down and become thinner, the contact area with the rotor decreases. This can lead to ‘hot spots’ forming where the pad material is concentrated on the rotor.
As these hot spots rotate under the pad material, it can feel like the brakes are ‘skipping’ as you press the pedal. The pad material is compressed into a smaller footprint on the thinner pads, so it hits localized areas instead of an even layer across the rotor.
This uneven contact causes vibrations through the pedal as a skipping sensation. As they wear further, the skipping becomes more pronounced.
- Replace the worn brake pads. Thoroughly bed them in by making several brake applications from low to high speed.
- Check the slide pins and brackets holding the brake caliper. Clean and lubricate them if needed.
- Inspect the brake rotors for excessive grooves or warping from the worn pads. Resurface or replace them depending on their condition.
4. Bad Wheel Bearing
A failing wheel bearing will also introduce vibrations into the entire wheel and brake assembly, creating the skipping feel. As you press the brake pedal and the rotor starts to slow, these vibrations are transmitted into the brake pads and caliper.
The result feels like the brakes are ‘skipping’ or pulsating. This happens as the uneven vibrational forces are transmitted each time a high spot in the worn bearing rotates past the brake pads. You’ll notice the skipping most when applying the brakes, and the rotor rotates the fastest.
- Have a mechanic perform a wheel bearing “click” test or use a mechanic’s stethoscope to diagnose a faulty bearing accurately.
- Inspect associated parts like the hub, wheel hub flange, and outer tie rod end when replacing the bearing. They often wear in conjunction with a bad bearing.
- Lubricate the new bearings immediately after installation to introduce fresh grease to all bearing surfaces.
- Also, inspect the brake rotors for excessive runout or damage from the vibrations of the worn bearing. The rotors may need resurfacing or replacement.
5. Faulty ABS Sensor
The Anti-lock Braking System uses wheel speed sensors to monitor each wheel’s rotation speed while running. If one of these sensors fails, it can cause the ABS to activate improperly, making you feel the ‘skipping’ when you apply the brakes.
It is because the faulty sensor won’t give the right data or even no data about rotation. Consequently, the ABS controller thinks one of the wheels is locking up or slowing too quickly, modulating the brake pressure to that wheel.
This cycling of the brake pressure causes the brake pedal to pulse or skip under your foot as you press it.
- If the ABS warning light is illuminated, get an OBD-II Scanner (our pick) and check for fault codes to know which sensor is faulty.
- Once you find the faulty sensor, check for debris buildup and test it using a multimeter (our pick). Check for the resistance of the ABS stated in your manual, typically between 900-2000 ohms.
- If it’s anything but the number indicated, replace it with new ABS Sensors (our pick). Clear any fault codes.
Here is a video demonstrating how to troubleshoot an ABS sensor:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Still curious? Here are answers to some common queries about brake issues and the sensation of brakes feeling like they are skipping.
What Happens If You Don’t Pump Your Brakes After Changing Pads?
Your pistons may not fully reset, causing air gaps between the pads and rotors. This can lead to excess pedal travel and skidding, decreasing braking performance.
How Much Does An ABS Sensor Cost?
An ABS sensor can cost between $100 to $300, depending on your car model. The cost varies widely due to differences in sensor complexity and vehicle manufacturing.
When your brakes feel like they are skipping, that is a crucial indicator you have an issue in your brake system. It could be you have worn brake pads, warped rotors, loose caliper slides, or the wheel bearing failing. It might also be you have a faulty ABS sensor, or a stuck caliper piston.
You need to carry out thorough inspections and necessary repairs or replacements to restore the smooth and reliable braking performance you need. Neglecting the issue can lead to further damage and compromise your safety on the road.
Taking immediate action and ensuring proper maintenance can restore confidence in your vehicle’s braking system and help you enjoy trouble-free driving.
Meet Zayan, the mechanical genius behind the highly acclaimed brakes problems and solutions website. With over a decade of hands-on experience in the automotive industry, Zayan has become a trusted authority in the realm of brake systems.
His passion for cars, coupled with his expertise in solving complex brake-related issues, has earned him a devoted following of car enthusiasts, mechanics, and everyday drivers seeking reliable guidance.