When it comes to safety, making sure the brakes on your car are properly functioning is a must. Even just the feeling that your car’s brakes are not working like it normally does is already unnerving! But you do not have to go through unnecessary stress, knowing when is the right time to check your brake pads or have them replaced, will save you the trouble of ending up with bigger problems.
Brakes pads are an essential part of a car’s vehicle brake system. You can find them between your brake shoes and brake drum. When the brake pads are no longer working properly it will wear down other elements of the brake system including the rotors, discs and calipers. Keeping brake pads in good condition is a must to avoid very expensive repairs and unsafe driving conditions. So knowing how to identify when to replace a car’s old brake pads is very important. But first, why do brake pads wear?
Brake calipers which looked like big, adjustable clamps squeeze your brake pads against the brake rotors causing the car to slow down and stop. When you press the brake pedal, it makes the calipers clamp down on the brake pads which compress the rotors thereby transferring the kinetic energy of the vehicle into thermal energy also known as heat by friction. The resulting friction is what cuts the speed and brings your car to a stop. Each time the pads rub against the rotors, they wear down little by little. You might have noticed some black dust on the wheels of some vehicles. This black dust is the residue from the material of the pad and steel rotor that has worn off. Brake pads are an important part of a vehicle’s disc-braking system and making sure they are working properly is a must for your safety.
Indications of Having Worn Out Brake Pads
You do not have to be an expert to know if you need a brake job. Disc brakes generally show a few clear signs that it is time for you to have them checked or replaced.
One of the first indications is when you hear a screeching noise or squeal when pressing the brakes. What you can hear is a sound produced by a thin metal strip in the pads. It is purposely embedded in your brake pads to let you know that they are worn to the point of needing replacements. You can easily hear it when the windows are up but it may be masked by surrounding sounds like loud music and other noises in the environment. Not all vehicles have this feature though so better check to see if yours does. It is called a “mechanical brake-wear sensor” or a brake scraper. When you are hearing it on a regular basis then it is time to bring your vehicle for an inspection. Rain or storm can expose your brakes to damp conditions. When this happens a thin layer of dust may form on the brake pads and cause a very similar squealing noise while braking. If the noise disappears after the first few times you engage your brakes then that’s a good sign that the culprit is just a bit of rust built up on the brake pad and you do not need to have your brake pads replaced.
Less than ¼ INCH Brake Pad
You can also conduct a visual check up to see if your brake pads are in need of replacement. What you can do is to look through the tire spokes and you should be able to see your brake pad squeezed against your brake rotor. It should be at least a quarter of an inch thick (or 3 millimeters). If it is less than that, then consider bringing your car to a brake specialist especially when it has been a long time since the last inspection. Most likely it is time for their replacement. In case you cannot see the pad by looking through the tire spokes, you might need to jack up your car, then take off a front wheel and check for pad wear. Bolt the wheel back on, jack up the rear of your car then remove a rear wheel and inspect for a rear brake as well. You might need a flashlight or trouble light so you can see clearly in the dark fender wells. Since you already went into trouble checking some of the brakes, you might as well check all four brakes.
Deeper Grinding or Scraping Noise
If the noise you are hearing sounds like metal grinding or a rumbling growl, chances are your brake pads are already worn down to their metal backing plates and to the point that those plates are now being compressed directly against the steel brake discs. This is a very dangerous situation as it can reduce the vehicle’s stopping power significantly. Your brakes will not be able to slow your car adequately or even not at all if you ignore this issue for any period of time. This condition will also damage your brake discs and can lead to a complete brake system failure. So when you hear any grinding noises you have to check your brakes immediately. Bring your vehicle into a service shop to avoid bigger problems.
- Indicator lights are on. Some cars have an indicator light on their dashboards that will tell the driver when it is time to replace the brake pads. Read your owner’s manual to know if your car has a low-pad warning system. Keep in mind that if the light does come on, you will need to have a mechanic replace both the light sensors and the brake pads.
Other Signs of Brake Issues
There are other indicators that tell you you are having brake trouble which don’t involve worn brake pads. When your brakes don’t stop immediately as they normally do, when the pedal feels spongy than firm, or slowly sinks toward the floor, you are probably having another issue. It could be that the brake fluid is contaminated with water or air. It can also be caused by a fluid leak in the system or even a malfunctioning brake master cylinder. If you have any of these problems, then see your trusted auto shop or dealer.
Another issue is when your car pulls to one side during braking. The causes can be: uneven wearing of brakes, an issue with steering or front suspension which is unrelated to brakes, or a leak in one of the brake lines. When you feel a vibration in the brake pedal during normal braking, it is likely your rotors are warped and would need truing to smooth them out, and it might even need to be replaced. But if you are using the brakes harder because you are descending on a hilly road or driving aggressively, your brake’s performance might just go back to normal when the brakes cool. However, if the vibration continues then you will have to bring your vehicle to an auto shop to have it inspected.
Some Brakes Can Wear Faster
There are many factors that can contribute to the longevity of your brake system. In certain environments and driving styles, brakes may wear at a faster rate. It is expected that your brakes will wear quicker when you live in a hilly or mountainous area than those who live in flatlands. If you live wear-prone areas then you will want to check your brakes more often.
Nothing is more important among all the components on your car than your brakes. Knowing what to look and listen for to make sure they are in good working condition is a must for every vehicle owner or driver. It is better to be proactive by doing routine maintenance as it can save you more money in the long run and most importantly, keep you safe.
It might just be a simple pad replacement but it can evolve into a way more expensive and complex brake repair if you find the brake pads worn and let time pass by before addressing the issue right away.
How Often Should Brake Pads Be Changed
As mentioned previously, the frequency of changing your brake pads depends on the typical terrain your car is driving on, driving habits and even the type of vehicle. Overall, one good tip is to check the brake pad lining’s thickness every time you change oil. Most auto shops that do brakes will automatically check them when changing oil since they will look to sell additional services. But you can also do the checking yourself as indicated above.
In general, you should replace your brake pads after driving at least 50,000 miles. But other drivers may have to replace their brake pads at 25,000 miles. But there are brake pads that can last up to 70,000 miles before needing replacement.
The lifespan of your brake pads also depends on the material of the lining. Soft brake-lining materials like organics are expected to wear down quicker and need to be replaced more often while metallics usually wear on the rotors more heavily. Linings that are made of ceramics are more recommended as they give the best of both worlds. They offer the best features of a soft-brake lining and a metallic lining but they are more expensive.
Glazed Brake Pads
Another thing to watch out for are glazed pads. These pads are caused by overheating and when pads become glazed they provide little friction to stop the brake rotors and cause danger. Fast-braking in an emergency or riding the brakes for a longer period of time can cause glazed pads. It is easy to notice as you will find the surface smooth to feel and is shiny or crystallized in appearance. You may also find your car’s stopping distance increase significantly. When your brake pads are glazed, you have to get them changed immediately regardless of their thickness.
Brake Pad and Rotors Maintenance Tips
To make sure your brakes are working 100 percent, maintaining your car’s brake pads and rotors is a must. Here is a list of maintenance tips you should do:
- Check brake pads and rotors regularly in order to identify any issues and fix them right away. Taking care of your pads and rotors better also means less fixing and lower costs.
- Follow the mechanic’s advice to flush your brake fluid. It will help maintain the brake pads and rotors. Also, the flush functions like a tool that refreshes the vehicle’s braking system. Hence, it is a must to keep flushing your brake fluid when necessary.
- Replace the brake parts when needed. A braking system has several parts. Pads and rotors are just two of the many other components of a braking system. You must understand that brake parts should be replaced when they are used excessively and when they have worn down. To make sure you can maintain the brake pads and rotors, upgrading the parts of your brake system is a must.
- Overall care and maintenance of the braking system is a must. Having your brake system go through regular routine maintenance not only maintains your brake pads and rotors, but also other components of your braking system. Also, do not carry too much load as weight affects the longevity and performance of your car brakes. Too much weight brings more pressure to the brake system reducing its life.
- Maintain a comfortable speed when driving. Driving carelessly and unnecessary speeding up can shorten the lifespan of your brake pads and the pressure exerted in speeding up a car can ultimately ruin the brakes.
- Avoid hurrying up to a stop. Many people are guilty of doing this and though it helps the car to stop, it is causing damage to the car and its braking system. This is particularly harmful to the pads and rotors. Using your brakes sensibly at all times will make them last longer.