When it comes to maintaining automobiles, there are important parts, and there are crucial parts. Brake pads are among the most crucial of the crucial components that are considered normal wear items, since they create the friction that helps stop your car when they are pressed against the brake disc (also called the brake rotor) or, on some cars, the brake drum that rotates with the wheel. It is in every driver’s interests—not to mention the interests of their passengers and fellow motorists—that their brake pads always function properly and that they are replaced before they lose effectiveness. But when should you replace the pads?
Brake Pads Wear Out
Whether the brake pads on your vehicle are made of metallic, organic, ceramic, or composite materials, they lose a minute amount of material each time they are used. Eventually, they wear thin, which means they can’t generate the heat caused by friction as effectively, decreasing their ability to stop the vehicle quickly and potentially increasing the distances required to do so. Ultimately, they wear out completely, which can cause a host of issues.
If you are noticing that your brakes aren’t as responsive as they once were or that they fade quickly or that the pedal feels different after you’ve been driving in traffic for a while or down a long mountain pass, it could be time for new brake pads. But sometimes in normal driving, brakes will feel fine until something else tells you they need replacement.
Brake-Wear Warning Signs
Some cars have brake-pad sensors that inform the driver of worn brake pads via a light in the dashboard or a message shown upon startup. Some brake systems call attention to themselves by squealing or screeching when they get too thin; while unpleasant, this is usually harmless. It’s caused by a metal scraper attached to the pads that serves as a warning alarm. If the noise is less of a screech and more of a grumbling, grinding sound, the pads at one or all of the wheels may be gone altogether, and further use of the brakes can cause serious damage to the rotors. This is not a sound you want to hear, and if you do you must take your vehicle to a brake shop immediately. Better still, you want to replace the pads before you ever hear such warnings.
With car maintenance, there are important parts and crucial parts. Brake pads are crucial parts.
What we don’t recommend is waiting to replace the brake pads for weeks or months after the first warning signs emerge, or considering properly functioning brakes anything less than a top priority. From a safety standpoint, they are more important than the engine. After all, a poorly maintained engine could result in engine failure. But if your poorly maintained brakes take longer to stop than they should or, worse, fail, the result could be life-threatening.
Pay attention to the condition of your brakes now and you’ll avoid big repair bills—or an accident—later. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to replace your vehicle’s brake pads yourself, you’ll also need to bleed the brake system afterward.