Do New Brakes Smell and Smoke? Understanding Brake Behavior

Behind the mesmerizing allure of shiny new vehicles and their roaring engines, it’s essential not to overlook a fundamental, yet often underrated component – the brakes. As they silently promise safety, their functioning and characteristics hold immense significance for every car owner.

It’s quite common for newly installed brakes to exude certain smells and even smoke. However, without a clear understanding of these phenomena, they could be mistaken for worrisome signs. In this article, we delve into the intriguing question: “Do new brakes smell and smoke?”

Here’s the quick answer: New brakes can emit a burning smell or produce smoke due to factors like the bedding-in process, manufacturing residues, and the rust inhibitor coating on new rotors. This is usually part of their normal functioning and should dissipate over time. However, if symptoms persist, it could be due to issues like a stuck caliper, necessitating professional intervention.

Understanding the Basics of Brake Systems

The brake system in a vehicle is a vital element of its overall safety and performance. It’s crucial to understand its components and their roles, to ensure proper maintenance and safe operation.

Overview Of Brake Systems

A brake system is an intricate network of mechanical, hydraulic, and electronic parts working together to stop a moving vehicle. The braking process begins with the simple act of pressing the brake pedal and ends with the vehicle slowing down or coming to a complete stop.

Key Components Of Brakes

  1. Brake Pedal: The brake pedal is the component that the driver applies force to. This force is transferred to the brake booster.
  2. Brake Booster: The brake booster amplifies the force from the brake pedal, making it easier for the driver to halt or slow the vehicle.
  3. Master Cylinder: It transforms the mechanical force from the brake booster into hydraulic pressure which is then sent to the brake calipers or cylinders via brake lines.
  4. Brake Lines: These are essentially pipes carrying the hydraulic pressure from the master cylinder to the wheels.
  5. Calipers and Cylinders: These apply force to the brake pads or shoes, which then press against the rotors or drums to slow down the vehicle.

The Role Of Brakes In Vehicle Safety

The primary role of brakes is to decelerate a vehicle swiftly and securely. Properly functioning brakes prevent accidents, reduce the risk of skidding, and enhance control during sudden stops.

Types of Brake Systems

Understanding the different types of brake systems is crucial, as it guides maintenance practices and informs vehicle purchase decisions.

Disc Brakes

A disc brake system utilizes a pair of brake pads to squeeze a rotor (the disc), which is attached to the wheel. The friction generated slows down the vehicle. Disc brakes are celebrated for their effective heat dissipation and strong stopping power, making them prevalent in modern cars.

Drum Brakes

Drum brakes function by pressing brake shoes against the inside of a drum, which is attached to the wheel. Although not as efficient as disc brakes in heat dissipation, drum brakes are cost-effective and have decent longevity.

Examining Differences and Similarities

While disc and drum brakes share the common purpose of slowing down the vehicle, they differ in operation, efficiency, and maintenance. Disc brakes offer superior performance, but drum brakes are more economical. Understanding this balance is essential in making informed decisions regarding your vehicle’s brake systems.

Materials Used in Brake Systems

The materials utilized in brake systems largely influence their performance, maintenance, and overall lifespan.

Common Materials in Brake Pads and Shoes

Brake pads and shoes are primarily made of steel, brass, copper, or other metals, combined with fillers and friction modifiers. These compounds are responsible for creating friction with the rotor or drum.

  1. Organic Brake Pads: Made from materials like glass, rubber, carbon, and Kevlar, these pads are soft, quiet, and less damaging to rotors but wear quickly.
  2. Semi-Metallic Brake Pads: Composed mostly of metals, these pads are durable, offer excellent heat dissipation, but may wear the rotors faster and operate noisily.
  3. Ceramic Brake Pads: Formed from ceramic fibers, these pads operate quietly, generate less dust, and are less abrasive on rotors. However, they’re typically more expensive.

The chosen materials significantly affect the braking system’s performance. Organic pads, for instance, provide smooth and quiet operation, while semi-metallic and ceramic pads offer enhanced durability and heat dissipation. Therefore, the selection of brake pads should align with the vehicle’s intended use and the driver’s preferences.

Why Do New Brakes Smell and Smoke?

Experiencing a peculiar smell or noticing smoke emanating from new brakes can be alarming. However, these phenomena are commonly associated with the normal functioning and breaking-in of new brake components. Understanding the causes can help assuage concerns and indicate when professional intervention may be required.

Newly installed brakes can emit a burning odor or produce smoke due to a variety of factors, including the bedding-in process, manufacturing residues, the presence of a rust inhibitor coating, or a stuck caliper.

1. Brake Bedding-In Process

The bedding-in process is an integral part of installing new brakes. It involves performing a series of hard stops to heat up the brake pads and rotors, promoting an even transfer of pad material onto the rotor surface. This transfer layer enhances friction generation, improves brake performance, and prolongs the lifespan of the braking system.

During the bedding-in process, the significant friction and heat produced can lead to temporary smoke and a distinct smell. This is a normal part of the process and should dissipate once the bedding-in procedure is complete.

2. Manufacturing Residues

New brakes may bear residual substances from their manufacturing process, including oils or greases used to prevent rusting and contamination during storage and shipping.

As the new brakes heat up during use, these residues can burn off, creating a temporary smell and smoke. These symptoms are typically temporary and will cease once the residues are fully burned off.

3. New Rotors Coated with Rust Inhibitor

To prevent rusting during storage and shipping, new rotors are often coated with a rust inhibitor. This protective coating can generate smoke and a smell when the brakes are first used. A simple solution is to clean the rotors with soap and water or use a brake cleaner to remove the coating before installation.

4. Stuck Caliper

Though not as common with new brakes, a stuck caliper can cause smoking brakes. The caliper, which applies friction to the rotor, can get stuck due to dirt or corrosion, leading to brake pad overheating and smoke production. Uneven wear or the brake pad failing to retract from the rotor can indicate a stuck caliper. In such cases, professional help should be sought immediately.

5. Riding the Brakes

Persistently applying the brakes, as is often done when driving down a steep hill, can result in a burning smell. Continuous friction can cause overheating and damage if concentrated on the same rotor area. It’s recommended to allow the brakes to cool down by driving or coasting without brake usage for at least five minutes. However, if the smell and smoke persist, a brake inspection is essential to ensure safe driving and prevent potential problems.

When Should You Be Concerned?

It’s natural for new brakes to exhibit certain behaviors as they adjust to usage. However, recognizing when these behaviors cross into abnormal territory is critical for maintaining vehicle safety and performance.

Normal Behavior: The Initial Smell of New Brakes

Typically, a new brake system can emit a noticeable smell for a few hours as it undergoes the bedding-in process and the manufacturing residues burn off. This period can extend slightly based on the driving conditions and brake usage.

Normal Vs. Abnormal Brake Behavior

Understanding what’s normal and what’s not can prevent unnecessary worry and help identify potential issues early on. Normal behavior includes a mild smell and smoke during the first few hours of use or during heavy braking.

Abnormal behaviors, on the other hand, may include persistent smell or smoke beyond the initial few hours, brake noise, vibration, pulling to one side while braking, or a decreased stopping ability. If you notice any of these symptoms, it could signal a problem that needs immediate attention.

Signs of Potential Brake Problems

  1. Continuous Smell or Smoke: While new brakes may produce smoke or emit a smell for a few hours, persistent signs beyond this window should raise concerns.
  2. Unusual Noise: Squeaking, squealing, or grinding noises can be signs of improperly installed or worn-out brake components.
  3. Vehicle Pulling: If your vehicle pulls to one side when you brake, this could indicate a problem with the brake system like uneven wear or a stuck caliper.
  4. Vibration or Pulsation: Feeling a vibration or pulsation through the brake pedal could suggest issues such as warped rotors.
  5. Decreased Stopping Ability: If your vehicle takes longer to stop than it usually does, this could signal brake system problems, ranging from worn-out brake pads to brake fluid issues.
  6. Warning Light: Modern vehicles have warning lights that illuminate when there’s a problem with the brake system. If the brake warning light on your dashboard comes on, it’s crucial to have your brakes inspected as soon as possible.

How to Mitigate the Smell and Smoke from New Brakes

While the odor and smoke associated with new brakes are typically temporary, understanding how to mitigate these effects can enhance your driving experience and maintain the efficiency of your brake system.

Practical Tips for Reducing Smell and Smoke

  1. Proper Bedding-In: Conducting a proper bedding-in process for new brakes can help limit excessive smell and smoke. This process involves a series of stops from specific speeds to help lay an even layer of brake pad material on the rotors.
  2. Avoid Riding the Brakes: Try not to keep the brakes continuously applied, especially when driving down steep inclines. This generates excessive heat, leading to more smell and smoke. Instead, downshift to a lower gear to use engine braking and maintain a safe speed.
  3. Clean New Rotors: Prior to installation, clean new rotors with soap and water or a brake cleaner to remove the rust inhibitor coating. This can reduce the initial smoke and smell generated during first-time use.

The Vital Role of Proper Brake Maintenance

Proper brake maintenance is crucial for prolonging the lifespan of your brake system, maintaining optimal braking performance, and reducing any associated smell and smoke. Regular checks of brake pads, rotors, and brake fluid can help spot and rectify issues early, preventing potential damage and ensuring safe operation.

When to Seek Professional Help

It’s important to seek professional help if the smell or smoke persists beyond the initial hours of using new brakes, or if other warning signs such as noise, vibration, or decreased stopping ability occur. Trained professionals can accurately diagnose and resolve issues, ensuring the brake system operates safely and efficiently.

Brakes are an integral safety feature of any vehicle. Knowing how to manage and maintain new brakes, from mitigating smell and smoke to recognizing when professional intervention is necessary, ensures not only the longevity of your brake system but also the safety of your journey.


In conclusion, it’s normal for new brakes to produce a certain amount of smell and smoke due to factors like the bedding-in process, manufacturing residues, and rust inhibitor coatings. However, understanding the causes and knowing when these behaviors are abnormal is essential for maintaining vehicle safety and performance. 

Proper maintenance and recognizing when professional help is required is integral to ensuring the longevity of your brake system and, most importantly, the safety of your travels. From selecting brake pads based on their intended use and personal preferences to practicing proper bedding-in methods, every step contributes to a robust, efficient, and safe braking system.

Similar Posts