Subaru - Squeeling Noise (Brakes)


I have a 1998 Subaru Forester with about 133,000 miles. I had the car garaged in Chicago for 2 years and street parking in San Francisco for the last 18 months. During the week, I hardly drive the car as I use public transportation to commute to work.

Recently the car began making a high pitched squeel when it is in motion. When I press the brakes, the sound stops. But it starts again immediately once I let go of the brakes (if the car is still moving). In addition, occassionally the brake pedal will “stick” momentarily when depressed.

I was concerned about this so I brought it to a local mechanic that has serviced my car several times and has a great reputation. He said that he took a look at the brakes and did not see any problems. In his opinion, there was nothing keeping the wheels from spinning freely and the brake pads have life in them. He thought that it could be an issue with the Subaru All Wheel Drive system (which he doesn’t deal with) and said that I could take it to a dealer, but that he thought it was more of an annoyance than a problem. If it was his car, he said, he wouldn’t do anything now.

After a couple of more weeks of listening to the squeel, I brought it into a dealer. They just told me that the rotors are rusted on the front and the rear, which is possible given the salty SF air and minimal usage. He said this has caused the brake pads to wear down. Within the last year, I had replaced these pads, but not the rotors. As a result, he recommended replacing front and rear rotors and breaks for $590 each, or $1,180 (for a car with a KBB value of $3300-4000).

Given the high price and disconnect with what the previous mechanic told me, I said to not do anything. I called back the original mechanic and he reiterated his first opinion, but said that his price is around $330 per side to do the same work as a price comparison.

I’m leaning towards not doing anything now based on the first mechanic’s advice. Any recommendations (seek a 3rd opinion), price quote opinions or similar experieces would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for reading!

I agree, the squeal is probably caused by surface oxidation on the rotors. I doubt this has caused the pads to wear abnormally fast… I would learn how to remove the wheels and inspect the brakes yourself, saving a ton of money and time in the shop…Usually, squeals like this can be cured by getting up to highway speed and then braking firmly once or twice to clean off the rotors. The Dealers $1100 rotors will rust just as fast and squeal just as bad…

Great - thank you for your advice!

I think that you should find a local, independent shop that specializes in brakes and have them take a look. First of all, if you do need brake work it will be a lot less $$ than the crazy dealer who wants $1100 to do brakes. But secondly, if you have no real brake problem but only contamination from sitting for long periods the brakes can be cleaned up and relubed to get rid of or at least minimize the noise.

One thing to consider is that when people inspect brakes they often don’t inspect every wheel. You apparently have 4 wheel disc brakes. That’s 4 wheels with 2 pads on each for a total of 8 pads. Much of the time people will pull one wheel in the front and one in the back (rather than all 4), and then might inspect only the outboard brake pads. So you have 8 pads and it might be that only 2 have actually been inspected. There are brake issues (such as sticky calipers or slide pins) that will wear certain pads more than others. These same issues might result in dragging brakes and noise.

Either way, I’d opt for the 3rd opinion since something doesn’t add up. Caddyman might be right about the rusty rotors, but a good shop can tear things down and clean it all up while double checking that everything is in order.

BTW, the symptom you describe is exactly what a brake wear indicator tab does - squeals until you apply the brakes. Its job is to let you know when it is time for new pads.