Ensuring your vehicle safety relies on many factors. However, the brake system is undeniably the most important part of your safety. However, due to the frequent use of the brakes, and the friction-driven system they work on, your brake pads and rotors can get worn out with time. So, how long do car brake pads last?
On average, brake pads last around 40 000 miles (between 20 000 and 70 000). The lifespan of your brake pads will depend on the type of pads, your driving habits, and more. Pads get worn out due to friction, and you should replace them regularly to ensure vehicle safety.
Many people don’t even know what brake pads are and how they work, though. Let’s take a look at what they are, how they work, how to know if they need replacement, and finally, how to make your brake pads last longer.
What Are Brake Pads?
People seem to think brake pads and brake pedals are the same, but they aren’t even close. The brake pedal is what you press down on with your foot to decelerate and eventually stop your vehicle.
On the other hand, brake pads are what make your car slow down and stop using friction. When you press the brakes, the brake pads rub against the rotor (another part of the braking system attached to the wheels), causing it to slow down, which leads to the wheels slowing down and stopping.
As you continually use the brakes, the friction makes the brake pads wear out. How fast they wear out depends on the material they’re made of, and how forcefully you drive, use the brakes, etc.
How Long Do Car Brake Pads Last?
Brake pads last around 40 000 miles on average. The range goes from 20 000 to 70-80 000 miles, though, and there’s always the possibility your brake pads’ lifespan will fall out of that range (lasting fewer or more miles).
The lifespan of your brake pads will be highly influenced by several factors: your driving habits, the terrain where you’re regularly driving, the condition of the rest of the braking system, and the type of the brake pads themselves.
If you live in an area full of hills and uneven terrain, you’ll have to use the brakes more, so the pads will get worn out quicker. If the rotor is warped (the part of the braking system that the pads rub against when braking), they will also get worn out quicker.
If you press the brakes hard and tend to brake without downshifting gears, the pads get under a lot more pressure, so they wear out quicker.
Finally, there are three main types of brake pads. Organic brake pads are made of fiber, rubber, glass, and kevlar mixed with resins. They are the cheapest but have the lowest lifespan (around 20k miles).
The semi-metallic/metallic pads are more durable and last approximately 50k miles, while ceramic pads are the most expensive and usually found only on luxury vehicles but can last well over 70k miles (even over 80k in good conditions).
Signs You Need To Change Your Brake Pads
Rarely does any malfunction on your vehicle happen abruptly and without any sign. The same goes for your brake pads. Your vehicle will warn you about worn-out pads – if you know what to listen to and what to look for.
First and foremost, most manufacturers put in a safety measure within the brake pads – a small metal spring that starts squealing when in contact with the rotor. When it gets into contact with the rotor, and you hear a squeal every time you press the brakes, it means you need to change the pads.
Moreover, if that squeal turns into a metallic grind, stop driving. If you hear metal-to-metal, it means the pads are completely gone, and the rotor is grinding against the calipers (another part of the system), which can cause immense damage to your braking system and your vehicle in general.
Some cars even have an indicator light (like you have the “check engine” or “check motor oil” lights) that tells you it’s time to change the pads. Even if your car doesn’t have the indicator light, you don’t need to wait to hear the squealing. You can check your pads visually – if they are thinner than 6-7 mm (¼ inch), it’s time for new ones.
Other obvious signs your brake pads need change are longer stop time and vibrations when you brake, but those can mean other problems as well, so it’s best to check it out at a mechanic’s.
Why Do Brake Pads Get Worn Out?
As I mentioned, brake pads work based on friction, and friction of any kind guarantees wearing out. The problem is, people don’t react until it’s already late, and the extra friction on worn-out brake pads causes even more damage to the braking system.
Pads get worn out for many reasons – too much weight in the vehicle, abrupt and hard braking instead of slowing down and downshifting, driving on uneven terrain, etc.
The thing you need to be the most careful about is stuck calipers (a part of the braking system that, when stuck, keeps your pads rubbing against the rotor the entire time, even when you aren’t braking), and warped rotors. These problems can destroy the pads in only a couple of rides if you don’t react and repair them quickly.
How To Make Brake Pads Last Longer?
If you’re driving with a manual transmission, there are ways you can slow down without ever touching the brakes. The process is called downshifting – release the acceleration pedal and shift down through the gears to slow down your car.
That way, you only need to use brakes (and the pads) from the first gear, where the braking force is already very small, preserving your brake pads for much longer.
Drive slower, and try to decelerate before pressing on the brakes, because the faster you drive and the harder you press on the brakes, the higher the force is needed to stop your vehicle, so your brake pads will get worn out sooner.
Finally, try to drive with as little cargo as possible because the vehicle’s weight also impacts the amount of force needed to stop it, therefore leading to brake pads wearing out.