What Causes Brakes To Lock Up While Driving?

At some point in our driving experience, we’ve all been there, met with a situation where slamming the brakes as hard as one could, was the primary instinct and possibly the only option. Being able to stop your vehicle in a situation of emergency is crucial and any problem with the braking system can turn into a safety hazard almost instantly. 

If you haven’t felt anything like this, consider yourself lucky, and if you’re wondering why brakes may lock in a vehicle? the answer would be a few different reasons.

Brakes can lock up while driving typically when they are put under extreme stress or load abruptly. However, the exact reason is not straightforward. 

  • Broken Brake Calipers/Rotors
  • Worn Out Pistons And Wheel Cylinders
  • Brakes Overheating
  • Low Brake Fluid
  • Faltering ABS
  • Faulty Hydraulic System

Broken Brake Calipers/Rotors

The braking system works together with a number of components to make the deceleration quicker and easier. One such part is the caliper slide pins. These pins are used for positioning and alignment of the caliper to the rotor which moves and presses the brake pads using the hydraulic fluid. If the Caliper pins or the caliper themselves get damaged, it can cause the brake to lock up. 

Worn Out Pistons And Wheel Cylinders

The master cylinders placed alongside each wheel, work to pump the necessary hydraulic fluid to help with the optimal braking of the vehicle. If the wheel cylinders fail to work properly, the fluid becomes free to seep into the brake lining, dripping past the pistons. The linings drenched in hydraulic fluid get contaminated and can cause uneven stopping and even gripping when sudden force is applied on the pedals. In a different scenario where the cylinders themselves are leaking, the brake system will lose its ability to amplify pedal pressure causing mushy braking.

Brakes Overheating

Heat is the enemy to a number of components present in your vehicle, the brakes being no exception. When pressure is applied on the brakes at high speeds, the pads are subjected to damage not only from high friction but also extreme heat. Overheating causes the pads to wear prematurely and once they completely erode there’s nothing protecting the discs. Heat then begins the damage on the metal which can potentially cause the brake to lock while you’re driving.

Low Brake Fluid

As we have established, overheating to be the culprit in causing brake locks, the reason for the same though is not friction alone. One other cause tormenting your braking system with high temperature is low hydraulic fluid. If you happen to skip a few routine car services or contain a leak in your master cylinder, your braking system will be exposed to more heat damage than what it would normally. To check for a leak in the cylinders, we recommend a simple visual inspection by yourself. If you find liquid oozing through the cylinder placed on the wheels, you could confirm the leak.

Another fluid that could cause a closely similar scenario is your power steering fluid. If your car’s power steering fluid is low, it could potentially lock up your steering, creating an equally difficult situation.

Faltering ABS

As more and more vehicles are shipping equipped with this system, the chances of a slipup by the braking system while driving is going down. The role of  ABS is to help the driver ably steer in an urgent situation by preventing the wheels from locking. Having a car with an anti-brake system, brake lockup while driving shouldn’t occur. But that’s when everything is working fine and there are no underlying issues. A fault with the anti-lock brake system generally lights up the dash, so if you notice the blinking light, do not wait to visit a qualified mechanic as it indicates a compromised safety system. 

Faulty Hydraulic System

The use of incorrect fluid or bad friction materials can also cause the brakes to lock up. In ABS vehicles, the wrong fluid can damage the anti-lock pump delivering ungainly braking and even locking of the brakes. 

What Is Antilock And What Most People Don’t Get Right

Having discussed the various reasons for brakes locking up while driving, it would be odd not to touch on the system that was designed specially to counteract this problem- The anti-lock brake system.

The anti-lock braking system, also known as the anti-skid braking system prevents the unintentional locking of wheels in conjunction with better steering on braking. The use of this system dates as far back as the early 1920s when it was developed by French pioneer Gabriel Voisin for enhancing braking systems on aircraft. Today the ABS is present nearly on all newly arrived vehicles as it should be but most people do not understand the applications of the system completely. Let’s understand its application by breaking its two important functions-

ABS Does Not Help You Stop Quicker

The anti-skid braking system as it is also called does exactly what its name suggests and helps in the deft steering of the vehicle whilst preventing brake lock in emergency situations. Some people think it adds stopping power to vehicles and in believing so, get careless. However, in reality, it does not quicken the stopping process.

ABS Does Not Require You To Hit The Breaks Hard

The ABS system allows you to use the breaks with ease. Upon pressing, it takes to task the braking of the vehicle and just requires you to not take your foot off. Though slamming the brakes is a common response in situations of emergency.

What To Do When Brake Lock-up When You Press Them

Losing control of the vehicle in a situation where control is paramount is quite nerve-racking. When you push the brakes, you expect to stop not skid, so what should you do in such a frightening situation?

If you ever find your braking system locked and lose control over driving, we recommend being calm and turning your hazard lights on as it can help others around you be aware of the impaired vehicle.

Second, do not turn the engine off and try to pull over at a safe spot.

Try to bring the car to a halt by activating the parking brake

Though the brakes will unlock once the vehicle cools down, we recommend not driving the car any further.

Get your car towed to a garage and have it thoroughly inspected for faults as the reasons for brake failure are numerous.

Can A Faulty Battery Cause Brakes To Lock

Though the battery does not affect the braking in both ABS and NON- ABS vehicles at all, some new cars carry an electronic parking brake that uses an electric motor to actuate the calipers. So if the battery has died, this automatic parking brake will not work. However, the conventional brake’s functioning will remain unimpeded. 


We sincerely hope you never have to face any issue with your brakes in your journey, it is one of the most terrifying experiences which is why we have created this exhaustive guide on all the things that cause brakes to lock up while driving. Further, if you have questions on the things that affect the braking system of your vehicle, feel free to reach out to us or leave a comment below.

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