Blog Car Care Advice Brake Pads 101: Everything You Need to Know
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Brake Pads 101: Everything You Need to Know

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Brake pads are vital components in disc brakes that help keep you and others safe on the road. However, you must know when to replace them to keep your brakes running well.

What does a brake pad do?
And how can you tell when it’s failing?

Don’t worry!
We’ll cover everything you need to know about brake pads, including how long they last and their replacement costs.

Let’s go.

This Article Contains

What Are Brake Pads?

Brake pads are a key component of your vehicle’s braking system — helping your car stop when you press the brake pedal. They are made of a flat piece of steel with thick friction material that helps convert kinetic energy from a moving vehicle into heat energy. 

Here’s how they work in a disc brake system:

  1. When you press the brake pedal, the applied pressure activates the master cylinder to send brake fluid to the calipers, which engage the brake pads.
  2. The brake pads make contact with the brake disc (brake rotor). This causes friction, which slows or stops the wheels from turning.
  3. When you release the brake pedal, the pressure on the brake rotor is cut off, allowing the wheels to move freely again.

Now, as you might imagine, wheels on a car can rotate incredibly fast, and bringing a heavy vehicle to a stop by using friction causes stress on the brake pads. This eventually causes them to wear down. 

However, the speed of this wear depends on how often you drive and your driving style. If you drive through heavy traffic daily and use your brakes frequently or have a heavy braking style, you’ll need to replace your brake pads more frequently.

Note: Some older vehicles may use brake drums instead of disc brakes. Drum brakes don’t have brake pads.

Next, let’s explore the different types of brake pads available. 

What Are the Different Brake Pad Types?

Different friction materials are used to withstand higher temperatures and maximize the grip that brake pads assert on the rotor.

Brake pads have a specific temperature range for optimal braking efficiency — around 670 °F in modern braking systems. If the friction material isn’t suitable (for example, ordinary brake pads in a race car), the brake pads won’t dissipate all the heat from braking, leading to brake fade. Brake fade is a temporary reduction in braking power due to excessive heat in the brake system.

Here are the different types of brake pad materials:

  1. Non-metallic brake pads (organic brake pads): These are the softest brake pads available, meaning they offer a quiet braking experience but wear quickly. This makes organic brake pads suitable for the low-stress conditions of smaller cars. They also produce less brake dust than ceramic or semi-metallic brake pads.  

  2. Semi-metallic brake pads: These brake pads are fitted to most new cars. The metallic pad material makes them more heat resistant but slightly less efficient at lower temperatures. These semi-metallic pads offer enhanced stopping power, making them useful for daily driving and certain performance applications. However, they produce more brake dust than non-metallic and ceramic brake pads.

  3. Ceramic brake pads: These are higher-performance pads than semi-metallic ones but are significantly more expensive. Ceramic pads are only suitable for high-performance applications and must be warmed properly before use, making them undesirable for daily driving.

For most use cases, the manufacturer’s or your mechanic’s recommendation will suit your situation. However, if you do any performance modifications or attend weekend track days, you may need to upgrade your brake pads.

How can you tell when your brake pads must be replaced?
Let’s explore the warning signs of a worn brake pad.

7 Signs You Need New Brake Pads

As mentioned above, brake pads can wear out over time due to continuous friction and certain driving habits.

Schedule a brake inspection if you notice these signs:

  1. Screaming or grinding noise: Brake pads incorporate wear indicators. These are soft metal pieces that rub against the brake rotor when the brake pad’s friction material gets low. When the wear indicator makes contact with the brake rotor, you’ll hear a high-pitched noise, indicating your brake pads might require replacement.

  2. Vibrating steering wheel or brake pedal: Worn brake pads cause increased metal-on-metal friction, which can lead to brake rotor damage and a vibrating steering wheel or brake pedal.

  3. Decreased braking performance: Brake pad wear decreases braking power. So, your vehicle will take longer to slow down or stop.

  4. Low brake pedal: When brake pads wear down, the brake caliper has to extend further to reach the rotor. This increases the brake pedal travel distance to stop the car, making it feel lower on the floor.

  5. Vehicle veering to one side: Uneven brake pad wear on wheels may cause the vehicle to pull to one side while you try to slow down or stop.

  6. Brake warning light: If brake pad issues trigger the brake light, you’ll see an exclamation in a circle with outer dashed lines. However, the lit brake dashboard light might also be due to low brake fluid.

  7. Visible brake pad wear: During a visual inspection, if the brake pad material thickness is less than a quarter of an inch, it’s likely time for a replacement.

Now that you know the signs of a failed or worn brake pad, let’s review how long you typically have before you need a new brake pad set.  

How Long Do Brake Pads Last?

Your owner’s manual will tell you how often to change your brake pads. However, it’s best to ask your mechanic to check them every time they inspect the car brakes — which should be every 6 months or 5,000 miles. They can tell if your brake pads need to be changed by inspecting their condition and thickness.

Now, how quickly your brake pads wear out depends almost entirely on your driving habits. That said, you should get 25,000 to 65,000 miles from a new set.

Wondering if you should drive with worn brake pads?
Read on to find out.

Is a Brake Pad Replacement Urgent?

Yes, if you suspect your brake pads need attention, you should immediately arrange a brake inspection with a trusted mechanic. 

Bad brake pads can increase braking time and distance, hasten tire wear, and further damage the brake system — all of which are safety hazards.  

Next, we’ll cover how much you might need to shell out for the replacement. 

How Much Does It Cost to Replace Brake Pads?

A new brake pad set could cost about $115 to $270 per axle, including parts and labor.

However, this can depend on your car and brake pad type. Here are estimates for brake pads based on their type:

But here’s the thing: 
If the rotors also need replacing or a brake caliper is seized, it doesn’t take long for the bill to add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. You may also require tire repair if the wheels are worn. 

So, it’s best to address brake pad issues as soon as possible to save on repair costs.

After knowing how much new brake pads could cost, let’s check out what you can expect from a brake repair job. 

What Else Is Checked During a Brake Service?

In a disc brake system, a mechanic will check the thickness of the brake disc (brake rotor) and look for signs of uneven wear, abrasion, or scoring. They’ll also check the level of brake fluid in the reservoir.

Your mechanic will likely inspect the condition of your brake lines, give the suspension system a quick once-over, and check underneath the vehicle for leaks. They may also check the condition of your steering system and wheel bearings, as these can be accessed easily when a wheel has been removed.

The health of your vehicle’s braking system is easy to check visually, and mechanics won’t replace a braking component unless it’s nearing the end of its lifespan. If you want to see the replaced parts and how they’ve worn, you can ask the technician to show you the worn parts and explain why they need a replacement.

Still have doubts?
Let’s resolve them.

3 FAQs about Brake Pads

Here are answers to common queries you may have about brake pads:

1. Is It Okay to Replace Just Brake Pads and Not Rotors?

Yes, replacing just your brake pads is fine if the rotors are in good condition — not warped or damaged. However, that means the old rotor will wear out faster than the new brake pad, potentially leading to braking performance issues down the road.

2. Should I Replace All Four Brake Pads at Once?

Yes, you should replace all four brake pads at once to prevent uneven and hastened rotor wear. This also ensures that your vehicle’s braking force is distributed evenly.

3. How Can I Make Brake Pads Last Longer?

Follow these tips to decrease brake pad wear:

  1. Apply your car brakes gradually and avoid slamming the pedal. 
  2. Limit high-speed driving and accelerate gently to prevent sudden braking.
  3. Avoid hauling heavy loads since they add more stress to the braking system.

Resolve Brake Pad Woes with AutoNation Mobile Service

Brake pads are crucial in keeping you safe on the road. That’s why you need to watch out for any signs of wear and keep up with regular servicing.

Fortunately, we’ve covered everything you need to know about brake pads, including their signs of failure. If you suspect a brake pad issue and think you need brake repair, it’s best not to drive your car to a mechanic. 

Instead, let AutoNation Mobile Service come to you!

We’re a mobile auto repair and maintenance company that offers upfront pricing, dedicated customer support, and a 12-month, 12,000-mile repair warranty
Contact us to get brake pad, rotor, or even brake drum auto repair services done right in your driveway.