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Applying the brakes on your vehicle should be a smooth experience. A car jerking while braking is a sign there is a problem – but how do you fix it?

Vehicles are precision engineered to stop safety. Issues within your vehicle's braking system can make that difficult – and quite noticeable. So what's happening with your brakes?

If your vehicle jerks when you brake, the problem is most likely related to uneven brake pads and rotors. Other potential problems include air within your brake lines, and in some cases, badly worn tires. Worn tires should be visually obvious – but the problem is probably brakes.

We'll review what to look for and why worn brakes would make a jerking feeling. Also, how does air get into a brake line and what do you do about it?

We've worked with cars for many years, and we've found well sourced articles with great information to help explain the basics to users.

Table of Contents

What causes the “jerking” feeling in my brakes?

To clarify, a car shouldn't make a lot of noise when slowing down or braking, as all off the hardware that slows your vehicle is located underneath you, and should be in proper working order.

Worn brake pads

Any unusual feeling you have when slowing down is likely the result of brake pads that can't quite even, or totally worn out. The actual jerking comes from the brake pad being unable to stop the axle and wheel completely on the first try, making it feel like you are jumping forward or otherwise not having completely pressure on the brake.

Brakes are made of metal alloys and do wear out, since their job is to stop the axle and tire from rotating. One key to avoiding having this particular unusual feeling is to have the brakes inspected during routine maintenance. We'll explain more signs of brake wear later.

Low brake fluid

Your vehicle is designed to run with the proper amount of a large number of fluids, ranging from coolant to oil, windshield washer solution, and indeed, brake fluid. Brake fluid is a hydraulic fluid that helps move the pistons and pumps involved in most cars. A lack of brake fluid can make the car feel like it is being jerked because the mechanics within your brake lines can't do their jobs fully.

While it is possible to replace brake fluid, it is also not meant to leak. Consider expecting your car to see if it is leaking. You might need to replace brake fluid hoses or containers.

Air in the brake lines

Due in part to leaks, it is possible to get some air in the brake lines, where it should not be. Too much air and oxygen is taking up parts and space that it should not be. The result can be an unexpected jerk – or a lack of good pressure while braking.

It is possible to purchase a brake line bleed kit to get the air out.

Faulty Anti Lock Brake wiring

Your anti-lock brake system is a fantastic, subtle piece of hardware and equipment that keeps your brakes from locking up under hard braking when the vehicle continues moving. As helpful as this standard equipment is, it can have wiring issues that keep it from functioning properly and cause a bit of a jerk or vibration itself. This problem is also often indicated by a light on your dashboard, so it should be pretty obvious when it is happening.

Dirt and debris

Been driving through construction or the country? It's possible that your brakes and rotors have plenty of dust and dirt in them. Dust and dirt can cause a delay in braking, and an odd jerking feeling when the brakes hit one axle before the other.

How can I fix these problems?

Some experience auto owners can fix their own brake pads as the replacement is relatively easy. If you let your brakes go long enough, you might need to replace the rotors too. Some service shops will grind and machine rotors down instead of replacing them to reduce costs for you.

Generally speaking, you can look up Youtube or otherwise video instructions on how to fix anything on your car with the right amount of time and the right tools. Otherwise, consider bringing your vehicle to a local mechanic. A mechanic will inspect the brakes and other parts of the vehicle, like the parts for power braking, and let you know what part actually needs fixing.

How can I tell if my brake pads are getting worn?

There are a couple of good ways to get a sense of how worn your brake pads have become. If you are having a slightly harder time stopping in good weather, your brake pads are likely the culprit, though you should check your treadwear too.

Another obvious and prominent sign is squealing from the brakes. A brake pad is meant to make a high-pitched squealing sound when it is worn down – and does so while you are braking. The sound is unmistakable, and a clear sign from your brakes that you should replace them before you burn through your rotors too.

At this point, you are also going to hear grinding from your brakes, which is a sign that your rotors are becoming toast too.

Braking can become less responsive and dangerous at this point – and replacing the rotors and brakes will be more expensive.

Uneven braking

What is uneven braking? Well, if one brake is more worn than the other, or one tire is having an issue, you'll feel the vehicle pull one way or another while trying to stop. This can feel like a jerk, though probably not quite like a pulse.

One of the easiest ways to fix uneven brake pads is to replace them. In some cases, the brakes become misaligned and cause this problem – in which case a technician just moves them a little bit to ensure they make the right amount of contact.

Is jerking while braking dangerous?

If you are unable to control your car while it is braking, it is dangerous. Anything besides smooth braking is also a sign of equipment failure somewhere, which will be dangerous soon if not fixed.

Could part of the problem be worn tires?

Worn tires are more likely to slide while braking, - or slow down less quickly than normal, than break. However, if the brakes are in the same poor condition as the tires, worn tires will make the problem worse by making the vehicle both slower to stop, and providing the jerking sensation of badly worn brake pads.

Should I drive with brakes that are jerking or acting weird?

It's not a bad idea to call for a tow truck, especially if your insurance makes towing free. Having your vehicle safely moved is a lot safer than risking your vehicle and yourself in the event of a total brake failure.

Car Jerks When Braking

About The Author

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

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