When it’s time for a brake inspection or brake change, you obviously pay attention to the condition and thickness of the brake pads. So while doing so, you may get an unsettling feeling as you notice uneven brake pad wear. Naturally this leaves you wondering what’s causing it and what has to be done to fix it. But don’t worry, we are here to help you!
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the causes of uneven brake pad wear and everything you need to know to adress this frustrating issue.
So without further ado, let’s get started.
What Does Uneven Brake Pad Wear Look Like?
Before delving into the causes of uneven brake pad wear, it’s important to note that your vehicle’s brake system applies more pressure to the front brakes than the rear. Depending on your level of car knowledge, you may already know this.
But as a result, the front and rear brake pads will naturally wear differently. In other words, if the front brakes are more worn than the rear, it’s completely normal.
However, the problem occurs when uneven brake pad wear starts manifest itself in other ways.
Often, you will see the inner pad wearing down much faster than the outer pad, or one side of the vehicle; for instance, the driver’s side wearing down faster than the passenger side. But there are also times when even the pad itself can wear unevenly.
So what causes this uneven wear? Let’s take a closer look:
What Causes Uneven Brake Pad Wear?
1. Warped Rotor/Thickness Variation
One of the main culprits of uneven brake pad wear is warped rotor causing thickness variation. When you hit the brakes under normal circumstances, the rotor and the pads should mate properly together.
But when there is a unconsistent thickness of the rotor, the brake pads will not apply against the rotor as they should, and what are the results of that? Uneven brake pad wear!
The warping is a common sign that, at some point, the rotor became too hot and simply warped. This can easily happen when riding the brakes, doing hard braking, fast stops, or due to underlying issues, such as a sticking brake caliper.
2. Sticking Brake Caliper
Another well-known cause for uneven brake pad wear is a sticking brake caliper. When the brake caliper seems to get stuck in place or have trouble properly releasing the brake pads or, the brake pads will keep contact to the rotor when they shouldn’t, resulting in much more wear.
But not only does it cause premature wear on the brake pads, but it’s also one of the main culprits of dragging and overheating brakes, so you’re lucky if it didn’t warp the rotors yet.
The reason for a sticky brake caliper often due to rust, corrosion, or a faulty master cylinder that unevenly distribute the pressure when you press the brake pedal.
3. Unlubricated or Corroded Slide Pin
When there’s a problem with uneven or excessive wear on the brake pads, most people would yell the faulty brake caliper mentioned above. However, many times, it’s actually the slide pins (also called guide pins) that are the problem. Their job is to ensure the brake pads move properly when the brakes are applied
If the slide pins become corroded or are not properly lubricated, it can cause trouble for the motion of the brake pads, resulting in a unevenly worn brake pads.
As the brake assembly needs to withstand harsh environment, constantly exposed to water, snow, mud, dirt and debris, but also extreme temperatures, it’s no wonder that components such as the slide pins takes a beating.
However, many times, it’s simply due to lack of regular maintenance.
4. Dirty or Rusty Rotors
While uneven brake pad wear can most often be attributed to the causes above, it’s worth mentioning that dirty or rusty rotors can also play a part.
But while rust is often nothing more than an unsightly paintwork problem, it can cause huge issues when it starts eating on brakes that’s not properly taken car of.
Moreover, if grime or dirt is lodged between the brake pads and the rotor, the rotor and the pads can suffer damage, such as scoring.
This scoring or grinding can be quite destructive, and before you know it, you’ll have unevenly worn brake pads. So make sure you know how to tell if the rotor is bad.
5. Misalignment in the Brake Pads
Misalignment in the brake pads is not very common, but trust me, it can happen. When it does, and the brake pads aren’t properly squeezing the rotor, chances are it will result in faster and uneven wear.
Mabye you had your brake done recently? If so, it is possible something went wrong during the job, like an incorrect installation. That could be the cause of the issue you are facing.
Don’t hesitate to get your car checked out if you think something needs to be fixed. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
6. Different Types of Brake Pads
If you’re looking for even wear and smooth braking, it’s important to ensure your brake pads are the same in terms of material and thickness.
Different types or makes of brake pads can wear down at different rates, leading to one side wearing down faster than the other. To avoid this issue, make sure your brake pads are all the same type and from the same manufacturer.
If your interested in learning more about brake pad differences, don’t miss out on our article about ceramic vs. semi metallic brake pads.
How do You Fix Uneven Brakes?
The first step is to inspect the brake system and identify the underlying cause of the uneven brake pad wear. This can be done by taking the car to a mechanic who can diagnose the issue and recommend the best course of action.
Once the underlying cause has been identified, it is important to fix the issue before replacing the brake pads. This may involve replacing warped or rusty rotors, sticking brake calipers, sticking or corroded slide pins, and other repairs.
Once the underlying issue has been fixed and you have installed new brake pads, you can regain a comfortable and smooth driving experience.
Can You Fix Uneven Brake Pad Wear Yourself?
If you’re the type who loves to get their hands dirty and have a bit of car knowledge, you can usually fix your brakes without too much trouble. It’s important to note, though, that the difficulty and procedure can vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle.
The following steps are what you’ll need to do:
- Safely put the vehicle on jack stands.
- Remove the wheel.
- Inspect the brakes and check for any potential issues or damage.
- Replace any worn parts, such as brake pads, rotors, and calipers.
- Make sure to lubricate any moving parts.
- Bleed the brakes to remove any air bubbles, such as after a caliper replacement.
- Test the brakes and make sure they’re working properly.
With a bit of effort and know-how, you can get your brakes back in working order in no time.
Tips for Successfully Fixing Uneven Brake Pad Wear
To ensure a successful repair and smooth installation of the new pads, there are some basic steps to keep in mind. So before starting, take a few seconds and check out these 10 tips:
- Get the right parts and ensure they are compatible with your car.
- As a rule of thumb, always do both sides when replacing brakes to avoid uneven brake performance.
- Before starting, gather all the necessary tools for the job.
- Refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual for safety instructions, such as where to place the floor jack and jack stands.
- Thoroughly clean and inspect the brakes.
- Check for any visible signs of damage or leaks.
- Ensure the slide pins move easily and freely back and forward.
- Compress the caliper piston (for rear brake calipers that integrate emergency/parking brake, first check vehicle service information)
- Lubricate the brake pad bracket, guide/slide pins, and caliper bolts.
- Check the brake fluid and do a fluid flush if necessary.
If you have any questions or concerns, it’s best to consult an expert for advice. Taking the time to do this will help ensure a successful installation.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Replacing Uneven Brake Pads
Before you replace your uneven brake pads, it is important to avoid common mistakes. Here are five to watch out for:
1. Too often, people forget to inspect the entire brake system, including the rotors, calipers, brake lines, fluid, and other components. Make sure to thoroughly check the entire setup before replacing the brake pads.
2. Don’t forget to clean and lubricate the calipers with a quality lubricant. This step is critical for ensuring the pads wear correctly and don’t fail prematurely.
3. Replacing the associated hardware, such as pins, washers, and clips, are just as important as replacing the brake pads. Worn and damaged pieces can lead to less effective brakes.
4. Once the new pads are on, it’s important to torque the lug nuts for secure attachment properly. If not tightened correctly, you may experience uneven braking, vibration, and other issues.
5. Don’t forget to check for air in the brake lines. Air can lead to less effective brakes and cause the pads to wear down faster.
How Much Does It Cost to Fix Uneven Brake Pad Wear?
Replacing brake pads can be a relatively economical fix, usually costing between $150 and $300 per axle. However, if the cause of the uneven wear is more serious, the repair bill could quickly climb to $500 or higher. This is because rotor and caliper replacements may also be necessary.
Identifying the root cause of the uneven brake pad wear is important to ensure you don’t end up with unnecessary repairs down the line.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Change Brake Pads On One Side Only?
Don’t make the mistake of replacing brake pads on only one side! It may be tempting since only one side has worn down, but it can create a hazardous situation. Uneven wear will result from this, leading to further issues. To ensure your safety, changing the brake pads on both sides is important.
Is It Normal for Brake Pads to Wear Unevenly?
It’s normal for the front and back brake pads to wear down differently. You need to pay attention to whether one side of the vehicle is wearing down more quickly or if one of the pads on each side of the rotor is becoming more worn. If so, it could indicate an issue with the brakes and should be addressed promptly.
When Should I Ideally Get My Brake Pads Checked?
Ideally, inspecting your brakes every six months is a good idea. One helpful tip many people do is to get the brakes checked while you get your tires rotated. This way, you won’t forget it. If you can’t recall when you last had your brakes looked at, it’s best to get an appointment immediately.
Many things can cause uneven brake pad wear. But the 6 most common causes include warped rotors, sticking brake calipers, unlubricated or corroded slide pins, dirty or rusty rotors, brake pads that are misaligned, and finally, different types of brake pads.
It’s safe to say that many underlying issues must be considered and checked. Fixing the issue is, therefore, more complex than just replacing the brake pads; you also have to determine the root cause.
However, with a few simple tips and mechanical how-to knowledge, you’ll likely be able to quickly get your brakes working smoothly again.