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How Long Do Brake Pads Last?

Stephen Fogel
January 9, 2019

Many parts on your car are considered “wear items,” meaning they’ll wear out after a certain amount of time and need replacement. For instance, you know you need to change your engine oil every so often — this applies to your brake pads, too.

But how often do you need new ones? One rule of thumb is every 50,000 miles, but it all depends on the type of pads you have, your driving style and more. Some cars will need new pads after 25,000 miles, while others can go 75,000. 

Let’s take a look at how your brake pads work, factors that determine how quickly they wear out, and signs it’s time for a new set.

» FIND A SHOP: Get your brakes taken care of by a certified mechanic

How your brake pads work

Your brakes are a hydraulic system. When you step on the brake pedal, it pressurizes fluid that is sent through lines to the brake pads. The pads then push against the disc rotors that are attached to each of your vehicle’s wheels, causing the vehicle to slow down or stop. 

Each brake pad is made of friction material, which gets used up a little with each stop. Because the weight of your vehicle shifts to the front every time you stop, your front brake pads do the majority of the work. This means your front brake pads will wear out faster than the rears.

How often do you need to change your brake pads?

The only truly accurate answer is: “It depends.” Going by mileage alone doesn’t cover it. So what are the factors that determine how often you should change your brake pads?

What kind of car you drive: Small, light cars are generally easier to stop than big, heavy trucks and SUVs, so their brakes don’t wear as quickly. High-performance cars and sports cars are usually driven harder, with faster acceleration and harder braking, which can contribute to faster brake pad wear.

What type of transmission your car has: A car with a manual transmission tends to use its brakes less, because drivers can use the lower gears to help slow down. Vehicles with automatic transmissions will normally coast when you take your foot off the gas, which places all the responsibility for stopping on the brakes. This causes faster pad wear.

What types of driving you do: Open highway cruising places minimal wear on the brake pads. But driving frequently in stop-and-go traffic or urban congestion will use them up faster. Towing or hauling heavy loads means you have a much weightier vehicle to stop, and driving in mountainous areas also puts more stress and wear on brake pads.

What kind of driver you are: If you tend to take off quickly from a stop and make abrupt, harder stops, your brake pads will wear out faster. Riding the brake pedal constantly will also increase the rate of pad wear. The combination of smooth, moderate acceleration and gently coasting to lightly braked stops usually means longer pad life.

What type of brake pads you use: If you use brake pads made of upgraded, harder materials (like semi-metallic or ceramic ones), they’ll likely last longer than conventional brake pads.

Some manufacturers set up their maintenance schedules so that brake pads are inspected at regular intervals and only replaced when necessary. Check your owner’s manual and maintenance schedule for more guidance on when to inspect and change your brake pads.

» GET AN ESTIMATE: Learn how much brake pad replacement will cost

Symptoms of worn brake pads

If you notice any of the following signs that your brake pads are worn out, or if you have some other type of brake problem, get your car looked at immediately. Your safety depends on it. 

Screeching or squealing noises when braking: Many brake pads have wear sensors that start making a high-pitched noise when the pads are nearly worn out. If you hear a noise when you press the brake pedal, it’s time for new ones.

Brake warning light: On some vehicles, sensors will activate a dashboard warning light when the pads need replacement. Check your owner’s manual when this light comes on to verify what it’s telling you.  

Grinding or growling noises when braking: This usually means that you’re past the warning stage and your brake pads are completely gone. This sound is caused by metal-to-metal contact, which will destroy your brake rotors and limit your car’s braking ability. 

Steering wheel vibration when braking: This is likely to be related to unevenly worn front brake rotors, which can be happen after your brake pads get overly worn. 

Car pulls to one side when braking: This could indicate a number of different problems, including unevenly worn brake pads, or a brake line or fluid issue. 

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.

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