By E.S. MacLean — May, 2018

In the days before YouTube and Chris Fix, when I was driving a rusty Toyota Tercel on a schoolteacher’s salary, my brakes began squeaking and I stopped at the only garage in the small central California town I lived in.

The guy helping me was the owner’s son and he seemed to be sizing me up, perhaps wondering how much he could charge. When he told me the cost of a brake job, I decided to do things myself. He sold me brake pads and, somewhat warily, lent me a few tools. I jacked up the the Tercel in an empty lot next door and, under a scorching July sun, had at it.

Looking back, I realize what I did that day wasn’t a brake job but a “pad slap.” And even when I finished my work, the car still squeaked when stopping. If only I knew then what I know now.

Chris Fix and Squeaky Brakes

In this short video, Chris Fix — one of the most popular mechanics on YouTube, with nearly half a billion views of his “how to” videos — does a great job: He explains the importance of properly functioning disc and drum brake hardware for squeak reduction.

When you think about it, you rarely hear people mention worn-out hardware as a source of squeaky brakes. Many assume the squeak comes from a brake pad past its prime or a bad rotor. Problem is, if a new set of brake pads doesn’t come with hardware, you might use the old hardware without noticing how worn-out the original spring or bracket actually is.

In the case of drum brakes, there’s no way to see the strength of a spring. You basically have to have faith in the idea that springs wear out because they just do. In fact, one great thing about this brake repair video is that Chris Fix shows you exactly how a drum brake works, so you can easily understand how the springs would wear out.

It’s actually a snippet of a longer video in which he describes the top five reasons for squeaking brakes. As it turns out, faulty brake hardware ranked high on the list of culprits. You know the little metal clips that sometimes come with your brakes pads? (Sometimes they don’t — more on that in a moment.) Those clips are key for guiding your brake pads squarely into rotors.

No Clips in the Box?

Another point Chris Fix makes takes me back to that July day long ago: some brake pads don’t come with hardware. The owner’s son sold me brake pads in a box that had no clips or other hardware. And he didn’t say anything about it. So I simply replaced my brake pads and that’s a no-no — it’s an incomplete brake job which some people call a “pad slap.”

The problem with it, which I now know thanks to Chris Fix, is that as your brake pads wear out, so do the clips and hardware. And when your brake hardware wears out, your brake pads aren’t sliding as evenly and smoothly as they should. And that leads to annoying squeaks. (It also wears out your new pads faster since they’re not pressing squarely against your rotors.)

That’s it — that’s what I know now that I wish I’d known then. Whether doing it yourself or hiring a mechanic, if you’re going to the trouble of doing a brake job, replace the old clips and hardware. It only costs a few bucks more and you get so much in return. Your pads last longer. Your braking is like-new. And you get rid of those annoying squeaks.