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Toyota brake pedal on Long Island, NY.

Why Is My Car's Brake Pedal Stiff?

Posted at Fri, Apr 22, 2022 9:00 AM

It should go without saying that the brakes are one of the most important parts of your car, so when you start to experience a stiffness in the brake pedal when you are driving, it is a problem that merits immediate attention. Stiff brake pedals present a serious safety hazard, so if this ever happens to you, be sure to book your car in as soon as possible.

But what makes a brake pedal become stiff in the first place? To give a bit more information, our Westbury Toyota staff have written up a short list of reasons that could account for a stiffening of the brake pedal, as well as the reasons why this issue should be taken seriously.

Faltering Power Steering Pump or Vacuum Pump

Different vehicles can have different kinds of brake boosters. In some vehicles, the engine intake manifold is used to create a vacuum, while in others the brake booster might be an electrical or mechanical driven pump. In other cases, some cars will have a hydraulic brake booster that utilizes the hydraulic pressure created by the power steering pump rather than a vacuum created by the engine. A stiff brake pedal in a vehicle with either a hydraulic booster or an engine vacuum could indicate problems with low levels of power steering fluid, a malfunctioning electrical pump, or a damaged or missing serpentine belt.

Faulty Brake Booster

As you have read, vacuum-assist power brakes function by using the vacuum created by the engine intake manifold. A faulty brake booster is one that has trouble maintaining the vacuum pressure. The booster is typically connected to the engine’s intake manifold with a special kind of hose, which then permits air to be drawn not only into the engine but into the brake booster’s front chamber through what is known as a check valve. Regular wear and tear or age can lead to the check valve breaking, or small tears forming on the diaphragm, and in both of these cases, it can lead to a malfunctioning brake booster. If the booster cannot create a vacuum, it will not be able to supply the necessary power to the master cylinder.

Fortunately, there is one easy way to discern if the brake booster is the culprit when it comes to stiff brakes. In order to do so, pump the brake pedal a few times while the car is turned off. As you do this, the pedal should become harder to press down. With your foot still pushing the pedal down, start the car. If the pedal sinks down further before becoming stiff, the brake booster is likely not the issue. If the pedal remains stiff, it is an indicator that the brake booster is to blame.

Brake Line Sludge

A stiff brake pedal may also be the result of sludge filling the brake lines. Brake fluid tends to absorb moisture, which in turn can enter the brake line system due to exposure to air. Gradually this presence of water in the brake lines will lead to the build up of sludge, which can hinder the regular movement of brake fluid and result in your brakes feeling increasingly stiff.

Seized Calipers

Brake calipers are a crucial component in your car’s braking system, and they work by pushing your brake pads against the rotor every time you press down on the brakes. Small parts of the calipers (or the calipers themselves) can sometimes become stuck and when that happens, it prevents them from both engaging and from positioning the brake pads in the correct manner. This leads to a stiff brake pedal, and if you suspect a stuck caliper is the issue, it is something a mechanic will have to fix.

Do Not Hesitate Over Stiff Brakes

Issues with the brakes should always be taken seriously given how important they are. If you ever experience a stiff brake pedal with your Toyota, do not hesitate to turn to Westbury Toyota. We will perform all necessary brake centered work so that you can be safely back out on the road in no time.

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