In a hierarchy of the most important components of a vehicle – brake pads must be in the top two – sat right alongside the tyres as the most vital components.
But unlike tyres, it’s not quite as clear when brake pads are required to be replaced on your vehicle. The problem is that brake pads can’t typically be seen when the wheels are still on the car and, worse still, if you’ve taken them off for better access, they’re still not always noticeable.
This makes it much more difficult to know exactly when to change brake pads – although there are a handful of symptoms to look out for.
The typical lifespan of a brake pad
The average brake pad is designed to take on wear and tear for approximate 40,000 to 50,000 miles.
Although a good guideline, this is a figure that can vary enormously between vehicle models and driving styles. For regular road use in an average vehicle, this figure is likely to ring true – but for performance vehicles driven at the racetrack, chances are that the pads won’t reach that 40,000-mile mark.
Overall, this isn’t particularly helpful – nobody likes a 10,000-mile tolerance, especially if the original value isn’t remotely in the ballpark, to begin with.
How to diagnose worn brake pads
Although a ballpark offers a vague figure – physical symptoms are much more effective at diagnosing worn brake pads.
A handful of important signs that can be used to diagnose an overdue change of brake pads in your vehicle. This is the easiest way to identify worn brake pads (outside of regular servicing) that lets the driver know that it’s time to order those new stopping pads.
So what are the 6 vital signs that your vehicle is in need of a brake pad refresh?
1. Brake pad warning light
First thing’s first – if you’re driving around in a newer vehicle, it may be equipped with the technology to let the driver know when it’s time to change the brake pads.
A brake pad warning light that illuminates on the dashboard should be your first indication that the vehicle stopping power isn’t where it should be. Not all vehicles do offer such sophisticated technology and consulting the manual should offer all the information that the driver needs.
However – electronics can and will fail and the warning light isn’t the only thing that drivers should be looking out for when diagnosing worn pads.
2. Squeaking and squealing noise under braking
Squeaking and squealing are some of the most common symptoms of a bad brake pad.
It’s hard to miss when a vehicle works its brake pads down to the point of squeaking and squealing. The sound produced from the worn pads isn’t anything to be overly worried about – it’s just the pads unique way of letting you know that their life is coming to an end.
Time to get shopping for a new set before the squeaking becomes something much worse…
3. Grinding noise under braking
If you’ve delayed the replacement of the brake pads through the squeaking and squealing stage, the grinding noise will quickly follow.
A grinding noise under braking is your vehicle letting you know that your worn pads are starting to cause some serious damage. The grinding noise is no longer just the pads making contact, but the rotors deteriorating too.
This is bad news for your wallet and any grinding noises should be immediately diagnosed to avoid any larger repair bills.
4. Increased stopping distances
Although the sound produced by the brake pads might be a clear indicator that the pads are past their best before date, the symptoms of brake wear may start a little sooner.
If the driver has noted that their vehicle is taking longer to stop than usual, it could be a sign that the brake pads are on their way out. Time to get those pads checked out and compared to their minimal operating thickness.
Vehicles may also take longer to stop due to a lower-than-recommended level of brake fluid, often caused by a leak somewhere in the system. Regardless of the cause – a vehicle that doesn’t like stopping is not something that’s recommended and should be taken off the road before it takes itself off the road.
5. Vibration under braking
If the driver is experiencing vibration when depressing the brake pedal, this too could be a sign of worn brake pads.
Vibration is typically caused by warped rotors, meaning that the pressure exerted onto the nearside and offside brake pads are uneven. Uneven pressure translates to uneven wear which typically compounds the issue, worsening over time.
Warped rotors will typically result in a larger unwanted repair bill, but it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.
6. Brake pads thin under inspection
When all else fails, taking a peek at the brake pads if you’re having suspicions can confirm or deny any hypothesises.
Brake pads will typically come with a minimal operating thickness before they should be replaced. This is something that is usually checked on roadworthy vehicle inspections but can be completed at home.
As a general rule, a brake pad that is less than 1/4 inch in thickness should be replaced with a fresh pad. Different brake pads will permit different operating conditions so it’s always best to check out the guidelines from the manufacturer.
Reputable suppliers to buy new brake pads?
Brake pads can be purchased from a variety of locations, although an online store will tend to offer the best deals for specific vehicle models. Australian car owners can use online marketplaces to get good deals on replacement parts. These sites offer ways to source spare parts, ranging from headlights to those all-important brake pads for a range of vehicles.