When to replace brake pads or not to replace them — that is the question.
If your brake light goes on, there probably have been a lot of signs telling you that the brakes should have been checked weeks if not months before. Once that light is on, you’ve got to get your car to a mechanic ASAP. Because making sure your brakes are working properly is the #1 thing you can do to ensure your car is safe to drive.
Brakes don’t wear out or fail all at once. While sometimes you just need to add more brake fluid, there’s a bigger possibility that parts of the the braking system — pads, brake hardware, and rotors — are worn out.
Before that brake light even goes on, there are clear warning signs that something is wrong with your brakes. It could be any of these common brake problems.
When to Replace Brake Pads
When you step on the brake pedal, the brake pads transfer friction to the rotors to stop the car. The more you drive, the faster the pads wear out.
In addition to the warning signs above, here are 4 more signs you need new brake pads.
When to Replace Brake Pads: Clicking Noises
When to Replace Brake Pads: Pedal Pulsates
We talked about steering wheel vibration before but if the brake pedal pulsates, that’s usually a sign that you need new brake pads. Pulsating brakes are typically caused by worn out brake pads or pads that warped due to heat.
When to Replace Brake Pads: Thin Pads
If you think you might need new pads but aren’t sure, you can check your current ones by looking through the spokes of the car wheel since the outside of the brake pad will be visible against the rotor. If there’s less than a 1/4 inch of pad, you need new ones.
When to Replace Brake Pads: Grooves in Rotor
This next sign is for all you DIYers. Deep, circular grooves in the rotor are caused by dangerously worn out brake pads. The grooves — known as “scores” — look like the ones on a record (Millennials can ask their parents to draw an example). If you can see the grooves on the rotors, the brake pads need to be replaced. Especially deep grooves mean you may need to turn or replace the rotor as well.
When to Replace the Rotor(s)
By replacing the brake pads regularly, you can decrease damage to your rotors or avoid it completely. However, ignoring early warning signs can cause irreparable harm and the rotor will need to be replaced.
In short, here’s what happens: Your pedal forces brake fluid into the brake lines and presses the calipers. The calipers hold the brake pads close to your rotors. So when you press the pedal, your brake pads press the rotors, slowing and stopping your car or truck.
By replacing the brake pads regularly, you can decrease damage to your rotors or avoid it completely.
Although rotors are supposed to outlive pads, uneven wear, heat damage, and excessive runout can cause them to go bad prematurely.
Sign #1: Your brake pedal “shudders.”
According to tomorrowstechnician.com, “runout occurs when the rotor wobbles as it rotates. This may be due to runout in the hub, runout in the way the rotor was originally machined, rust or dirt between the rotor and hub, or uneven torquing of the lug nuts.”
Because there shouldn’t be more than 0.001 inch of variation in rotor thickness, you’ll need to take your car into a mechanic so he can check to see if it can be “turned” or fixed or if it has to be replaced.
Sign #2: You feel a strong vibration when you step on the brake.
You can test if the problem is the rotor pretty easily on a deserted road. Without completely stopping, apply the brakes heavily at 30 mph. Severe warpage of the rotors will easily be felt at this speed.
If you don’t feel anything at 30 mph. but think you still might need a new rotor, try the same test at 60 mph. If you feel a vibration, then you’ve got a slight warpage and will need to take care of the issue in the near future.
Last but not Least: Brake Hardware
Knowing when to replace brake pads isn’t the only thing. There’s also the hardware that holds them in place. For a brief overview, watch auto expert Scotty Kilmer explain the secret to safe and quiet brakes in this video:
Like Scotty Kilmer says, when it’s time to replace the pads and rotors, you also need to replace the hardware that holds them together. Although new hardware only costs a few dollars, it not only has a huge impact on brake pad life and noise but will cost you money, as new research on brake clips shows.
By replacing your pads, rotors and brake hardware when they wear out, you’ll ensure your brakes work properly, which is the #1 thing you can do to keep yourself and others safe on the road. Don’t wait for the warning light! Know when to replace brake pads. Heed the signs for better brake performance and a safer ride.