What causes new brake pads to smoke?

Updated July 25, 2017

Brakes make up one of the most important systems in a car, especially when it comes to safety. Brake pads are sometimes unforgiving on expensive parts, however, as once rotors come in contact with the metal beneath the pads, the damage is swift and extensive. After replacing brake pads, though, smoke sometimes appears after braking. Smoke is not unexpected as the components settle back into place when driving right after putting on new brake pads.

Is Brake Fluid the Culprit?

In cars that still use brake fluid, it is important to check the level after the brakes have been pumped. The brakes are not to be trusted until the pedal feels firm at its customary height. The brakes often need to be pumped repeatedly to attain that firmness, which depletes brake fluid levels. Low brake fluid, or even spilling brake fluid into the rotor area, however, does not cause pads to smoke.

Are Spongy Brakes the Culprit?

If the brake system has not been thoroughly bled, brakes feel soft like a sponge when the pedal is pushed. This sometimes means there is air in the brake line, and bleeding replaces that air with fluid. The car isn't safe to drive until the air is gone. While spongy brakes aren't safe, they do not smoke.

The Solution

After brake pads are replaced, avoid screeching out of the driveway and slamming on the brakes at the first stop sign. It's better to start the new pads out with gentle stops, and then push the brake faster and with more pressure at later stops. Even with this gradual increase in braking pressure, a burning odour and smoke coming from the brakes is possible. Until the brake pads are correctly seated in position, the extra friction sometimes results in smoke.

Is the Smoke a Problem?

If the smoke occurs for more than three or four days, take the car back to the garage where the pads were changed. If it was a do-it-yourself job, inspect the pads again or take the car to a shop for another look. For a few days, however, this is not unusual as part of new brake pad adjustment.

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