The problem of ‘brake squeal’ in the automotive industry remains despite over 70 years of research: the phenomenon is still surprisingly unpredictable and poorly understood. The literature has moved from very simple lumped parameter models to ever more sophisticated finite element models, but testing theory against measurements has been hindered by the difficulty in obtaining repeatable results. It would seem the phenomenon is extremely sensitive to changes in parameters beyond an experimenter’s control. This paper describes recent results from a project to identify and quantify the sources of uncertainty within sliding contact systems and to determine the sensitivity of the friction-coupled system to uncertain parameters. The theoretical approach taken is to use a linear analysis based on the uncoupled transfer functions of two general subsystems to predict stability when they are coupled by a sliding point contact. The model is tested using a pin-on-disc rig whose uncoupled transfer functions can be measured. Using a stability criterion based on the roots of the characteristic equation of the system, the sensitivity of model predictions to parameter variations is investigated numerically. It is shown that using a realistic range of parameters the root locations change considerably and enough to change stability predictions. As the complexity of the model is increased reliable results become harder to achieve as the characteristic equation becomes more ill-conditioned. This is not simply a result of the high order of the system, but is thought to be a result of particular mode combinations. Experimental work shows uncoupled transfer functions vary over time and by enough to significantly affect squeal predictions. These results suggest reasons for the difficulty in obtaining repeatable measurements and for the unreliability of squeal prediction theories developed so far. If the reasons for the sensitivity of squeal can be understood it may be possible to design sliding contact systems that are more robust.