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driving concerns

2008 Subaru Tribeca

About 10,000 kilometres ago, the local dealership replaced the brakes on my 2007 Subaru Tribeca. Right away I noticed a loud, high-pitched squeaking noise coming from the front brakes when I stopped at low speeds, like at a stop sign.

I contacted the dealership twice and they said the squeak was probably due to a stone stuck in the brakes, and it would go away on its own. I pressure-washed the wheels at the car wash – but the noise was still there.

When I went back to the dealer for the third time, they said the squeak was because one of the brake parts is metal and the other is a synthetic material. Is there a solution, or is the dealer correct and this squeak may never go away?

– David, Whitehorse

Brakes shouldn't squeak constantly, especially when they're new – and a garage should take any squeal seriously.

"It's absolutely not normal," says Russ Hunter, instructor at BCIT in Burnaby. "What this guy's getting is a load of (crap), between you and me."

There are a few reasons why new brakes might be squealing – and your dealership should be checking for them, Hunter says.

First, Hunter says he would check the rotors first to see if the dealership replaced them when they installed the brakes. "A lot of shops now put on new brake pads but keep the old glazed rotors," Hunter says. "At the very least they should have been cleaned."

Over time, the heat generated by braking will cause brake dust to glaze the surface of the rotors – the metal discs that the brake pads grab onto – making their surface smooth and glassy.

"Think of melted glass," Hunter says. "There's not much to grab onto."

Ever hear running shoes squeak on the glossy floor of a gym? Or a paper towel squeak when wiping a window? The brake pads don't connect like they should, so you get a loud vibration.

When doing a brake job, a shop will either replace the rotors, use a lathe to take off the glazed metal, wash them with a solution and sand them, or leave them alone, Hunter says.

"If I looked at them I'd be able to tell right away," he says. "If I were at this shop, I would have replaced the rotors by now, to eliminate possible causes of the noise and to just to get the customer off my back."

The Automobile Protection Association (APA) says the squeak could result if the shop machined the rotors and didn't replace them. "Some Subaru dealers are still turning old rotors occasionally," says APA president George Iny. "If their brake turning machine is even a bit off this can provoke vibration and perhaps contribute to noise."

Even if the rotors are fine, your shop should be inspecting your brakes – constant noise could mean that metal is vibrating against metal, says Calvin Feist, instructor at NAIT in Edmonton.

Brake pads are made of fibre on the stopping side, but they're metal on the back, and that backing could be vibrating against the mounts that hold the pads, Feist says.

That vibration causes squeaking but, usually, pads are installed with shims that fit between the metal back and the mount to minimize vibration and noise. A silicone lubricant applied to the back of the pads would also stop vibration.

If your brake pads didn't have anti-squeak shims, well, you could be getting noise, Feist says.

Another possibility: the anti-rattle clips that hold the pads could be broken.

If your pads are semi-metallic, well, they have metal in the them – and those metal fibres will grind against the rotor. "But that would be more of a growl," Feist says. "Some brakes do make that sound normally."

If your brakes are older, loud squeaking is more likely – pads and rotors get glazed because of heat. And, some pads are supposed squeal as they get near the end of their life.

Most brake pad manufacturers put in a steel spring near the base of the pad – when the pad wears away, the spring rubs against the rotor, causing a high pitched squeal, writes Tom Torbjornsen, maintenance editor with AOL Autos.

Torbjornsen gives a good run-though on the causes of brake squeak – and, again, the bottom line is to get squeaky brakes inspected.

Is brake noise ever normal?

"Ninety-nine per cent of the time, your brakes shouldn't make any noise," Feist says.

Sure, brakes might squeal a little when you first start driving on a dewy or frosty morning – because the pads are wet or icy – but that should last for five seconds, tops.

"And, yes, dust and dirt could cause noise, but it shouldn't last for long," Feist says. "Sure, he's in Whitehorse, but it's not the 1920s where it's entirely dirt roads up there."

Even if brakes are mostly silent, they should be inspected at least once a year, Feist and Hunter say. "Even if they're fine, you'll get a heads-up that, say, you have to get your brakes done next spring," Hunter says.

The APA's Iny suggests taking your Tribeca to another shop for a full inspection and a second opinion.

"Pay for a second opinion and go back to the original shop, perhaps after writing them a letter, to work out a deal." Iny says. "A brake job alone is likely not expensive enough to be going to court to cover the cost."

Subaru Canada couldn't speak on the specific case without more details, but spokesman Joe Felstein says to call the company's customer service line to arrange an inspection.

"I think the first question is, did the dealer inspect the brakes, or just surmise over the phone that a stone or metal could be the issue?" Felstein says.


Send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to Jason Tchir at