Your vehicle’s brake pads play an important role in the braking system, but unfortunately, they also wear down over time and must eventually be changed. How often should brake pads be replaced? The answer can vary, but being able to identify the warning signs that your pads might be getting low is an important part of brake maintenance and keeping your vehicle safe for the road.
“Braking” It Down
Brake pads are an integral part of a disc brake system. They’re positioned to face the rotor, and when the driver steps on the pedal, brake fluid transfers pressure directly to the pads, squeezing them against the rotor, and stopping it from turning. Since the rotor is attached to the wheel, when it stops turning, the car slows and stops as well.
Brake pads are made of different materials depending on the manufacturer, but they’re always going to be made of a softer material than the rotor. That means when there’s repeated friction between the two surfaces, the brake pads will wear down faster. This friction causes an enormous amount of heat to be generated, and eventually the rotors will have to be resurfaced or replaced as well, but the brake pads will be the first to go.
How Long Do Brake Pads Last?
Not all brake pads are created equal, and their lifespan may be extended or shortened based on several factors, such as what material they’re made of, your driving habits, your typical driving conditions and your maintenance routines.
The general guidance on how often to change brake pads covers a considerable range: 20,000 to 70,000 miles. For a better idea of when exactly to replace your pads, always look to your owner’s manual. From there, keep an eye out for signs of wear. The sound of squealing or the feeling of vibrating when the vehicle comes to a stop are both telltale signs that your pads are low. Many pads have a built in “alarm” that creates a squealing when they get below a certain level, and it shouldn’t be ignored.
A visual inspection is also key. Pads should be replaced when they are below ¼ inch thick. Ignoring the signs and letting your pads wear to the backing not only compromises your safety, but it will also damage your rotors and result in much more costly repairs than simple pad changes.
There are a few factors that cause pads to wear out faster, and some more in your control than others. Naturally, the more you use them the faster they’ll wear, so folks who drive more often in cities with a stop-and-go rhythm or in hilly regions that require frequent braking on downhill stretches will likely have to get their pads changed more often than people whose vehicles see mostly flat highway usage.
Your habits matter too. You can conserve your pads by avoiding hard braking, keeping junk out of the trunk to reduce the vehicle’s weight, downshifting downhill, and driving at or under the speed limit. Low pads can lead to warped rotors, which can quickly lead to pads becoming worn again — an annoying and potentially dangerous cycle — but keeping up with regular maintenance can help you stay on top of this.
Most often, your brakes will tell you when they’re getting low, so pay attention to them. Make checking your brakes part of your routine maintenance, and always investigate any unusual noises or feelings related to braking.
Check out all the brake parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations, for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how often should brake pads be replaced, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.