How Do Brakes Catch Fire?

When I was reading an article online about how to fix a problem that I was having with the brakes in my car, I skimmed over something that had to do with brakes catching fire. Interested to find out what could cause this type of issue in order to prevent it in my own vehicle, I did some more reading to get all of the details on how brakes catch fire. 

How do brakes catch fire? The brakes of a car can catch fire for a variety of reasons, with the main causes being improper repairs and careless driving. Brakes can catch on fire when the driver is braking too hard, applying friction to the components within the braking system and consequently causing it to overheat, smoke, and even catch fire. 

When the components of the braking system are positioned in the wrong way, fastened together too tightly, or worn out from excessive wear and tear on your vehicle, they have the potential to get extremely hot and spark up a fire if too much pressure is applied to them at the wrong time. 

While driving any kind of vehicle, extreme overheating and fires within the components are circumstances that you never want to find yourself in. However, in the event that you do, it is important to understand what causes this phenomenon in order to do everything you can to fix the issue and prevent it in the future. 

In this article, we will be going over the processes that the brakes in a car will go through in order to catch fire unexpectedly. Keep reading to get a detailed look into this occurrence. 

How Do Brakes Catch Fire?

When it comes to brakes catching fire inside of a car, there is no question that something has gone severely wrong. In order to be prepared for a situation like this, or to prevent it from happening all together, it is important to understand why brakes catch on fire. 

In this section, we will outline a detailed process of how the brakes of a car burst into flames. Take a look at the list below for a quick explanation on this concept. 

How Brakes Catch Fire:

  • The braking system overheats 
  • Brakes lose their functions 
  • Burning odor is emitted from the brakes 
  • When too much heat is present, smoke will occur and sometimes even fire 

The braking system in a car will ultimately begin to catch fire as a reaction to the temperature inside of it. When the brakes overheat due to incorrect placement of parts or excessive braking with high levels of pressure, they will become very hot. 

When you push on the brake pedal, there will be a special braking fluid that flows through the cylinders of the wheels and into another component known as the caliper. In the event that the braking system is overheating, the fluid inside of the calipers will become hot and start to boil. 

As a result, the brakes will start to lose their functions all together, emitting a burning odor from the inside. 

When too much heat is present in this circumstance, the braking fluids will begin to produce smoke that will come up from the inside of the vehicle, and fire will follow soon after if the issue is not remedied. 

Common Causes For Overheating Brakes 

In order to prevent smoking and burning brakes from happening to your vehicle, it is important to be aware of the common causes of this event. The list down below will give you a general idea of what usually makes the brakes in a car overheat and potentially catch fire. 

Brakes On Fire – Common Causes:

  • Accelerating and braking at the same time
  • Brake pads are worn out 
  • Brake pads are fastened too tightly 
  • The components are positioned wrong 
  • Consistent hard braking (too much friction resulting in heat) 

If you are accelerating and braking at the same time too often, your braking system has a higher chance of overheating and producing smoke and flames as a result. 

Another main cause of burning car brakes is worn out brake pads or incorrectly fastened pieces. If your brake pads are secured into the braking system too tightly, they can be producing too much friction which will translate to heating in the components. 

If the individual parts of your braking system are positioned incorrectly, a bad reaction between the moving pieces can cause high temperatures to arise. 

Additionally, if you are constantly braking hard and fast without pacing it, you will be causing friction between the parts in the braking system that will also result in heat, smoke, and even fire. 

What To Do When Your Brakes Are Smoking 

While we are on the topic of car brakes catching fire, it is important not to leave out the process of remedying the issue if it ever occurs. Instead of waiting until the moment that your brakes catch on fire to try and find a solution, you should be prepared with a detailed process of what to do in order to prevent and stop these events before they occur. 

In this section, we will be going over the actions that you should take when you feel that your brakes are going to catch fire. The list below will give you a list of steps, with a more detailed explanation immediately following. 

How To Prevent Burning Brakes:

  1. Pull over onto the side of the road as soon as you see/smell something out of place. 
  2. Carefully use your hand to check the rims of each tire for heat (going from the outside in slowly) 
  3. Check your brake pads and shoes 
  4. Make sure everything is properly adjusted 
  5. Diagnose the issue with your brakes and take the proper action to fix them

As soon as you notice a bad smell coming from the inside of your car or any kind of smoke or fumes being released from the braking system, you should immediately pull to the side of the road slowly and carefully. 

In order to locate the root of the problem, get out of the car and use your hand to check the rims of each tire. To avoid burning your skin, start from the outside of the metal and move in slowly toward the bolts on the inside. 

If one or more of the tire rims are extremely hot, you will know that this is where the problem is occurring. 

Now that you know where to look, you will be able to check the essential components including the brake pads and shoes, making sure that everything is properly adjusted and nothing is out of place. 

After you have gone through this process, you should be able to diagnose the issue and take the proper action to fix it. 

Solutions For Smoking/Burning Brakes:

  • Readjust all inner components 
  • Consult a professional 

The most common solutions for smoking and burning brakes, depending on what the problem is, are brake pad replacements and readjustments of any parts that are not lined up correctly or fastened too tightly. 

If you have just taken a trip to the mechanic and you are noticing smoking or burning brakes very soon after, it would be best to take your car back to the shop to get everything fixed within the braking system. 

As you can see, there are plenty of events that can lead to hot, smoking, and burning brakes that can burst into flames while you are driving. However, with the right knowledge of why this happens and how you can fix it, you shouldn’t have to worry about being stuck on the side of the road with brakes on fire. 


I'm Arwood, but the grandkids call me Big Papa. After retiring from teaching automotive classes for 30+ years I decided to create a blog about all the questions I used to get about brakes and anything automotive.

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