Ever wonder how long your brake pads (view on Amazon) will last? After all, nothing lasts forever right? …And bad brakes can be very dangerous. Sooner or later, you may have to change those pads so that your car can come to a complete stop. Brake pads are very important so let’s learn more about them.
How Long Do Brake Pads Last?
The average longevity of brake pads is around 50,000 miles. However, this estimate varies greatly, depending on other factors, such as the type of car, the demographic, how often it is used, and the driving habits of the owner. The 50,000 miles could mean 70,000 miles until replacement for a reckless driver; or, it could mean 30,000 miles for a gentle driver in a better car. The bottom line is use. The brake pads that are used the most will need to be replaced first.
What are Brake Pads?
The braking system has several components that work together to control the slowing and stopping of your car. The brake pads are such an important part of your car’s braking system that you could not slow down or stop without them. More specifically, the brake pads are a friction part of the physical force that is generated to stop your car. Brake pads squeeze the brake disc or push the brake shoes toward the brake.
When pressed, the brake pads make contact with the brake rotors, applying pressure and friction. This pressure and friction is exactly what enables your car to stop by stopping the wheels from turning. The brake rotors are usually found in disc brake systems on the front end. Both the brake pad and the brake rotor are exposed to extreme conditions throughout the life of the car or until the parts must be replaced.
Brake calipers (view on Amazon) are there to hold the brake pads in place. The calipers are a part of the hydraulic system along with the brake fluid. The fluid presses pistons against brake pads, the stopping wheel, and the brake rotor. The brake drums and the brake shoes create friction to support the vehicle stopping or slowing down. The brake shoes are a part of the brake drum and they push kinetic energy to thermal energy. When you press the gas pedal, brake boosters amplify the applied pressure. A plunger inside your master cylinder pumps the brake fluid through the break lines to the brakes. The brake fluid provides the pressure for the brake pads, which is amplified by the booster.
What Affects the Brake Pad Life Cycle?
You’ve probably seen your brake pads, those shiny discs that that peek out from behind your wheels. Over time, even these parts to the brake system also become damaged or wear out. The brake pad thickness changes with time, becoming thinner. Due to different sizes and weights across vehicles, the brake pads endure different amounts of stress. Depending also on how fast you are going when you attempt to stop, it may require more pressure and friction to stop the car. Nonetheless, the brake pads perform their duty time after time. Here are the primary factors in how long the brake pads last:
Materials – The brake harness is made of materials chosen by the manufacturer. If the manufacturer chooses the best quality products to make the brake pads and rotors, they last much longer. Some manufacturers use carbon-ceramic materials to make the brake pads and rotors. These materials last longer, yet they cost more.
Demographic – The longevity of your brake pads also depends on where you live and drive. If you live in a rural area with long roads, your brake pads will last longer than if you lived in a congested city. Not only will the brake pads last longer driving down those long roads with few lights, the fuel economy is also improved.
Type of car – Heavier vehicles require more braking actions than smaller ones. Since heavier, industrial vehicles are more difficult to stop, the brake pads will have to be changed more often than say, a small passenger car.
Wheel lugs – If the wheel lugs on your car are torqued too tight, they can cause damage to the brake pads. Make sure your wheel lugs have the right toque to avoid the extra wear on your brake pads.
Maintenance – The braking system should be serviced routinely according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. The brake fluid should be flushed periodically. If you are not having your vehicle serviced as recommended, the brake fluid can leak out of certain parts. The master cylinder rubber seals wear out and need to be replaced. Worn seals affect the brake pressure. Routine maintenance is a good way to prolong the life of the braking system.
If you want to avoid brake problems or other issues and save $100s of dollars that you’ll spend at the auto repair shop, you’ll need to service your vehicle often – you can use our mechanic-rated Auto Maintenance and Repair Manual to do this. It’s basically what mechanics use to go through your vehicle to check if there are any problems that need fixing. As soon as they notice the most minor problem, they’ll ask you to fork out some money even though it’s a problem you can fix yourself in minutes – the manual will teach you how to maintain your vehicle every few thousand miles and it’ll teach you how to fix minor problems that mechanics will ask you to pay for; saving you money in the long run.
A lot of our readers have the Auto Maintenance and Repair Manual printed on their garage wall and 92% of them haven’t visited the auto repair shop in the last year because they know what to do to avoid problems. All it takes is giving your vehicle a little attention every few thousand miles and you’ll never spend money at the workshop again.
Driving habits – If you are an aggressive driver, you may be putting more strain on your brakes than is needed. High speeds and sudden stops are a sure way to wear the brake pads out prematurely. The brake shoes can get stuck against the wheel drum. By taking care when you drive, you can prevent future problems and get much more life out of your car.
Signs of Bad or Failing Brake Pads
How do you know when your brake pads have had it? There are symptoms of problems in the braking system and some of those symptoms are specifically caused by the brake pads. Here are the most common symptoms of bad or failing brake pads:
Warning lights – Most vehicles have warning lights for the brakes and Anti-lock Brakes (ABS) on the dash. The light may change color according to the severity of the problem. When problems arise in the braking system, the brake pad wear sensor or tab notifies the computer that something is out of order. The older brake wear tabs rub the rotor when the brakes need attention. The more modern electronic brake wear sensor does the same without activating the squealing noises. The brake wear sensor is usually installed in the brake pad with a loop wire. More sophisticated brake wear sensors with twostage sensors can tell you how much wear you have left in the brake pads.
Squealing noise – When you hear noises when you press the brakes, this is a common symptom of brake pads that are going bad or need to be replaced. The excessive squealing and vibration comes from glazing and from an accumulation of dust on the brake pads as they get older. The noise could also come from the sensor contacting the brake rotor when the pad has worn all the way down to the backing plate. You may hear the noise when you press the pedal or while moving forward.
Pulsating brake pedal – Worn out brake pads will also show in a pulsating brake pedal which results from contact between the rotor and the brake pad. You will feel the brake pedal pulsate when pressure is applied. This symptom can also mean the brake rotor is also bad. One or the other is causing the vibration with contact.
Spongy brake pedal – When the brake pedal is pressed, it feels spongy or squishy. The brakes still work, but it requires more work than it should. The spongey feel is a sign that the brake pads need to be replaced, there is a brake fluid leak, or the brake master cylinder has a problem.
Puddles of fluid – If you see a puddle of brake fluid in your driveway under your car, you know that there is a brake fluid leak. It could also be oil or transmission fluid. If you are not sure what the liquid is, have a professional have a look.
Brake Irresponsive – When the brake pads have become worn o overheated, you will notice a decreasing response when you press the brake pedal. There is no longer enough friction to the brake rotors to slow things down. The handling of your vehicle will become more difficult as it will take more work to slow down or stop. Irresponsive brakes cause car accidents.
Bad brake caliper – The parts of your braking system are very interconnected. When the brake caliper is bad, the brake pads wear down unevenly and at a faster rate. You will feel your car pulling toward one side of the road. The caliper may be locked up with dirt or corroded which means the brake pad cannot touch the brake disc. It can also cause delayed brake pad release as you remove your foot from the brake.
Grinding sounds – This is the last stage of brake pad wear, as most of the brake pad material has already worn away. When you hear grinding sounds as you try to use your brakes, be sure that metal may be grinding metal under there. If you hear grinding, the car should not be driven at all until it can be serviced.
What to Do About Bad Brake Pads
So, it’s time to replace the brake pads. There is no life left in them at all and you don’t want to put yourself in danger from driving a car with bad brake pads. Don’t worry, replacing brake pads is not a very complex task. When changing the brake pads, you should also change the rotors each time. To change the brake pads yourself, follow these steps:
Change the Brake Pads
By changing the brake pads on your car, you will fix the problem as well as increase your car’s performance and safety. (If you don’t know how to operate a jack to lift the car, let someone else do that part):
1. Gather all of the materials you will need: a ratchet and a car jack.
2. Next, loosen all of the lug nuts on each tire.
3. Position the floor jack under the car.
4. Remove the lug nuts and the caliper bolts and set them aside.
5. Remove the tire so that you can see the brake caliper and the brake rotor assembly.
6. Remove the old brake pads from both sides of the brake rotor.
7. Next, install the new brake pads. Grease the new pads around the metal plates using a very small drop of the lubricant.
8. Adjust the brake caliper assembly to fit the new brake pads and finish the job with a socket wrench.
9. Replace the tires. Tighten the lug nuts by hand.
10. Lift your car up enough to be able to remove the jack stand. Secure the nuts using a tire iron.
11. Finally, lower the car and remove the jack.
If changing the brake pads is too much for you, take your car in to a repair shop and have the brake pads done there. Driving with bad brake pads and rotors is very dangerous. Many car accidents occur when people drive with bad or failing brakes. Remember, safety first.