6 Signs When to Replace Brake Pads (How to Check & Cost Estimate)

If it’s been a while since you had your brakes serviced, it may be time to check your brake pads. Especially if you notice that your car brakes don’t feel as responsive as usual or that squealing noises are coming from your brakes as you press the pedal.

However, these are two signs that it’s time for replacement, but not all.

This article will discuss these and other common signs of worn brake pads and why it’s important to replace them promptly.

6 Signs It Is Time to Replace Your Brake Pads

Before going through how to check your brake pads or the replacement cost, lets first take a look on a few signs it’s time to replace your brake pads that you may have noticed and that every car owner should be aware of.

1. Squealing or Squeaking Noises When Braking 

One of the first signs that it’s time to change the brake pads is squealing or squeaking noises when applying the brakes. The high-pitched squeal you hear is a built-in wear indicator that tells you when it’s time for new brake pads. 

This sound likely means that your brake pads are worn down to the point where a thin and small metal attachment (the wear indicator) on the brake pad backing plate makes contact with the brake rotors and works similar to dragging fingernails across a chalkboard.

But, keep in mind that not all brake pads have this feature and that it shouldn’t be the only way to assess when it’s time to replace your brakes. It’s always recommended to follow the manufacturers recommendations and make sure to take your car in for a brake inspection if you’re not sure.

Note: Brakes exposed to wetness or damp conditions, such as after a rainfall, may cause a similar squealing sound while braking. The sound should however disappear after hitting the brakes a few times while driving. If it does, it’s likely a bit of moisture and nothing to worry about.

Read more: New Brakes Squeaking – What It Means, Causes & How to Fix It

2. Deep Metallic Grinding Noises When Braking

In addition to squealing noises, you may also hear deep, metallic grinding noises when you apply the brakes. This is typically a sign of severe brake pad wear, and it indicates that the brake pads have worn down to the point where the brake pad backing plate is scratching against the brake rotors.

The grinding noise should be addressed immediately. Though, at this point, the rotors may be beyond saving.

3. Brake Pedal Vibrates or Steering Wheel Shakes When Braking

If you feel vibrations in the brake pedal as you apply the brakes, it’s possible that your brake pads are worn down to the point we mentioned in the section above.

However, if not only the brake pedal is vibrating, but also your steering wheel is shaking, it likely means that the brake pads don’t wear down evenly. If so, it’s necessary to find the cause of the uneven wear. This includes checking for damaged calipers, warped rotors, uneven rotors, or even installation errors on the pads themselves.

If the root of the cause is not fixed, the problem is just going to happen again.

4. Brake Indicator Light

Many modern vehicles are equipped with a brake pad wear indicator light on the dashboard. This light illuminates when the brake pads have reached a certain level of wear and need to be replaced. If this light comes on, it’s important to have your brake pads inspected and replaced as needed.

5. Brake Pads Are Less than a Quarter Inch Thick

Most vehicles have a minimum thickness for brake pads, and it’s important to replace the pads before they reach this thickness to avoid damaging the brake rotor and other parts of the brake system. 

However, the thickness can vary depending on the manufacturer but you can typically find information about the minimum thickness of your vehicle’s brake pads in the owner’s manual, often found in the section that covers vehicle maintenance and repair.

To check the thickness of your brake pads, you can use a brake pad thickness gauge or have a professional mechanic check them for you.

6. Your Vehicle Pulls to One Side When You Brake 

If you have to fight to keep your vehicle straight and on the road every time you brake, it’s likely one of your front brake pads is worn down more than the other. This typically doesn’t mean the brake pads are bad, but it still requires that you replace them to fix the issue.

It’s recommended to replace the pads on both wheels, which may seem unnecessary if they are fine on one side. However, if you decide not to, chances are you’ll end up with the same problem as before – unevenly worn brake pads.

How Long Do Car Brake Pads Last?

The lifespan of brake pads can vary depending on many factors, such as the type of vehicle, driving habits, and road conditions.

But most brake pads are designed to last between 30,000 and 70,000 miles. However, having your brakes inspected every 20,000 to 30,000 miles or every year or two is usually recommended, whichever comes first. Keep in mind this depends on the manufacturer.

What Happens if You Wait Too Long to Change Brake Pads? 

Several things can happen if you wait too long to change your brake pads. The first and most obvious is that the brake pads will continue to wear down.

Also, waiting too long can cause the rotor to become so damaged that it needs to be replaced or resurfaced, adding significant cost to the brake repair since changing brake pads is usually the cheapest part of a brake repair.

In addition to damaging the rotors, driving with worn brake pads can also affect the overall performance of the brake system. The calipers may not apply as much force to the rotors, reducing the vehicle’s ability to stop quickly and safely. This can be especially dangerous in emergency situations.

How do I Check my Brake Pads?

There are several ways to check the thickness of your brake pads to ensure that they are in good working condition. The three best methods are:

  • Visual inspection: Look for the brake pads through the openings in the wheel. This method is the easiest way to check the brake pads, but it is not always accurate and may be hard for someone with no experience. But it often gives a good idea of the brake pad’s condition.
  • Using a brake pad thickness gauge: A brake pad thickness gauge is a specialized tool that is designed to measure the thickness of a brake pad. To use this tool, you will need to remove the wheel and caliper from the vehicle. Once the caliper is removed, you can insert the gauge between the brake pad and the rotor and read the thickness on the gauge. This is the most accurate way to measure the thickness of a brake pad.
  • Removing the brake pad and measuring it: To get the most accurate measurement of the brake pad thickness, you can remove the brake pad from the caliper and measure it directly. This can be done using a micrometer or a caliper. Once the brake pad is removed, you can compare its thickness to a new brake pad to determine how much wear it has experienced.

Tip: Compare the thickness of the old brake pad to a new brake pad. This will give you a reference point to determine how much wear the brake pads have experienced. If the brake pads are significantly thinner than a new one, they may be near their minimum thickness and need replacement. At least it will give you a good indication if it’s soon time to schedule a brake pad replacement.

Should You Replace the Rotors When Replacing Brake Pads?

Most times, it’s not necessary to replace the rotors when replacing the brake pads. Rotors generally last longer than brake pads. If you take your car for a brake inspection, the mechanic will likely check the condition of the brake rotors. They will look for signs of wear, such as scoring, cracking, or uneven surface.

If the rotors are in good condition, the mechanic will likely recommend keeping them as is. If the rotors are showing signs of wear or are below the minimum thickness, the mechanic may recommend resurfacing or replacing them.

How Much does it Cost to Change Brake Pads?

The cost of changing brake pads per axle can vary depending on the factors. On average, you can expect to pay between $150 and $300 per axle for a standard brake pad replacement. 

However, the cost is likely higher for high-performance brake pads or for vehicles with larger brake systems. Keep in mind that most vehicles have two axles, and each axle has four brake pads (two for each wheel), so the total cost of changing all of the brake pads on a vehicle will typically be between $300 and $600.

Ask for cost estimate before the job

If you want a precise cost estimate for changing your brake pads, I recommend consulting a professional mechanic. A mechanic will be able to inspect your vehicle and determine the exact type and condition of your brake pads, as well as any other potential issues with your brake system. They will then be able to provide you with a detailed estimate of the cost of changing your brake pads.

Lastly, I would recommend getting quotes from multiple mechanics to compare prices and ensure that you are getting a fair and reasonable price for the brake pad replacement. This will help you make an informed decision and ensure that you get the best value for your money.

How Long Does It Take to Change Brake Pads?

In general, it takes about 30 minutes to an hour for a mechanic to change brake pads per axle. This means it takes one to two hours to change brake pads on all four wheels. However, this depends on the type of vehicle and experience. For a DIY mechanic, you can expect it to take longer. 

Related: How Long Does It Take To Change Brakes? (Pads & Rotors)

The Conclusive Conclusion

In conclusion, regular brake pad replacement is essential for ensuring the safety and performance of your vehicle. If you notice any of the signs mentioned above, it’s important to have your brake system inspected by a professional and replace the brake pads as needed.

Not only will this help to improve your vehicle’s braking performance, but it will also help to extend the life of other brake system components and prevent costly repairs down the road.

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Rickard Cefalk

Rickard is the owner of Caraspect.com and a dedicated and avid do-it-yourselfer who has always enjoyed working on his own vehicles since childhood. He now devotes his time to sharing his expert knowledge of car maintenance and other car-related information through his website.

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