Let’s talk brake pads for a moment.
Your brake pads are a part of your vehicle’s braking system. Brake pads are not the same thing as brakes. Instead, they are just one piece of the entire system. However, they are one of the key components because the contact and create friction as they connect with a vehicle’s brake rotors. These are the flat, shiny disks that are often visible through your wheels.
This friction is what gives your car the ability to stop. Pressure from the brake pads on the rotors slows your car down until it eventually stops moving.
The process may sound easy enough. But the concept that allows a simple piece of equipment – the brake pad – to undergo extreme conditions on a daily basis, and still carry you safely from place to place without problems is a little more complicated.
In the past, brake pads were often made of asbestos. The friction created between the brake pad and the rotor creates an intense amount of heat. Asbestos is a great product for absorbing that heat. The problem is, asbestos is also hazardous to your health. As brake pads wear down, brake dust begins to dissipate, with the chance of it floating through the air. That’s a dangerous thing to breathe.
Today, brake pads are created from more natural materials such as metal, rubber, glass, ceramic, Kevlar, and resin that can withstand the heat. They are sometimes referred to as organic brake pads because they are made from materials that won’t pollute as they wear down over time.
There isn’t a “one brake pad fits all.” Some are made to be softer, to help create a quieter ride. Others are made for performance, perfect for cars built for hugging the road. Knowing what type of car you drive, and the way you drive your vehicle will help determine the best brake pad for you.
Brake pads wearing differently
Over time, your brake pads will begin to wear down. As they are pressed against the rotors, they heat up. Doing this over and over again causes enough friction to remove bits and pieces from the brake pads – brake dust may often appear in your wheel wells. Eventually, it will be time to replace your brake pads.
Brake pads are the most common replacement part of your braking system. And in most cases, the brake pads will wear on each of your wheels at approximately the same pace. But what about if one of the sets of pads wears down faster than the other? What is that doing to your vehicle?
On every vehicle, you have four brake pads – a set on the front wheels, and a set on the back. Front and rear brake pads will naturally wear differently because they are designed to perform in separate ways. The forward movement of your vehicle puts more pressure on your front brakes. That means they often wear faster than the rear brakes.
However, you might occasionally notice one side wearing faster than the other. What if the driver’s side brakes are more worn down? What causes that?
It might be a problem with the brake caliper. The brake caliper is designed to push the brake pad into the rotor. Without the caliper, you wouldn’t have proper pressure between the two to slow down your vehicle. Sometimes these calipers can stick, which can push the brake pad into the rotor ever so slightly even as you drive. That means the brake pad is continuing to wear every time you go for a drive, and will wear faster than the brake pad on the other side.
It might be a problem with the rotor. Rotors are known to sometimes wear unevenly, causing a Disc Thickness Variation – DTV. This variation can be caused by a variety of things, such as the caliper sticking, dirt sticking to the pad, or even consistent slamming on the brakes.
It might be a problem with misalignment. For a brake pad to work correctly, it must be aligned in such a way so that the entire brake pad connects with the rotor when you press down on the brake pedal. If that alignment is thrown off a little, it can cause a portion of the brake pad to wear faster than the rest. Not only can brake pads wear differently on each side of the vehicle, but the brake pad itself can show different signs of wear on different portions of the pad.
You have a brake pad problem
Because brake pads are one of the most important systems on your vehicle, as brake pads wear down, they give you a variety of different warning signals.
Squeaking, squealing, grinding noises – you can’t ignore the noise of a brake pad that is reaching end of life. They are designed in such a way so that they purposely produce this noise, and will keep creating it every time you step on the brake pedal.
Slow response – have you noticed you have to press down on the brake pedal more to bring your vehicle to a stop? That’s a sign your brake pads are wearing down. It takes more force to create the same action.
Pedal feels squishy – by the same token, when you press on the brake pedal, it may have a spongy feel to it. That’s an indicator your brake pads are worn out.
Burning smell – if your brakes receive too much heat, they can take on a burning smell. That chemical odor is a sign of overheated brakes, and could be a sign they need to be replaced.
Vibrations – as you press down on the brake pedal, you might feel vibrations pulsing through your foot. It may be a sign of bad brake pads or rotors, caused by the two not connecting as they should.
You can’t change brake pads on one side
We get this question a lot. You can’t just replace one brake pad on one side of your vehicle. While it may be tempting to try and save money, keep in mind that this can be dangerous to do.
Brake pads are designed to wear evenly on both sides of your car. That means replacing both front, or both rear, at the same time.
Do you suspect uneven wear? Have you noticed your brake pads are wearing differently? Schedule a brake service check today, and we’ll ensure you’re back on the road, ready to drive safely again in no time.