Loud grinding noise from brakes and severe vibration in brake pedal

I have a 2008 Toyota Matrix XR with 14,500 miles. When I apply the brakes in cold, wet, snowy conditions - especially when the road is rough - I get a loud, terrible grinding sound coming from the brakes, a severe vibration in the brake pedal, and very poor braking performance that is near to total brake failure. This is an intermittent problem and only happens in cold, wet, snowy conditions. It does not happen if roads are dry or in rainy conditions. The car is NOT skidding at the time so I don’t think it is an ABS response to skidding. We live on a gravel road (in pretty good shape)and the problem has happened most often on that road. The key factor seems to be wet, snowy conditions in which lots of snow and slush get packed in the wheel wells and on the car in general. Road roughness also seems to be a factor. Any ideas what is causing this? I would appreciate any help - this is scary when it happens!

You need to have the vehicle brought in and have a brake inspection performed. This is the only way to determine what is causing the problems that have you concerned.


That IS the ABS system at work. While ABS is good in terms of allowing you to steer by preventing brake lock-up, it does tend to increase stopping distances in certain circumstances–and driving on a gravel road is one of those circumstances.

Even though the car is not skidding, poor traction conditions are causing the ABS to activate. Truthfully, the experiences that you report are an indication that you are driving too fast for the road conditions at the time that the ABS activates.

So–slow down, and learn to live with ABS. While it does have some downsides, it also has advantages, and you have to learn to live with the total package.

Thank you. But the thing is that the dealer is an hour & a half away and I won’t be able to re-create the problem when there. Also this dealer tends to say “its supposed to do that” a lot. Will a brake test reveal anything?

You don’t have to bring it to the dealer for this type of service. These are considered as wearable components, and aren’t covered under the warranty.

Find a local independant garage that has brake expierience, and they will be able to determine as to what’s causing the problem.


Thank you for your reply. I think you might be right about the poor traction conditions activating the ABS. However, I am definitely not driving too fast for the conditions. In all cases this has happened (thankfully) at speeds under 10 MPH. Also, if it is caused by poor traction conditions, why doesn’t it happen on the adjacent snow & ice covered paved roads? This cannot be the way ABS is supposed to work. The noise is very loud (think Jimmy Hendrick)and the brake pedal isn’t just pulsating like I’ve experienced with other ABS cars, it is vibrating severely like as if someone were kicking the bottom of our foot - hard. And stopping distance isn’t just increased, stopping ability is nearly eliminated.

Okay, that sounds reasonable. I have a good independent so I’ll take it there. Thanks.

Um, I’m going to agree with VDCdriver on this one. This sounds like normal ABS behavior to me, according to the conditions you describe.

Audi used to have an “off” switch for the ABS on their rally cars, because they discovered that, on gravel roads, the car stopped faster with the wheels locked (gravel piling up in front of the tires) than it did with operational ABS.

Wet snow and slush is like grease. You can’t get much traction on it, no matter what you do.

I think your Matrix is operating as designed, and you need to slow down.

Like Tester said, take your vehicle in to your independent shop.

Does the ABS light come on the dash when the braking acts up?

There MAY be a faulty wheel bearing, though with that little mileage, it’s iffy.

Is there any wheel pull?

FYI, ABS. The actuator assembly is mounted in the right front corner of the engine compartment (behind the headlight housing), and consists of the master cylinder, an electric hydraulic pump and four solenoid valves.

On these vehicles the front speed sensors are mounted to the front steering knuckle in close relationship to the toothed sensor rings, which are integral with the front driveaxle outer CV joints.

The rear wheel sensors are bolted to the axle carriers. The sensor rings are integral with the rear hub assemblies.

The ABS computer is mounted with the actuator.

You said you drive on gravel roads, which reminds me of the days when I learned to drive (Nothing but gravel roads) and stones used to get jammed in the brakes.

MAYBE there is a stone jammed in one of yours.

I have a 2004 Matrix XR (40k miles) and so far haven’t had your type of problem and I haven’t read anything about it on any of the Toyota forums.

this sounds like the ABS working just fine…I had an Acura NSX and to keep the solenoids from freezing up, it was recommended to apply the brakes on gravel to allow them to actuate, as it was easy to do on gravel and VERY HARD to do on pavement and hard on the tires…the brakes were just too good to actuate very easily except on gravel…sounds normal.

Well redtag, you, mcparadise, and I are in agreement on this one.

This is simply a case of the ABS doing what it is designed to do when the tires cannot get proper traction, as on a gravel surface. It is immaterial that the ABS doesn’t work exactly the same on this car as on the OP’s previous car. The transmission may shift differently, the engine may sound different, the radio probably needs to be programmed in a somewhat different fashion, the controls are not the same as the OP’s previous car, etc, etc.

The lesson to be learned here is that different cars behave somewhat differently under the same circumstances, but different does not have to mean that it is functioning incorrectly.

I really hope that Raven50 DID NOT go to an independent mechanic for this supposed problem, simply because it is a new car–under multiple warranties–and he/she will likely be soaked for quite a few bucks for no reason.

When anything on a warrantied car appears to be malfunctioning, it should be brought to the dealership. Doing otherwise will undoubtedly cost the owner money that could have been saved, and perhaps even more importantly, what the private mechanic does to the car could turn out to be incorrect and could wind up voiding the warranty on that particular system–in this case, the brakes.

Yes, I know that brake pads/linings are not a warranty item, but everything else in the brake system is covered by that car’s Bumper-To-Bumper Warranty.

I’m going out on a limb here and ask the following, do you have large, spoked alloy wheels that you can see the brake caliper and rotors through? Maybe ice and snow are building up on the calipers and rotors and are affecting the ABS sensors.

I really appreciate all the input. However, all who are advocating that this is normal ABS behavior just simply are not listening to what I’m saying. Also, everyone is fixating on the gravel-road aspect way too much. When this has happened the gravel is not even visible due to the thick cover of snow. Also, no one apparently believes me when I say 1) that I am not driving too fast for conditions, 2) that this is a very, very, very severe noise and vibration, and 3) that the the brakes aren’t just pulsating (like I’ve felt many times with ABS) and increasing the stopping distance - they are failing to stop the car at all - I mean, there is a slight slowing sensations amidst all the noise and vibration, but if the object were to stop the car, it would be a complete failure. There is no way this is “normal” - if it were, no one would ever buy a car w/ ABS brakes again! No kidding, I’m not making this up. The problem has occurred in 3 specific places: in my driveway (once); on a particular flat-ground, 90-degree right turn (once); and on a short down-hill stretch of the road in front of my house (twice). In all cases it has been actively snowing, the roads were covered with snow, and the wheel wells were packed with snow (behind the front wheels) to the point that there was 1/2-inch or less clearance between the tire and the packed snow & ice. Could all this snow and ice build up around the wheels be causing the problem?

Thank you. Finally someone is not saying this is “normal”. Yes, the disk and caliper are easily visible through the wheel spokes. I have not noticed snow or ice packed in there, but I wasn’t looking. As I said in a previous reply, the snow and ice pack between the wheel well and the front tires to the point where there is only 1/2 inch or less clearance between the tire and packed snow and ice. I’ve wondered if with such small clearance between the tire and packed snow, could the tire be hitting the packed snow when I step on the brake and the nose drops down because of braking…

I have a Subaru WRX and encounter on occasion the ABS engaging on rough roads where lots of bounce is involved especially gravel. It really should not be but I have learned to cope by applying the brakes less.

I have a feeling your OEM tires are ill suited to the conditions they are encountering on snowy/gravel roads and simply loosing traction. Winter tires would definitely eliminate ABS engagement so easily. Or simply purchasing better for gravel/snow tires will elininate your quick ABS engagement. A tire that is incredible for these conditions is Nokian WR (or WR G2). Basically an all-season that is also rated as winter tire too. It works incredibly well on gravel in summer/winter and in winter conditions. I have owned multiple sets.

it sounds to me like you just answered your question. the wheel wells being packed with snow and ice to within 1/2 " of the tire means that your suspension isn’t working as designed, the tires are rubbing on the inside of the wheel well ice buildup, which is probably giving the traction sensors and the speed sensors a fit trying to figure out what to do.

On your Subaru, when the ABS engages on rough gravel roads (I assume only when you apply the brake) what does it sound/feel like? I drive gravel every day here, but have never felt (or heard) the ABS engage on the dry or wet gravel road (no snow). My top speed on these gravel roads is about 25 mph. Very occasionally, after new road grading, I get up to about 30 mph if it is dry.

The tires that came on this Matrix are Goodyear Eagle RS-A M&S, size P205-55-R16. I was quite happy to see these on the car when I purchased it, thinking they would do very well in the winter. However, I’ve been disappointed since the traction seems marginal at best. I think these wide, relatively low profile tires do not work well in winter conditions. My last car, a Honda Accord, also had similar profile tires and had very poor traction in snow - no matter what brand tire I used. I have Nokians on my Toyota Tundra and have been very happy with them. I think I’ll try Nokians next year. In the meantime, do you think adding studs to the present tires would help with my problems?

I agree with the others who say it is working normally.

Why don’t you pull the fuse for the ABS system and drive the car to see if the noise and grinding stops. If the noise is still there then it is something other than the ABS but if the noise is gone then it is the ABS system activating.

That seems like a very good idea! It may be tricky to pull off though since the problem is intermittent, the weather is terrible when it does happen, and the fuse box is under the hood. It is supposed to snow again soon, maybe I should pull the fuse after it snows then drive around a while to see if I can re-create a similar situation with the packed snow and etc. I don’t think one time would be a very definitive test one way or the other. I could disconnect the ABS for every snow storm for the rest of the winter and if it never did it again, that would mean something.

Personally, I think “keith” and “cappy208” are the closest to identifying the cause – The snow and ice build-up around the front wheels, wheel wells, and possibly around the calipers & rotors is affecting the ABS sensors and giving them “a fit trying to figure out what to do” so they are, therefore, failing to work properly. Again, no one who actually drove this car and experienced this problem first hand would ever say it is working “normally” it would be ludicrous to think so or say so. If it were to happen at higher speeds, it would be very very dangerous and could easily result in the deaths of the occupants. This is not a cute-little, inconvenient foible of ABS that (Ha Ha) inexperienced and naive drivers like myself (as some writers have assumed I am) just have to learn to live with.

I say “normal” because when the ABS activates it is normal to have a grinding noise and vibration in the pedal, especially in the type of conditions you describe when it occurs.

Now it possible there is a problem with the ABS system, it could be activating when it shouldn’t. I have seen speed sensors signals drop out as the car slows down, the ABS activates and gives the feeling of a failed master cylinder(no brakes).

It is very hard to diagnose a problem like this because most of the time there are no codes set in the system because the module doesn’t think anything is wrong.