Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Brakes shudder

I have a 2004 Chevy Malibu. I recently drove down a mountain road and felt the car shudder as I applied the brakes. That is the only time I have ever felt the car shudder and as soon as I was off the downhill slop it stopped doing it. What was causing the car to do this?

You had probably overheated the brakes on the long downslope. When I was living it TN, it was common practice to downshift the transmission and let the engine drag control the speed down those long downslopes. This doesn’t damage the engine any, and saves the brakes for when you really need them.

It is encouraging to hear that they are no longer shuddering. If the brakes suffer this overheat condition too long, the shuddering usually only goes away after new brake pads and rotors, even long after leaving the mountain.

First–Are you familiar with how the brakes react when your ABS “kicks in”? If you are not familiar with how the car feels when the ABS activates, it is entirely possible that this is what you experienced–for the first time.

So–Have you considered the possibility that your ABS activated–either correctly, or in error? Is it possible that there was some patchy ice or snow on the road surface? If not, it is possible that you have a problem with the ABS system.

thanks for the info. I will have the ABS checked.

I will definitely downshift next time…THANKS!

Take the car out on a smooth road or parking lot and brake gradually from around 35 MPH.
If you feel any shudder in the steering wheel the front rotors are likely warped. (overheated brakes can cause this)
If you feel any pulsation in the brake pedal, there is likely a problem in the rear brakes.

Depending on the mileage of the car, it’s also possible to suffer a brake shudder due to worn wheel bearings, a worn suspension part (ball joint, tie rod, etc.), and in some cases, even an oddly worn tire can cause a “brake” shudder. Hope that helps.

I recently drove down a mountain road and felt the car shudder as I applied the brakes.

I suspect that was the ABS (Automatic Braking System) activating.  Was there any ice or snow in the area?  If so it was doing what it should be doing and helped keep you on the road.  

Of course as others have suggested when driving down a mountain road and need to slow down, you should use engine braking (down-shift) to avoid overheating the brakes. If the brakes get overheated they can fail, which you don't really want on the way down a mountain.

If there was a fault with the ABS a warning light should appear.  

The pulse you feel when the ABS is doing its thing is normal.  It does not indicate a malfunction.