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The following tips are intended as general information only. Please follow all appropriate safety precautions when working on a vehicle. Westrans is not responsible for these errors, injuries, or damage arising from or related to reliance on the information contained here.

Frozen brake pads are a hazard of winter driving. This happens when there is too much ice, snow, or slush in the wheel well, and the brakes are allowed to set while still wet. The freezing-over can happen while the vehicle is parked, or even while the vehicle is still in operation, especially if the brakes aren’t being used frequently. A brake pad that is frozen to the brake drum can be a frustration on a cold winter’s day, as well as a significant safety risk, so it’s best to be aware of the potential problem, and prevent it whenever possible.

The best way to solve the problem of brake shoes frozen to the drum is to not let it happen at all. Some tips to avoid iced-up brake shoes and drums are:

  • Eliminate slush.
  • Apply your brakes regularly, even while moving.
  • Use a device to continuously monitor that the wheels are turning. There are several low cost options, such as Skiddd wheel indicators.
  • When you park, don’t immediately set the parking brake. Set up wheel chocks, and then give your brakes 30 minutes or more to cool down. That way, the any moisture left on the brake pad will freeze while not in contact with the drum. Once the brakes have sufficiently cooled, set the parking brake.
  • If your vehicle goes through the car wash, brake frequently afterward.
  • Use a dust cover on your brake drum.

If your brake pads have already frozen, you have a few options to remedy the situation:

  • If they’re only mildly frozen, try repeatedly releasing and applying the parking brake, or try rocking the truck back and forth.
  • Use a handheld propane torch to heat the brake pads. Be careful to avoid getting too close to any brake valves, as the heat from the torch could damage the internal components of the valves. Also keep the torch away from any fuel source. Keep a fire extinguisher handy as a precaution.
  • Many drivers keep a ball peen hammer on hand to help manage frozen brakes. As a first step, properly set up wheel chocks to prevent any accidental movement. Then release the brake. Carefully tap the brake drum with the ball peen hammer. Make sure you only strike the drum, and never the brake pad, as brake pads can fracture easily, especially in very cold conditions.
  • Do not use hot water to melt the ice on the brake pads. This will make the wet brakes at risk for re-freezing as the water cools off.

With all of these tips, make sure you follow appropriate safety precautions. 

Happy winter driving! 

For more winter driving tips, see "Preventing frozen air brake lines."

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