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If your car’s performance depends on its braking ability, it may surprise you to learn that the brake pads are a major contributor of safety and reliability.
These pads play an integral role in how long you can take your vehicle without having any issues down the road.
In this blog post, we’ll walk you through everything from understanding what brake pads are made of to learning about the different types available, their lifespan, and when they should be replaced.
Not only will we provide guidance on replacing them but also tips for extending the life of your brake pads so that they perform effectively until their estimated expiration date arrives.
What are Brake Pads and Brake Shoes?
Steering and stopping your vehicle are crucial to road safety, so it’s important that you understand the differences between disc and drum brakes.
Both use friction when slowing down, but there are certain nuances which separate one from the other.
Disc Brakes: Disc brakes are an essential part of modern day vehicles – from luxury sedans to pickup trucks, they are the go-to braking system for vehicles that require greater stopping power.
Disc brakes use friction material pads pressed against a rotor or disc when you press down on the brakes. This causes a great amount of friction which results in slowing the vehicle down quickly and effectively.
Drum Brake: Drum brakes are cheaper and less complicated to produce than disc brakes, which means they can be an economical purchase. The friction material used on drum brakes provides the vehicle with consistent stopping power, as the material is affixed to “shoes” inside the drum.
How they work is quite simple really (much like disc brake pads), they use friction material affixed to half-moon shaped “shoes” pressed against the inside of a drum when you step on the brakes, slowing down the vehicle effectively.
These brakes were once installed on all four wheel positions, but nowadays one will typically see them installed solely at the rear axle of most cars and light trucks.
What are brake pads made of?
The brake pads used in most cars and trucks today are typically made of a semi-metallic material.
This is composed of steel fibers that are embedded into an organic matrix. The fibers are specially shaped to wear away quickly, providing the friction needed for effective braking without compromising the overall durability of the pad itself.
The organic matrix includes natural materials such as rubber and resin which act as shock absorbers, helping to reduce noise and vibration during braking maneuvers. While semi-metallic pads offer superior stopping power, they also tend to be more prone to excessive noise and dust generation.
Signs of Worn Out Brake Pads
1. Squealing Brake Pads
If your brake pads have wear indicators, this sound is caused by a small metal attachment that serves the purpose of informing drivers when it is time to bring their car in for an inspection.
Much like dragging fingernails across a chalkboard gives us chills, hearing this sound should signal a possible issue with our brakes. Even if you do hear this noise while using your brakes, it’s important to remember that some brake pads do not come with this feature and relying on sound alone is not sufficient to evaluate the quality of your brakes.
You’ll also want to recognize that wet or damp conditions may cause similar noises after brake usage but should dissipate after the first few times
2. Less Than A Quater Inch of Brake Pad
When it comes to knowing when it’s time for a brake pad replacement, one way to tell is by visually inspecting your disc brakes. This may mean you need to remove the wheels, but taking the time up front is worth it.
Looking down on the brake assembly or “caliper” holding the brake pads, simply check if the friction material on the pad or shoe looks less than ¼ inch thick (approximately seven millimeters) and if it has been a long period since your last inspection.
If this is the case, you should have them checked out by an expert as soon as possible.
3. Metallic Grinding
If you ever hear a low rumble or grinding noise coming from your car when braking, it’s important to get it checked out immediately. That noise could be an indicator that your brake pads have worn away and the backing plates are now making contact with the discs or drums of your braking system.
When this kind of metal-on-metal action occurs, more damage can occur if the issue isn’t attended to straight away.
4. Thin Brake Pads
If you want to make sure your car brakes are functioning properly, it’s important to periodically check the thickness of your brake pads. Generally, when buying new brake pads, you should aim for a thickness of 8-12mm.
The average life expectancy for those brake pads is about 50,000 miles. However, when your brake pads start reaching 6.4mm (¼ inch) in thickness or less, it may be time to invest in some new ones.
If your brake pads get thinner than 3.2mm (⅛ inch), it’s imperative that you replace them as soon as possible because they no longer offer any protection and will put you at serious risk of having your brakes fail while driving.
5. Decreased sensitivity of brake pedal.
If your vehicle takes additional time to come to a halt after pushing on the brake pedal, chances are you have worn-out brake pads. The responsiveness of your brakes has likely diminished as a result.
6. Indicator Lights
To ensure that you don’t wear down your vehicle’s brake pads, check if it has a signal light on the dashboard. Your car might be outfitted with such an indicator to inform you when the time comes for replacing your brakes.
Should this alert appear, remember to not only have new brakes fitted but also updated warning sensors installed by a professional mechanic!
Don’t forget to refer to the owner’s manual for more information about your specific model.
Why Do Brake Pads Wear?
Brake pads wear out due to the friction generated when they are used. As a result, heat is created which can cause the brake pads to become warped and worn.
This phenomenon can be compounded if you drive in wet conditions or if your car overheats from an ineffective cooling system. It’s also possible for brake pads to prematurely wear out due to lack of maintenance or faulty brake components such as calipers and rotors.
Note: Rotor wear develops much more slowly than brake pad wear does, and if you’ve noticed black dust on your wheel rims it’s almost certainly simply residue from your brake pads – not from your rotors.
How Long Do Brake Pads Last?
Figuring out how long do brake pads last can vary depending on a number of factors. If you drive mainly in urban areas or heavy traffic, you will be likely to press and depress the brakes more often than on highways or rural roads.\
Additionally, some drivers tend to ride the brake which can cause the pad to wear away quicker.
Generally, it is thought that brake pads should last between 30-35 thousand miles for city driving. However, if you’re driving mainly on highways or less populated areas your brakes can potentially last up to 80 thousand miles before needing a replacement.
Factors That Affect The Lifespan of Your Brake Pads
The lifespan of brake pads can be affected by various factors including:
1. Driving Habits
Let’s say that you’re on the highway driving at 70 mph and you need to slow down suddenly. If you slam on the brakes, your brake pads will wear out more quickly than if you applied gentle pressure.
If you have a tendency to ride your brakes (that is, keep them pressed while driving) this can also cause accelerated wear of your pads. But if you’re driving in wet or icy conditions and need to constantly use your brakes, they will naturally wear down faster as well.
2. The Type Of Brake Pads
The type of brake pads you use will also have an affect on the lifespan of your brakes.
Organic brake pads are typically softer than other types and are made from a combination of organic fibers, rubber, and resin. They produce less braking dust than other types, but they do wear out more quickly.
Semi-metallic brake pads can last up to 50,000 miles due to the steel wool which is enveloped by a blend of several metals. Though they are more durable than organic alternatives, they tend to create louder noise and generate greater amounts of dust when applied.
Finally, ceramic brake pads contain no metal whatsoever and remain relatively quiet when applied. They can also last up to 70,000 miles and produce less dust than their counterparts yet are typically more expensive.
3. The Type of Transmission
If you own a car with a manual transmission system, you’re in luck, it can help to extend your brake pad life. Instead of activating the brake pads and wearing them down, consider using engine braking (the process of slowing down your car by downshifting gears).
Doing this will not only save you money in the long run but will also help you keep your brakes in better condition and make sure they last longer.
However, if you own a car that uses an automatic transmission system, using engine braking is not recommended as it may lead to potential transmission damage.
4. Your Driving Environment
The environment in which you drive can also have an effect on the lifespan of your brake pads. If you’re driving in mountainous terrain (where there are more downhill roads and sharper turns) you will likely find yourself pressing the brakes harder than usual, thus shortening their lifespan.
Similarly, living in areas with heavy traffic or lots of stop and go can have a similar effect as you have to frequently start and stop your car.
5. The Condition Of The Brake Rotors And Calipers
Poorly maintained rotors and calipers can drastically reduce the lifespan of your brake pad, leaving you with expensive repair costs in the long run. ”
Why does this happen?
If your brakes are stuck or warped, then your brake pad can’t disengage from the rotor fully, which means it will be suffering from overuse much sooner.
What are the signs of a stuck brake caliper while driving?
One way to determine if you have a stuck caliper is to pay close attention while driving and look for signs that something is wrong. If you smell burning coming from your wheels, then this could be an indication of a stuck brake caliper.
Furthermore, if you experience jittery or less effective brakes or begin to feel vibration coming from the steering wheel, this could be a sign of a warped rotor, which can lead to a brake system failure.
How to Make Brake Pads Last Longer
To make brake pads last longer, consider the following tips:
Driving at a more leisurely pace not only reduces the strain and stress on your body, it also helps to extend the life of brake pads. Avoid abrupt acceleration or deceleration to maximize pad efficiency
Reducing The Weight Of Your Car
Driving a heavy car can take its toll on your brakes over time. To make sure that you get the most out of them, it’s important to periodically check for any extra weight in your cargo carrier and trunk. If there’s something unnecessary taking up space, lighten up by removing it!
Utilizing engine braking is a great way to reduce the stress on your brake pads, saving you money in the long run. Instead of relying solely on your brakes each time you want to slow down the car, it involves taking your foot off the accelerator and downshifting through gears until you reach the desired speed.
Although this method works for manual cars, steering away from engine braking if you have an automatic car is recommended since using it can damage the transmission.
Schedule Brake Pad Service
Finally, it’s important to keep up with your car’s routine maintenance schedule. Scheduling brake pad replacements at the intervals recommended by your mechanic will ensure that you always have brakes in peak condition and won’t need to worry about unexpected repairs.
Keep these tips in mind and enjoy a smoother, safer ride with longer lasting brake pads!
Is it bad to let brakes go too long without replacement?
Yes! Letting your brakes go too long without being replaced can lead to them over-wearing, potentially causing damage to other components such as the rotors and calipers.
Should you replace all 4 brake pads at once?
Replacing all four brake pads at once is not necessary; however, if one pad needs replacement due to overuse, then it’s advisable to replace the other three in order to maintain balance and even braking. In some cases, brake pads can wear out within 3 months depending on how much you use your brakes, so be sure to check them regularly for signs of wear and tear.
Can brake pads wear out in 3 months?
The recommended time to replace brake pads depends on the make and model of your car as well as driving habits. If you drive often, it’s best to have them inspected by a qualified mechanic at least every 6 months in order to spot any potential problems.
Can brake pads last 3 years?
Typically, brakes last between 30,000 and 70,000 miles and the actual length of time can vary greatly depending on your driving style and the conditions you typically drive in.
With that being said, using Federal Highway Administration data that shows the average amount of miles driven annually per person, most brake pads will last for approximately 3 to 7 years.
How much does it cost to replace brake pads?
The cost of replacing brake pads varies based on the type of car as well as labor costs associated with the job. Generally speaking, most cars will require anywhere from $150-$500 for new brake pads, but it’s best to consult with a qualified mechanic for an exact estimate.
Thank you for taking the time to read our blog post on how long do brake pads last.
We hope that you found it helpful and informative. Brake pads typically last anywhere from 30,000 to 70,000 miles. However, driving habits play a big role in how long your brake pads will last.
If you notice any problems with your brakes (squealing noise, longer stopping distance), it’s important to get them checked out as soon as possible to avoid further damage or accidents.
Do you have any tips for prolonging the life of brake pads? Share them with us in the comments below!
I’m Timothy Ballard, owner of a used car dealership in Springfield. I love just about everything automotive, but I have a special place in my heart for trucks. I’m an ASE Certified Master Technician, so I know my way around a car. In my spare time, I enjoy traveling with my family and hiking new trails.