September 26, 2023


Automotive to Us

Brake Pad Replacement: What You Need To Know

A mechanic working on a car

A mechanic working on a car's brake pads

If you’ve ever heard a loud squeaking or squealing noise when stepping on your brake pedal, you know that is one of the worst sounds you can hear when driving. Not only is this sound annoying, but it also sounds expensive. That squeaking is probably your brake pads, and they’re telling you it’s time to replace them. 

Brake pads are arguably one of the most critical parts of your car, and when you start hearing noises, you need to take action. However, your brake pads might need replacing even if you don’t hear the telltale squeak, squeal, or grind.

Having brake pads in good condition is necessary for the safety of drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and other motorists. Keep reading to learn about brake pads, including how much replacement pads cost and when to replace them.

What Are Brake Pads?

Brake pads are an essential component in your car’s disc brake system. These semi-metallic or ceramic blocks are mounted on calipers behind the wheel. When you step on the brake pedal, the calipers clamp the brake pads against the rotor.

That friction then causes the car to slow down and eventually come to a stop quickly and safely. The pads release their grip on the rotors and eliminate the friction when you take your foot off the brake.

Installed brake pads aren’t visible because their surfaces face the rotor, but you can see the calipers through spoked wheels. Some high-end vehicles come with caliper covers in bold colors. Enthusiasts can customize their ride with aftermarket caliper covers in popular colors such as red.

When To Replace Brake Pads

Red brake pads

Replacing Brake Pads Quick Tips

  • Brake pad replacement cost is typically less than $300.
  • Squeaking brakes usually signal it’s time to replace the brake pads.
  • Most cars can use ceramic brake pads; heavier vehicles should use pads made from semi-metallic material.

The brake pad lifespan varies significantly depending on many factors, including the quality and material composition, your driving style, and where you drive. Typical brake pads will last 25,000 miles and up to 50,000 miles or more.

Your pads will wear down faster if you’re in a densely populated area with persistent stop-and-start traffic. Brake pads will have less daily wear and tear if your commute is uninterrupted stretches of open highway.

Unlike some maintenance, such as an oil change, it’s hard to know how many miles you have until you need replacing. Luckily, your brake pads will often tell you when it’s time. Here are a few ways to know it’s time for new brake pads.

Loud Squeaking Noise

The last thing any driver wants to hear when coming to a stop is a loud squeal or squeak. However, your car’s manufacturer intends for them to sound like that when your pads start to wear. The terrible sound is your first and most obvious sign that it’s time for new brake pads. 

In most new cars, a small attachment in the pads acts as a wear indicator, similar to what many tires have to indicate that the tread level is low. When the wear indicator is exposed due to wear, it drags against the rotor to make a screeching noise. This unpleasant sound is your signal to take the car to get service. Most cars will make this sound to notify you, but not every vehicle does, so be aware of other key indicators. 

Indicator Lights

An indicator light may be the easiest way to know your brake pads need replacing. Some cars have pads with sensors that trigger a dashboard warning light when the remaining pad material is thin, signaling it’s time for a replacement.

Note: You should not confuse this feature with the ABS light. Check the car’s owner’s manual to know if your vehicle has a brake pad replacement indicator.

If your indicator light comes on, take your car to get inspected by a trusted mechanic. The pads may not need an immediate replacement, but you should follow the service technician’s advice on when to replace them. Go ahead and schedule the appointment.

The Brake Pedal Vibrates

Your car will usually give you signs that something is wrong with it. If you notice your brake pedal vibrates or pulsates when pressing down on it as you come to a stop, it’s a telltale sign something is wrong with your brake pads. There are many reasons why this could happen. The likely reasons are uneven brake pad wear and tear or overheating, causing the adhesion to spread unevenly on the rotors.

Whatever it may be, driving on vibrating brakes is never safe. If you feel your brake pedal is vibrating, take your car to get inspected as soon as possible.

Grinding Sound

Car rotor and disc brake pads

If you hear a loud grinding sound like metal rubbing together, that’s likely what it is. Similar to the squeaking noise, some cars have metal indicators that cause this grinding sound.

Ignoring other indications can lead to severe problems with the brake system. Since brake pad mounts, rotors, and other braking equipment are metal, wearing away all the brake pad material ends with metal rubbing on metal. This situation is never good and can cause damage beyond brake pad replacement.

Car Takes Longer to Stop

Unlike many other signs that indicate that you need a brake pad replacement, you need to pay a little more attention to your car to notice this one. When stepping on the brake pedal, if it takes longer than usual to come to a complete stop, that is a problem. Taking longer to stop can be the result of driving in a hilly area. When holding the brakes for a long time without releasing the pedal, contact with the rotors for an extended period can cause excessive wear.

If you sense your car is taking longer than it should stop, take your vehicle to a trained mechanic to get an assessment on the brake pads.

How Much Brake Pad Replacement Costs

Despite being a vital safety component of your car, replacing the brake pads isn’t the most expensive car maintenance. It’s nothing to scoff at, but there are more costly auto repairs. For most cars, it will cost around $100 to $300 per axle for disc brake pad replacements. Ceramic brake pads, which cost slightly more, provide smooth braking and are suitable for most cars. Heavier vehicles, like trucks and SUVs, should use brake pads with semi-metallic friction material.

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