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Front wheels getting 'dusty'

Got my '07 Escape (4-cyl AWD) last winter, and by mid-summer have noticed dusty reddish material accumulating on the front wheels – it’s powdery, very fine, uniformly spread on the otherwise bright metal wheels. Nothing like it on the rear wheels. No noticeable change in brake action (no pulling, pedal is not ‘soft’). What is it: scary / normal / keep an eye on it – ?

What you are seeing is brake dust. Many times, near the end of the life of your brake pads, they will start generating more dust than before. If this is a new thing and you just had your brake pads replaced, you may have gotten some cheap pads, which will generally dust more than premium or ceramic pads. Brake dust is fairly normal, but most of the time if it increases in quantity, your pads are getting near the end of their useful life.

Probably a mix of rotor rust and brake dust. It should come off with a generous spray of mag cleaner. Your going to see much more of this on the front wheels, since they do 75% of the braking work. The red color should be from any rust build-up as the car sits overnight. The ceramic brake pad material leaves a very light, almost invisible brake dust. Unlike a semi-metallic brake pad used by older cars that have a dark brake dust.

It’s brake dust, as the other folks have said. It’s not a good idea to let it sit on your wheels because it can eat into the finish over time. I guess you don’t wash your wheels when you wash your car?

THANKS for the replies, guys! I never noticed that happen on previous cars (2WD Ranger, 4WD Sidekick, Civic) so wanted to check it out.

It figures that the red is rust - I only recently moved to a house w/ a garage (which oughta come in handy in Minnesota). What doesn’t quite figure is that it’s about brake pads wearing out - I just passed 21,000 miles (bought the car with only 14,000). Are OEM brake pads as crappy as OEM tires are reputed to be?

well, yes, from a performance perspective generally they are. But then you’re probably not planning to throw that thing on a race track anytime soon so that’s OK.

Brake pads are ablative. I usually tell people to think of them like erasers. An eraser generates friction when you rub it across the paper, just like a brake pad does when you rub it on a rotor. And just like an eraser, the brake pad will slowly wear away - just fortunately much slower than the eraser does. The presence of brake dust on your wheels doesn’t necessarily point to a lack of quality in the pads. Even the most expensive pads will dust.

BTW automatic car washes are notoriously lousy at getting brake dust off wheels. You’ll want to do it yourself. As long as you do it once every month or so, it’s very easy - it’ll wipe right off with a damp rag. Apply a coat of wax to your wheels twice a year to make it even easier. As lion said, you really do want to get this stuff off the wheels because if it stays on too long, it will leave little pits all over your wheels.

If you don’t mind spending a few bucks, use a good wheel cleaner. They are usually spray on/hose off, but you’ll probably have to do a little light scrubbing with a wheel brush or rag on stubborn or hard to reach spots. Make sure you get the proper cleaner. There are cleaners for chrome, aluminum and “all wheels”. Spray on finish is also available that inhibits the brake dust from sticking to the wheels. You may have to turn the wheels to reach the rears or remove it completely and do a super clean up job. I do this twice a year using a pump jack and jack stand to be safe. Be sure to clean the wheel wells as the brake dust gets everywhere.

Hope that this helps.

Al in MD