High pitch brake noise - how much time I have before I need to change brake pads?

I will be concise on the history of my car.

- first owner of a 2003 Honda Civic. Never hard brake, and regularly maintained.

- Moved to San Diego in 2007, and at 28000 miles in Oct 2008, mechanics recommended changing front brake pads, and resurface front rotors (there were no noise complaint whatsoever before)

- Hear some noise after the repair and brought back; mechanics says it’s normal.

- Oct 2009, car started shaking braking at high speed downhill. Brought in again, warranty just expired by 1 week. Was recommended a front rotor resurface again which I did.

- Still hear the same noise after the repair, brought it back in November. This time, they say it’s the rear drums. Again, I did the repair (since I want to document this). At the same time, they said again that I needed new brake pads (now at 41000 miles). I didn’t think the brake pads would last for such a short time, so I decline the repair

- You might be thinking now that the mechanics is taking me for a ride…I have started an investigation on the sales and practice of this shop.

- This morning, I started to hear high-pitch brake noise, indicating of the pads being worn. Here comes my main question, how much longer (in mileage/time) before I have to change the brake pads before I ruin the rotor. I have to arrange for the investigator and the shop to meet with me, but I don’t know when this will happen…

- I wrote my story here so that if you have ANY feedback as to any of the stuff I said above, I’d appreciate it. It has been a nightmare dealing with my car brake and consistently dishing out money. Thanks!

You’ll get different kinds of high pitched noise from brakes. A steady squeal that goes away when you step on the brakes is typically the wear indicator that is telling you your pads are almost gone.

Then there is squeal when you step on the brakes. This is most often vibrating brake hardware that comes from lack of proper shim installation. This kind of noise is very annoying but isn’t dangerous (except maybe to your ears).

If your warning tab is squealing there is no way to give you a mileage (the tabs are flimsy and there is no standard distance from the rotor). The only way to really know is to visually inspect. Forget about wrecking the rotors - yours have been turned - warped - and turned again. You need new rotors no matter what. What you need to worry about is the braking power you lack once you have no pad material left.

No one will be able to give any certain assessment of anything that this shop has done - diagnosis at a distance after the fact is practically impossible. But what kind of shop is this? Is it a national chain shop? If so, then you are likely getting poor service & workmanship including some overselling. Why not just find a second shop (local, independent) to give you an assessment of the brakes?

Your rotors are already ruined if they’ve been resurfaced twice, so quit worrying about the rotors. You’ll need new ones when the new pads are installed.

Most rotors can’t tolerate one resurfacing these days. I’ve never heard of anyone doing it twice.

The shaking while braking was caused by warped rotors. The rotors warped because they were too thin after the first resurfacing.

You need a new mechanic.

Thanks for your assessment! Part of this noise may be the fact that it has been colder than usual here in San Diego. Just this afternoon, I hear this high pitch noise more frequently not when I brake, but when I turn my wheel to the right, say during a right turn. Could that be related to the brake pad?

Certainly, I am not going back to this shop to service again. I really did not suspect their service until recently. It is a local shop that is AAA approved! The reason why I can’t take it to a second mechanics now to fix it is because having the bad/wrong pads on my car is the perfect evidence that the shop could have cheated on me.

Can’t agree with you more…definitely need a new one, and will try to get (some of) my money back.

Squealing when you turn the wheel is not at all likely to be related to the brakes. The first thing I would look at is the accessory/serpentine belt which may be slipping under the load of the power steering.

Brakes are considered to be normal wear items, NEVER covered under warranty, And you are wasting your time with your “investigation”…The repair shop did not design, build or drive your car. Case closed.

I understand that brakes are normal wear items and appreciate your comment. But I suspect that the shop did not replace my brake pads at all last year or used different brake pads than what they sold me.

I admit I don’t know much about cars and cannot tell the difference between pads. But if this shop did not perform the service which I paid for, it constitutes a crime. I am not asking them to warranty my rotor. Sorry if this wasn’t clear to you.

I have to disagree with the claim that turning cannot cause brake squeal. I have experienced it many times myself. The brake rotor is turning with the wheel and part of the hub assembly that is connected via bearings to the suspension. The brake caliper is hard mounted to the suspension. When you turn, you place stress on the bearings and the rotor can tip slightly, contacting a brake pad which is riding very close to the rotor surface. When pads are sufficiently worn, this can cause a squeal on turning.

However, this squeal is quite different than the belt squeal that can occur when the steering pump is loaded and the belt slips. It should be easy to tell which one is occurring and cigroller is wise to point out the possibility, to insure you’re not on a wild goose chase with the brakes.

If the noise is the brake pad wear indicators, you can ignore it since you are going to need new rotors now anyway. The current rotors can’t be resurfaced again and it is highly likely they are warped anyway.

Brake pad wear is highly individualized. Pad life is impacted by how the car is driven, where it is driven, how often it is loaded with passengers. For instance my '03 Civic 4dr EX with manual transmission needed front pads at 70K miles. I often coast up to lights, frequently downshift on steep hills, and rarely drive the car with several passengers.

San Diego is relatively flat, but head inland just a bit and it is hilly and the roads are curvy. Your car is likely an automatic and you won’t get any significant engine braking to slow the car, hence more wear on the brakes. If you car pool to work and drive down some hills with stoplights at the bottom you could put much more wear on your pads than I do.

30K miles isn’t great brake pad life but isn’t too far off what many drivers of automatic Civics get out of their brakes. Replacement pads come in different hardness grades. Softer pads don’t last as long but are easier on the rotors and don’t make much noise. Harder pads last longer, but often require new rotors and the metallic material to harden the pads can make more noise.

If you want pads that are closer to what came on the car from the factory you should go to a Honda dealer for your brake work. They charge more, but if you resist all the add on stuff dealer service reps try to push on you the price isn’t too bad if you have a coupon or they have a promotion on brake jobs.

I don’t see how your investigation can yield much useful information since all this happened a year ago. Certainly you can persue it. To me it sounds like you got poor quality work, but it would be very hard to prove you were ripped off. Perhaps your local TV station can have an investigative reporter take a car in known condition to the shop and see if they try to pull a rip off on them.

My suggestion is take your Civic to a couple of Honda dealers and price a brake job with new rotors and see if you can get a price you can live with. By the way you should be due for your second brake fluid flush if your Civic has ABS brakes. This is recommended every 3 years regardless of mileage on ABS equipped Civics.

Forget about “a crime”. You may end up happier just eating the loss. Isn’t there something good on TV? Something you’d rather be doing than charging at a windmill? Stay thirsty, my friend.

PROVING your suspicions will be almost impossible unless an employee at the repair shop turns whistle-blower…A set of brake-pads amounts to $30-$40 bucks…Nobody is going to stick their neck out over that…It is possible for perfectly serviceable brakes to squeal like a pig and some shops will try to cure it by changing parts…

Some shops warranty their brake pads for certain life. If your does not, simply ask friends, family, coworkers whatever for a trusty independent shop.

Replacing rotors instead of machining is a far better deal for the consumer. However for a shop machining rotors yields more profit as they get labor instead of parts for it. Good shops will typically just replace them so not to have a situation described here.

The best shops will test drive your car after simply replacing pads and see if brakes work together fine. If not then replace rotors.

As far as waiting, bad idea, once your pads are gone you won’t destroy your rotors but your calipers turning a $300-$400 job into $1000 with new brake calipers too.

Thanks! Your suggestions and comments are really helpful! I did a brake fluid flush in 2007…yeah, I do have an automatic, only my wife and I are passengers. There are some hills where we live, but nothing massive live east of us.

Well…I guess my frustration earlier has subsided a bit when the many helpful posts here. AAA got back to me today and said the shop is willing to replace my front brake pads free of parts/labor with some strange reasoning that they had a new manager last year and used some different pads…etc. It was clearly written on my receipt with the part number that they used…To be honest, I don’t really understand what he was trying to say. One thing that I have been hearing from the posts here is that I should replace the rotors. While I agree with that, the shop does not seem to think that I need new rotors…they said if it is within the minimum thickness, they will not change it. This is after they’ve resurfaced my rotor twice within one year…

Point taken. And this is what I worry about. I am taking the car in on Wednesday, and will hopefully have the whole issue resolved. I will ask them to check the brake calipers too to see if it is damaged due to worn pads.

Pad wear can not damage the calipers…Calipers are damaged by internal corrosion or collision damage…

I would also have them check for runout to see if rotors are warped. If they arn’t within spec have rotors replaced with new ones. Have them give you the runout numbers in writing if they don’t replace rotors.