Is it Dangerous to Drive with Bad Rear Brakes?

Having properly functioning brakes is absolutely essential for safe driving. While issues with front brakes tend to be more noticeable and hazardous, driving with bad rear brakes can also be extremely dangerous. In this article, we’ll examine why rear brakes matter, signs of rear brake problems, the risks of continuing to drive, and your options for getting them fixed.

Here’s a quick answer: Yes, driving with faulty or worn out rear brakes is extremely dangerous and should never be done. Malfunctioning rear brakes significantly reduce stopping power, lead to loss of vehicle control when braking, increase the risk of total brake failure, and place more stress on the front brakes. Have any issues with rear brakes repaired immediately by a professional technician.

Why Rear Brakes Are Important

The rear brakes on your vehicle serve several crucial purposes that are vital for safe driving. While the front brakes provide the majority of your stopping power, properly functioning rear brakes work together with the fronts to deliver optimal braking performance. Having faulty or worn out rear brakes reduces your overall braking capability and compromises critical safety mechanisms.

One key function of the rear brakes is to provide additional stopping power to help slow and stop your vehicle. The rear brakes apply pressure to the rear rotors and drums to produce braking forces that work in tandem with the front brakes. Having worn or malfunctioning rear brakes diminishes the total braking power available. With only the front brakes fully operational, your stopping distances will be significantly lengthened. This makes it much more difficult to stop quickly in emergency situations.

Another important rear brake function is maintaining control and stability when braking. As weight transfers forward during hard braking, the rear wheels become more prone to locking up and skidding. Quality rear brakes help prevent the rear end from sliding out or fishtailing during abrupt stops. But with poor rear brake performance, you are more likely to experience loss of control when braking hard. This loss of stability in the rear end can lead to spins or running off the road.

The rear brakes also play a role in preventing overuse and fade of the front brake components. Since the rear brakes share some of the braking forces, they reduce the workload placed on the front rotors, pads, calipers and other hardware. Without properly functioning rear brakes, far greater stress is placed on those front brake parts. This can accelerate wear and eventually lead to brake fade, where the front brakes overheat with repeated use and lose stopping power.

Finally, the rear brakes are critical for properly operating the parking brake. The parking brake utilizes the rear brakes to hold the vehicle stationary when parked. Worn out or damaged rear brake parts can lead to parking brake failure where it cannot keep your vehicle from rolling on hills.

So while the front brakes are the primary stopping mechanism, the rear brakes execute several supplementary functions that are essential for safety and control. Having any issues with your rear brakes jeopardizes these vital functions, putting you at greater risk on the road. This underscores the importance of ensuring your rear brakes are in quality working order at all times.

Signs of Bad Rear Brakes

How can you tell if your rear brakes are having problems? Here are some common signs:

  • Longer stopping distances – If you’ve noticed it’s taking you significantly longer to come to a complete stop, faulty rear brakes could be the culprit.
  • Vehicle pulling to one side – When braking, the vehicle will pull toward the side with the weaker brakes. This indicates an imbalance.
  • Burning smell after braking – The smell of burning could point to overheated rear brakes that are no longer working properly.
  • Parking brake not working – If the parking brake can’t keep the vehicle from rolling, the rear brakes need attention.
  • Brake warning light – A brake system warning light on the dash may illuminate with rear brake problems.
  • Abnormal noises – Squealing, grinding or clunking sounds from the back of the vehicle when braking can signal issues.

If you notice any of these warning signs, have your rear brakes inspected right away. Catching problems early is key for safety.

Risks of Driving with Bad Rear Brakes

Continuing to drive with malfunctioning rear brakes is an extremely hazardous thing to do. Here are some of the major risks:

Extended Stopping Distances

With only your front brakes fully operational, it will take you much farther to come to a complete stop. At city driving speeds of 35 mph, an extra 40 feet or more of stopping distance could be needed. This makes it much harder to stop in time to avoid collisions.

Loss of Control

Poor braking performance in the rear of the vehicle can lead to loss of control in emergency braking situations. The rear end is more prone to locking up or skidding out, which can cause spins or off-road accidents.

Failure to Stop

In severe cases of deteriorated rear brakes, they may stop working altogether. This leaves you relying solely on the front brakes, which multiplies stopping distances. Total brake failure can occur if they overheat or fade.

Parking Brake Failure

You’ll no longer be able to rely on your parking brake to hold the vehicle when parked on an incline. This leaves the potential for a dangerous rollaway accident.

Higher Risk of Front Brake Failure

With the rear brakes compromised, far more brake stress is placed on the front brake components. This can accelerate wear and the possibility of failure in the front as well.

Clearly, driving with faulty rear brakes poses serious risks that only compound over time. No matter the symptoms, prompt brake service should be your top priority.

Options for Repairing Rear Brakes

Once you’ve determined your rear brakes need work, getting them repaired right away is critical. Here are some options to consider for getting your rear brakes back to proper working order:

Brake Pads Replacement

If your brake pads are excessively worn down, replacing them is typically the quick fix. This involves removing the caliper and old pads, then installing new pads and any necessary hardware.

Brake Shoes Replacement

For vehicles with rear drum brakes, worn out brake shoes will need replacement. This includes removing the drum, changing shoes, and adding any springs or parts.

Caliper Repair

A damaged or malfunctioning rear caliper can necessitate its repair or replacement. A caliper rebuild with new seals and internal parts is sometimes possible.

Hardware Replacement

Important brake hardware like cylinders, springs, pins, retainers and more may need replacement with extensive rear brake damage.

Rotor Machining or Replacement

Rear brake rotors that are deeply scored, warped or worn down may need resurfacing or full replacement.

Fluid Flush and Bleed

Contaminated or old brake fluid can cause poor rear brake performance. A system flush and bleed refreshes the fluid.

Be sure to discuss the options as well as pricing with a professional brake technician. And for safety, have the front brakes inspected at the same time. Getting your entire brake system into reliable working order reduces risk and gives peace of mind.

The Importance of Professional Brake Service

While routine brake maintenance like pad replacements may look straightforward, it’s highly advisable to utilize professional technicians rather than attempting DIY repairs. Here’s why brake service is best left to the pros:

  • Advanced diagnostic capabilities – Professional technicians have specialized tools and equipment to thoroughly evaluate your brake system’s performance and pinpoint any issues.
  • In-depth knowledge and training – ASE certified professionals have mastered brake system anatomy, repair procedures, and best practices.
  • High quality parts – Shops source professional-grade replacement brake components not available to the average car owner.
  • Efficiency – With the right tools and expertise, shops can complete brake work quickly and efficiently.
  • Warranty – Reputable shops offer warranties on parts and labor, providing assurance that the job was done right.
  • Vehicle safety – With brakes, there’s no room for error. Proper repairs keep your vehicle safe.

While professional brake service does have a cost, it’s a smart investment in your safety and that of your passengers. For your own good and the good of others on the road, keep your brakes, including the rear brakes, in peak condition.


Driving with impaired rear brakes is incredibly risky and poses dangers including longer stopping distances, loss of vehicle control, and potential system failure. Telltale signs of problem rear brakes include pulling, noises, smells, longer stops, and warning lights.

Have your rear brakes inspected and repaired by a professional right away if you notice any issues. New pads, shoes, rotors or a full caliper repair may be necessary. Investing in professional brake service reduces safety risks and provides peace of mind. Keep your brakes in top shape so you can stop safely.

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