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Are You Replacing Your Brake Pads Often Enough?

how much does it cost to fix brake grinding

Changing the brake pads on a car is generally considered to fall into the category of routine maintenance. The change should be made at approximately 50,000 miles. There are some exceptions, however. On average, this repair costs $150 per axel. However, paying for premium makes sense.

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In the winter, people worry about their tires and brakes keeping up with the slush, snow, and sleet. Spring brings debris and plenty of rain. By time summer hits, we’re ready to play speed demon on the expressway. Driving can be fun, but you have to know when to hit the brakes so to speak.

All of this back and forth leaves one lingering question: when did you change the brake pads?

To start, the brake pads need to be swapped out for new ones every 50,000 miles or so. Mechanics disagree on this number, however.

The estimated milage is subject to many variables such as age, car, condition, etc. Even the type of driver you are could reduce or lengthen the amount of time brake pads can last. 

For example, if you “ride the brakes,” coming to a very slow stop from blocks away from the traffic light, you could need them sooner.

This article answers the typical questions on brakes:

  • How long do brake pads last on average?
  • How do I know if my brake pads are bad?
  • How much does the average brake job cost?
  • Is it better to replace all the brakes at one time?

Along the ride, it will certainly answer a few more.

How Long Do Brake Pads Last on Average?

Estimates vary on how long brake pads last. Some mechanics estimates 40,000. Others suggest 50,000 miles. There are even a few who say that the information provided does not suffice to answer the question. In other words, it depends.

On any car, brake pads are important. How else can the car be stopped once set in motion? Without them, the road would certainly be less safe of a place. 

Some people will count on their brakes for a certain number of years. Others know that mileage is more important. This is because a car that is driven 50,000 miles in five years and 200,000 miles in five years are going to look quite different when put up to a side-by-side comparison.

By some estimates, that number is as low as 20,000 miles. Others feel it can be pushed to 70,000. 

Various elements will impact the lifespan of your brakes, making this a tricky question.

  • The way you drive is a major factor. If you ride the brakes, slam on the brakes, and love pressing down on the pedal like there’s no tomorrow, then you may find yourself at the garage replacing your brake pads more often then your fellow driver. Driving a little slower may help avoid this!
  • Brake pads come in different types. And, what you choose plays a part in determining how long the brake pad will last. Today, there are three types on the menu: organic (glass, fiber, carbon, rubber, etc.); semi-metallic, and ceramic (luxury cars most often have these longer lasting ones).
  • Manual car owners pull ahead on this one. Manual car owners can engage in “engine braking” which reduces speed without relying on the brakes. However, if you drive an automatic, you’re out of luck (intentionally “braking” the automatic engine can lead to transmission problems).
  • Where do you drive? Hills and mountains require more stopping than the flat streets of Chicagoland, for instance.
  • Are you driving a wide load? Vehicle weight also impacts brake pad life. It’s a matter of physics. Heavier objects require more “work” to be stopped. In other words, the brakes work harder to stop heavy vehicles.
  • The condition of the braking system as a whole should be considered as well. If the rotors or calipers are no good, the brake pads won’t be far behind them in being the reason you find yourself talking with a mechanic. Stuck pieces and warped rotos can be a real nightmare.

How do I know if my Brake Pads are Bad?

Asking how often should I change my brake pads leads to a more profound question: How do I know when it’s time? 

Now that you know that you cannot hope and pray for your brake pads to last an eternity, you should be on the lookout for problems with them.

  1. Squealing Brake Pads – ugh, that noise! That deafening high-pitched squeak. It’s too much to handle, and if it’s happening when you apply pressure to the car’s brakes, you know it’s time to talk with a mechanic about changing the brake pads.
  2. A crunching or grating sound could be the metal is grinding when you hit the brakes. Many people forget that the aforementioned squeaking is a warning signal – the brake pads are at the end of their rope. If you get to a metallic grinding sound, it’s too late. They’re done.
  3. Grab a ruler and measure the thickness of the pads. If they’re less than 6.4 millimeters thick, it’s time for a change. At half of this, the brakes are at risk of failing altogether. Do not drive the vehicle. Call a tow truck to have it taken to the garage for immediate repair.
  4. Dashboard lights to the rescue! Some cars have sensors that can illuminate a light on the dashboard, alerting the driver or car owner that the brakes need to be examined by a professional mechanic as soon as possible. The sensors don’t always work, though.
  5. Expert opinion is the best route. When in doubt, call a mechanic. This is the golden rule of car care, and it 100% applies to brake pad questions and concerns. If you’re not sure if the brake pads are good or not, why not pass through your local garage for a consultation and estimate?

There are many factors that tell the driver to change the brake pads. Knowing these signs can help determine when the swap should be completed.

How do Brake Pads Work?

Brake pads are just one part of the braking system alongside rotors, calipers, and other pieces. The brake pad itself has several parts: a friction material, an underlayer, an adhesive, a brake shim, and a backing plate.

The brake pads are nestled into the caliper. How does it work? When the driver puts their foot on the pedal, a pressure system is activated that allows the caliper to close down on the brake pads. These pads latch onto the brake disc, shutting down the speed quickly and safely.

The friction material is important to note here. If the material runs out, due to excessive braking, broken brakes, or age, then the other parts can become damaged as a result (and rapidly so).

What’s important to remember here is that brake pads are not meant to last forever. It just would not work in the contemporary design of a vehicle. All brake pads wear down after a certain amount of time. How often should you replace them? One mechanic’s answer: “periodically.”

How much does the Average Brake Job Cost?

When trying to figure out how often to change your brake pads, you might be tempted to look into the average cost of the repair as well.

All mechanics charge various rates, so nailing this done to a fixed number is next to impossible. Rotors run about $55 on average (for parts). Labor at the garage will run as much as $200 per axel. Getting the pad and the rotor repaired at a mechanic might cost $250 per axel. 

You could likely pay two to four times that. With calipers, the price climbs even higher. It’s not common for a total brake job to cost $1000.

Finding the right mechanic is the first step to resolving this issue. Many web resources point to an average repair cost of about $150 per axel for changing the brake pad. This means $600 if the whole car needs the brake pads changed.

Every car is different, though. Even the repair in question can alter the bottom line. If the brake system, including the rotors and calipers, need to be changed, it will drive up the final cost.

There are various factors that impact the cost of repair. For example, if you’re a driver of a car that’s European (Mercedes, Audi, etc.) or Japanese (Nissan, etc.), then you need to know it may cost more to make the repair as measurements are different and a specialty mechanic is required.

Again, heavier cars, like big trucks, will require more brake maintenance and repair when compared to a lighter vehicle.

The materials of the brake pad also impact cost. There are plenty of choices out there (organic, semi-metallic, and ceramic). Premium aftermarket brands cost more, but they also typically last longer. Talk to the shop owner or the auto parts store representative to figure out what makes sense for you.

Some people will be tempted to make this a DIY project. This isn’t recommended unless you have the experience, tools, and knowhow to get the job done right safely and efficiently. The brakes are not a car part with which one should play around or experiment.

Is it Better to Replace all the Brakes at One Time?

If your left shoe was bad, would you only buy a new left shoe? Or would you replace both of them?

This is a silly question but it applies to the brake pad situation. Brake pads should wear down evenly on the right and left sides of the vehicle. In other words, yes, replace both front brakes and/or both back brakes.

If for some reason only the left or right brake pad is in sorry shape, you have a more serious repair problem on your hand. A simple replacement due to average wear and tear should have the removed pads looking even and identical in shape and form.

Most car owners don’t know that the front pads go faster. In fact, an estimated 70% of the braking occurs at the front of the vehicle. When you hit the brakes in your car, the weight transfers down a little bit. This is why the front brakes do more work than those in the rear.

Interesting fact: Older cars often have drum brakes in the back because they don’t do so much of the heavy lifting. These drum brakes don’t even require pads.

Stopping Short on Brake Pad Replacement

Is there ever a time when brake pad replacement isn’t worth it? Yes. When the cost of the job surpasses the value of the vehicle, you should really consider sending the car to the junkyard.

It’s hard to let go of our old car because we’ve already invested so much into it. However, when the average lifespan of a car is only twelve years, not much is to be expected. 

If you’re a fan of driving around used cars, you should be careful not to overinvest in repairs just to get from point A to point B.

Instead, you should think like an economist. If the cost of the car is sunk (it’s costing more than it’s worth it to keep it on the road), perhaps a new ride is in order. You can sell the car to a junkyard (for cash payment), buy a bus pass, or purchase a brand-new car.

If not, remember that the average milage for brake pads is 50,000 miles and keep watch for warning signs that brake pad replacement is necessary. Drive safely!

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