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Brakes are a vital component of every vehicle. They slow down the vehicle, allowing you to stop safely in all types of situations. Fully-functioning brakes are crucial for handling critical conditions and avoiding collisions with other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. That’s why the brake system in your vehicle shouldn’t be overlooked. Making sure that all the brake components work properly is one of the primary safety concerns.

The brake calipers, brake pads, and brake rotors are the most significant parts of brakes, and they need to be checked regularly. They can wear out over time, causing your brakes to malfunction and jeopardize your safety, as well as the safety of other drivers on the road. However, sometimes it’s not that easy to figure out when these components are ready for replacement.

Brake pads give a lot of signs of deterioration, but they can sometimes be overlooked. It’s necessary to know more about their function and average longevity to act correctly and on time. With some extra knowledge about the topic, you can keep your brakes in top condition and avoid dangerous situations on the road. To help you out, we break down all information about brake pads in the following article.

How Brake Pads Work

The braking system in your vehicle includes a brake disc, a brake caliper, and a pair of brake pads. The pads are fitted in the caliper, and they almost get into contact with the two sides of the brake disc. When you press the brake pedal, hydraulic fluid in the caliper pushes each brake pad into the sides of the brake disc. The action results in the friction that slows down the vehicle and allows you to stop it completely.

As you can see, brake pads are the key part of the braking system on your vehicle. They allow for the other parts to function properly and last longer. However, considering that every push of the pedal puts brake pads in contact with the disc, they are also extremely prone to wear. The action takes place countless times every day, which is why brake pads have to be replaced every once in a while.

Mechanic replacing car brake pad

Types of Brake Pads

There are a couple of types of brake pads. They differ from one another in the materials used for the construction, and consequently, the overall longevity. Which one you’ll use mostly depends on your vehicle, driving habits, and personal preferences.

  • Organic Brake Pads

Organic pads use materials that contain non-metallic fibers. They include mostly fiberglass, rubber or Kevlar, and even cellulose. Although super soft and quiet, these pads are only suitable for normal daily driving. They offer reliability and efficiency but don’t last for very long. What makes them appealing is the low price.

  • Metallic Brake Pads

Metallic brake pads are very durable. The material can withstand different temperatures and operate at its best for a long time. That’s why these are so popular and widely used. Metallic brake pads don’t compress a lot, which means they offer ultimate braking power without much pressure on the pedal. They are, however, a little noisy and might cause premature wear on the brake rotors.

  • Semi-Metallic Brake Pads

Semi-metallic brake pads contain up to 65 percent of metal, and the rest of the materials are usually wool, wire, and copper. These have an impressive lifespan and can be found in most modern cars. Because semi-metallic brakes offer an excellent combination of high braking power, cost, and longevity, they are most commonly used. They offer great efficiency even in the most extreme temperatures and can withstand a lot of abuse. However, they might require a tad more effort when braking at low temperatures.

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  • Ceramic Brake Pads

Ceramic brake pads are more resistant to wear and last longer than all other types listed above. Ceramic is super strong and operates within a wide temperature range. The material makes the brake pads resistant to daily abuse and ideal for those looking for more durability. Also, these brake pads are cleaner and quieter than other types. Still, they do have a couple of drawbacks, with the main ones being the price and the time they require to warm up. Therefore, they are not ideal for average cars.

How Long Do Brake Pads Last?

There’s no simple answer to the question of how long brake pads last. Most manufacturers state that their pads last somewhere between 30,000 and 70,000 miles, but that can vary a lot. The effective lifespan of brake pads depends on many factors, with the major ones being driving styles and weather conditions.

Although we can’t exactly pinpoint the longevity of brake pads, we can give you a list of the factors that might influence their lifespan. A lot of drivers reported their brake pads lasted for more than 80,000 miles, which is rather impressive. It might seem difficult to achieve such extended use, but the truth is, those who follow a few simple rules and perform regular maintenance will get the same results. Therefore, if you want to get the most miles out of your brake pads, consider the suggestions below.

Why Do Brake Pads Wear?

We already mentioned that brake pads normally wear during regular use. However, some other factors might influence their longevity, too. Materials, driving conditions, and vehicle type and load are only some of the things that can shorten the lifespan of brake pads.

Brake pads wear down faster when you drive in areas that require a lot of braking. Making many stops can cause more friction and heat for the brakes, which will influence their lifespan.

Large and heavy vehicles have stronger brake pads then regular cars, which means they need more help when slowing and stopping. They also tend to carry heavy loads, so braking power has to be high enough to ensure safety on the road. Although stronger brake pads are able to handle the extra pressure and last as long as regular brakes, they also experience more abuse and might wear out quicker.

Brake pad materials significantly influence the overall lifespan of your vehicle’s braking system. It’s crucial, therefore, to pick the material according to your area of living and driving habits. A warm climate has less impact on brake pads lifespan than winter. Other outside threats such as road salt, grime, and slush can damage the materials as well. Also, careful driving with gradual braking is better for the pads’ materials than frequent stopping and fast braking.

Semi-metallic brake pads are perfect for high temperatures but might wear out faster at low temperatures. On the other hand, ceramic pads are the strongest and ideal for all seasons and different driving habits, but not great for urban areas, as they take time to warm up.

Car brake pads and disc

Detecting Brake Pads Issues

There are several signs you can follow to determine when you need to replace your brake pads. Some of them are pretty obvious, and others might require a little more effort. Either way, these things are not to be overlooked, as brake pads ensure your safety on the road. To help you sense brake pad issues, we made a list of potential signs of your braking system deteriorating.

  • Dash Light 

These days, most vehicles have a convenient dash light that notifies the driver that the brake pads are wearing out. The warning light shows on the display board, indicating that one (or more) of your brake pads needs to be replaced. However, not all vehicles have this indicator light, especially older models. Therefore, you might need to look for other signs of brake pad deterioration by listening and inspecting your vehicle regularly.

  • Loud Noise

One of the most common signs of brake pad issues is a loud noise. If you hear screeching or squealing when braking, it means your brake pads need to be checked. In most cases, a grinding noise indicates that the brake pads are completely worn out and need replacement as soon as possible.

  • Visual Check 

You can always take a look at the brake pads and visually detect possible wear and tear. Some vehicle models allow you to see the outer brake pad through the spokes of the wheel. Here’s where you can determine whether the pad is thick enough and in good condition.

  • Driving Test

Another huge sign of brake pad deterioration is a vibrating or squishy brake pedal. If you have to push the pedal far down to brake adequately, something is not right. In this situation, it’s smart to get the entire braking system checked. Sometimes the brake fluid might cause the pedal to vibrate and feel spongy.

Additionally, if you feel pulled to one side while braking, it’s likely that you have issues with the braking system. When one of the brake pads wears out, it might create an imbalance in braking and cause dangerous pulls to one side.

Prolonging Brake Pads Lifespan

There are a couple of things you can do to prolong the lifespan of your brake pads. First and foremost, it’s about being aware of the traffic ahead. If you anticipate potential braking situations and push the brake pedal gradually, you’ll prevent the pressure on the system. Sudden braking significantly reduces the lifespan of the brake pads.

Driving at high speeds might also make you use your brakes more. At high speeds, you’ll be more likely to brake heavily and quickly, and consequently, put your brake pads under a lot of pressure.

Another thing to consider is how much and how often you press the pedal. It’s not recommended to push on the brake pedal all the way down a hill or rest your foot on it. Keep in mind that the pedal activates your brakes every time you use it, which is unnecessary pressure on the system.

Related Post: How Much Does It Cost to Replace Brake Pads? 

Lastly, try to lighten the load in your vehicle. The heavier the car, the more pressure you put on the brake pads. Therefore, don’t pack unnecessary stuff and always remember to unload your cargo.

Installing New Brake Pads

Working on the braking system on your vehicle can be rather tricky. If you’re mechanically inclined and you have the tools for the job, you should be able to do it on your own. You only need to follow some basic instructions that can be found online. However, if you’re unsure how to replace the brake pads or you’re worried about something going wrong, we recommend leaving it to the professionals. It won’t cost you a lot, and you’ll be much more relaxed knowing that your vehicle is in safe hands.

Sources:

  1. How long do brake pads last? – HowStuffWorks
  2. Brake Wear Indicator – Wikipedia

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