If your vehicle relies on a disc braking system, it depends on brake pads to create the necessary friction to slow and stop your car.
Without working brake pads, your vehicle wouldn’t have the ability to bring you safely to a stop. That would put you, your vehicle’s occupants, and others on the road in danger.
They are vitally important to how well your car works.
Every time you step on the brake pedal, the brake pads engage, pressing against the spinning disc brake rotors, causing friction, and eventually wearing them down. They are designed to work together, pressing against your front wheels and back wheels with the same pressure. In most circumstances, they will wear down equally on both sides of your vehicle, no matter how much you step on the brake pedal.
However, there are situations where this isn’t so. The brake pads begin to wear, and you discover one is wearing differently than the others. Why is that so?
What causes brakes to wear unevenly?
The braking system works in pairs, with the front brakes and rear brakes wearing differently. As your vehicle moves, the forward movement puts more strain on the front brakes. This is why your front brakes wear faster than the rear.
However, if you notice that one side of your vehicle is wearing differently than the other, the issue is a bit more complicated. It can be caused by several different things.
Disc Thickness Variation
Disc thickness variation, or DTV, can be caused by different factors. It’s a mechanical term used to describe when the rotors have different thickness levels, and have worn unevenly over time. It can be caused by sticking calipers, rust, dirt and debris clinging to various parts of the pad and the rotor, or from slamming on the brakes frequently. When this thickness level is different, the brake pads will have to press against the rotor at varying degrees of friction. The rotors will have flat spots, meaning the brake pads will connect at different ratios. This will eventually cause one to wear down faster than the other.
A brake caliper’s job is to connect the brake pads to the rotors. Without the caliper in action, the pad won’t connect properly to the rotor, bringing your vehicle to a halt. Because these brake calipers are under intense pressure and heat, they occasionally get stuck. It can be caused by dirt and grime that build up over time. As they stick, the brake pads can stay connected to the rotors, wearing down faster than usual. And because the calipers work independently on each wheel, it can wear down one faster than the others.
Misaligned Brake Pads
In order for the brake pads to work properly, they must connect with the rotor at the same level and speed every time they move into action. Because a vehicle is built for efficiency, this action is carefully aligned. Every time you start and drive your vehicle, the bumps, jolts, and movement of the vehicle can cause the connections to jar out of place. And sometimes, when you have your brake pads replaced, the mechanic may not align them evenly. All of this impacts the way your brake pads wear. Depending on when you notice this, it might be a simple adjustment. In other cases, your best course of action will be to replace the brake pads again.
Here in Colorado, the wheels of your car are in constant battle with the elements. Heat can build up in the summer, then a few months later, your wheels can be facing weeks of cold weather, mag-chloride build-up, as well as salt and gravel. That build-up can accumulate on the rotors, making uneven brake pad wear more possible. Of course, even new rotors can have a problem. If they have grease or dirt on them from where they were stored, the wear discrepancies can begin from the moment you drive away from the shop.
A warped rotor can also cause problems, if the surface isn’t perfectly smooth. This usually happens when cold water contacts a heated rotor. If the rotor isn’t perfectly smooth, the brake pad only connects with it in certain spots. Without full contact, it will wear unevenly over time. This is why you should never spray water into your wheel well immediately after intense driving.
Incorrect Brake Pads
When it comes time to replace your brake pads, it’s equally important to check with your manufacturer’s guidelines and install the type suggested. Don’t use different materials as they might not provide the same quality as designed for your vehicle. They can wear unevenly, and not give a full lifespan..
Can you change brake pads on one side only?
It is not recommended that you replace brake pads one at a time. Even if you have one brake pad worn more than the other side, it’s still preferable to replace them in pairs.
Brakes and rotors typically come in pairs – the front or the rear. Each set of brake pads will wear at the same level, which is why you typically replace them at the same time. If they wear at different levels, it’s still advisable to replace both, even if there is still wear on one. When you replace one with a new brake pad, it will not match the other wheel, which can be a hazard as you drive and attempt to brake.
How do you know if your brakes need to be replaced?
Cars are designed to send signals that it is in need of repair. Rely on your senses to help you determine when something isn’t working the way it should.
Sound – one of the most common ways people know their brake pads are worn is through sound. They make a squealing noise as you apply the brakes.
Sight – you can look at the brake pads periodically to see how worn they are. A general rule states that they should be replaced under a quarter of an inch in thickness.
Touch – do you notice your brake pedal pushes further to the ground for the same action? Does it list to one side or the other? All are indicators of a brake problem.
Smell – you can also notice odd scents that aren’t always there. Do you smell burning rubber? It may be a sign your brake pads need replacing.
Brake pads usually last about 50,000 miles. As always, check with your owner’s manual to determine the right maintenance routine for your vehicle.
If you have any questions, stop by today. We’d be happy to check your braking system, and help you create a plan to keep you and your family safe.