brake pads
Automobile Maintenance

3 Signs it’s Time to Replace Your Brake Pads

From 2005 to 2007, about 2% of crashes were the result of some vehicular malfunction. Of that 2%, about 22% were due to the vehicle’s brake pads.

That may not sound like a lot, but it equated to about 10,000 accidents in two years.

Not everyone stays on top of their car’s maintenance, perhaps with good reason. The cost to own and operate a new vehicle last year averaged out to $8,469 annually.

That’s a large chunk of cash. But it’s also a large chunk of cash that can save your life.

So when is it really necessary to expend your precious income on brake pads? If you hear those squeaky sounds, does it mean hundreds of dollars will be lost?

Here, we’ll detail exactly when you should start to worry.

History of Brakes

The very first automobiles used spoon brakes, which were nothing more than square blocks of wood that drivers could place upon the wheels with a lever.

No, they did not involve eating, dinnertime or ice cream.

While these contraptions worked [decently] well with bicycles and carriages, when automobiles were introduced it became apparent very quickly that something more effective was necessary.

Mechanical and shoe brakes followed, eventually leading up to the types we know today: hydraulic, disk anti-lock and others.

Today, most automobiles have frictional, hydraulic, pumping, servo or electromagnetic brakes.

How Do Brake Pads Work?

Let’s get one thing straight: brake pads are not the only part of your braking system.

Automobiles have advanced a long way, and braking systems now include numerous components, such as brake lines, brake fluid, hoses and a master cylinder.

The brake pads are important because they apply pressure to the car’s rotors, which forces the wheels to slow. These intricacies make it necessary to get your back and front break pads checked by a licensed mechanic.

Importance of Brakes

Brakes are significant factors in any less-than-ideal weather condition, nonetheless in everyday driving.

Winter is an especially important time of year to ensure your brakes are well maintained. When snow hits, there is a 19% increase in automobile accidents. During this period, having dependable control of your vehicle is vital.

Like seat belts, brakes save lives. They allow you stop, and if they’re not maintained you or the people around you may get hurt.

When Is It Time to Go to the Mechanic?

For those of you who do not perform regular maintenance on your vehicle, there are clear signs that indicate the brake pads should be replaced.

1. Thinning Pads

Ideally, your brake pads should have at least 1/4 inch of pad left. If there isn’t, it’s about time for the pads to be replaced.

But how do you know how thick each pad is? It’s actually simple.

With most vehicles, you can quite literally look.

The brake pad can be viewed in between most cars’ tire spokes. It should be pressed against the rotor.

There are several tools that can help you measure the thickness, but if you’d prefer to save cash you can use a plastic straw.

2. Scraping Noises

You know the sounds we’re talking about.

Those high, metallic screeches? It’s usually a sign that you need new brakes.

This noise won’t be quiet; unless your blaring Britney Spears (we won’t judge) as you rumble down the road, you should be able to hear it, even with your window up.

What’s usually occurring here is caused by a buildup of brake dust. Once enough gathers on a rotor, its surface becomes smooth. The brake pad is left clawing at this surface with nothing to grab.

Many brake pads also have indicators, small metal tabs that create squeaking noises when the brakes are going bad. Vibrations travel to the indicators attached to the inner pad, creating the intensely high squeak.

Don’t see the noises as the end of the world. Brakes are designed to loudly complain when something is wrong. After all, they are one of the most important safety features your car has to offer.

3. Grinding Noises

If you hear this, it’s not good news.

This sound is typically described as being a deep growl or a low grinding noise.

Generally, it means the brake pads are completely worn. Now, metal is pressing against metal to get the vehicle to stop.

In these cases, the backing plate is scraping against the rotor, and it can cause damage to the rotor and caliper.

Not getting this fixed can lead to more complications, more money lost and even an accident. If your car is making this noise, do not delay in taking it into a garage.

How to Make Your Brakes Last Longer

These three signs will help you avoid accidents, but there are ways to make your brakes last longer:

  • Press down on the brakes for short spurts when driving downhill. Do not apply constant pressure on the brakes if you can help it.
  • Coast. There’s really no need to zoom up to a stop sign if you’re going to have to halt anyway.
  • Have your brake fluid flushed regularly, ideally every 20,000 miles.
  • Slow down. If you avoid speeding, you will have to apply much less pressure on the brakes in order to stop.
  • Drive at least a three-car-distance away from the person in front of you. Everyone drives differently, and this space will give you some leeway to avoid putting harsh pressure on the brakes if the person in front of you suddenly stops.
  • Remove unnecessary items from the vehicle. The more weight within the car, the more the brakes will have to work. By removing unneeded things, your car will thank you with longer-lasting brakes.

Now You Know!

Now you’ve learned what those strange noises mean and when it’s time to get your vehicle in for some tender love and care.

Hey, automobiles need doctors, too.

But there are times when checking your brakes are especially important.

Are you going on a trip soon? If so, be sure to examine your brakes and keep a wary eye and ear out for the sights and sounds we’ve discussed. You can also check out our article explaining what to inspect if you’re planning a long trip.

Until next time, may your journeys be safe and your brake pads thick!