Think about how many times you count on your car’s brakes to do their jobs each day. You rely on them to stop you at the stop sign by your neighborhood elementary school. You rely on them in the parking lot at your local grocery store. You rely on them as you’re exiting the highway on your way to work.
What if they failed?
The consequences could be devastating. It’s the stuff action-thriller movies are made of. And while they may be fun to watch on Friday night, the last thing you want happening is to live it out in real life.
But how do you know when your brakes are no longer working? Can you check your brake pads and know they need replacing?
As your brake pads wear, they become thinner and won’t have the full stopping radius as when they were new. And that means your vehicle isn’t as safe for you or your occupants. If you can’t stop quickly, or it takes longer to come to a full stop, you’re more at risk.
How do I know if my brake pads are worn out?
Your vehicle has brakes on all four wheels of your car. It’s operated by a hydraulic system, which helps transmit force through the braking system with the use of braking fluid.
Even though your vehicle has brakes on all four wheels, it relies more on the front brakes for more stopping power. That’s because during the braking process, a car’s weight is shifted forward to the front wheels, meaning they need more braking power to bring the vehicle to a stop.
Most modern day vehicles use a disc brake system. A disc brake uses a disc to turn the wheel. This disc is straddled by a caliper, which uses tiny hydraulic pistons working to control the braking process.
These pistons push brake pads down against the disc on each side, causing friction to bring it to a stop. They are shaped in such a way as to cover a wide area of the disc.
When they’re new, this system works perfectly. But over time, many things can go wrong, including the brake pads wearing down. That’s why it’s important to periodically check your brake pads to ensure they are in great shape.
Before you do anything, be sure your brakes are cool. Even a quick trip out in your local community can make your brakes incredibly hot. Think about how much power it takes to stop your car over and over again as you zip along your neighborhood streets, parking, and returning home.
In some cases, you can tell your brake pads are having problems just by looking at your wheel. The next time you wash your car, spend a few minutes looking at your wheels. Do you notice a buildup of brake dust? This is normal. As brake pads wear down, the amount of brake dust begins to fade. Cleaner wheels mean less friction potential in your brake pads. And that can be a sign you might need new brake pads.
On many vehicles, you can see the brakes without removing the wheels. Take a peek between the holes in the wheel. To determine how much life is left on the brake pad, you will need to determine the thickness. You might need to pull out your flashlight to get a good look. If you think the pad has less than ¼ inch thickness left, it might be time to get them replaced.
Some brake pads have wear lines built into them. This is an indicator slot in the middle of the brake pad. If this slot is barely visible, or is no longer there, it’s time for new brake pads.
Other warning signs your brake pads need replacing
Not all warning signs are physical. In many cases, your brakes give you warning signs you can pick up on by driving and listening.
Have you ever pressed down on the brake pedal and heard a loud screeching noise? That’s your brake pads signaling their life is coming to an end. Your brakes have a metal shim built into them to provide you with an indicator. When this metal shim appears through brake wear, it pushes metal against metal, making that loud screeching noise. It’s loud enough you’ll hear it over your air conditioner or heater, or over the music from your radio. This warning gives you plenty of time to make it to the repair shop before you start experiencing brake failure.
You may also notice your brakes aren’t as responsive as they once were. Press down on the brake pedal; does it sink closer to the floor before you gain traction? That could be an indication of a leak within the braking system. It might be a problem with brake fluid, or possibly an air leak in the brake hose. Investigate further and see if you notice a tiny puddle of fluid underneath your car. This can be a telltale sign of a brake fluid leak.
A vibration in your brake pedal can all be signaling you have a problem with warped rotors. As you press down on the brake pedal, the warped rotors don’t connect perfectly with the brake pads; they are unable to grab the surface evenly. This gives a pulsating feeling as you continue to press down on the brakes.
You should also be watching your sensors on your dashboard. If the braking system light comes on, it’s your vehicle’s computer system telling you something is wrong. This is a sign to get to a repair shop when it’s convenient for you.
How many miles do you get out of brake pads?
In general, brake pads should be replaced around 50,000 miles. Of course, that’s just an estimate. It depends on a variety of things, including the make and model of your car. Some brakes may need replacing around 25,000 miles, while others may last as long as 70,000 or more. Consult your owner’s manual to find out the average for your vehicle.
Of course, this is just a rough estimate. It’s important to pay attention to the way your car handles, and notice when things don’t feel the way it should.
When in doubt, bring your car in for evaluation. It’s better to be safe than have a problem that could put you or your family in jeopardy. We’re here to help, from checking your brake pads, to full replacement of your brake system.