What Will Cause Brakes to Smoke?

by Meaghan Ringwelski
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The Problem

You are driving in your car, and begin noticing the telltale odor of smoke. The smell increases, and you see smoke coming from the front or back of your vehicle. This can be a frightening experience, and the culprit is often your car's brake system. Smoking brakes are not uncommon and generally happen for a few simple reasons. If your brakes begin smoking, consider some of the possible causes and rule out the more common possibilities first.

Common Causes

The most common reason for smoking brakes is a stuck caliper. If your car's brake system uses floating calipers, they are designed to slide around to function properly. Calipers sometimes become stuck, locking the brake into place. This creates enormous friction as you drive, creating smoke and a foul odor. Stuck calipers are usually caused by dirt or corrosion that hinder the caliper's movement. The car's wheel cylinder can also become stuck due to dirt or corrosion. A stuck wheel cylinder causes the brake shoes to continue pressing on the drum despite a release of the brake. The brakes will then smoke and emit a bad odor. Rarely, debris can become lodged in your brake system and cause your brakes to smoke. This situation is easily remedied and does not usually require a trip to the auto mechanic. Simply identify the foreign object and remove it from your brake system.


A certified car mechanic can fix a stuck caliper or wheel cylinder on your vehicle. The brakes will no longer smoke, and you will be able to drive your car as always. You should not attempt to fix a stuck wheel cylinder or caliper unless you are a certified auto mechanic, as it is quite easy to do serious damage to your car's brake system.

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