You are probably aware that there is something wrong with your brakes. Maybe you are hearing a grinding or scraping sound. Maybe you’re noticing that your car is pulling to one side when you slow down or turn. Or maybe your brake pad feels spongy when you apply pressure to it.
You take your car to the service and maintenance center and the mechanic tells you that you have to replace not only your brake pads, but your rotors as well. You suddenly ask yourself if they’re trying to sell you something your vehicle doesn’t need, or does your car really need brake pads and rotor replacement?
The very first step to properly diagnosing the source of your brake pad and rotor issue is to thoroughly understand the main components of the braking system and how they all work together.
How Brake Pads and Rotors Work
Brake Pads and Shims: When you apply pressure to your brakes, calipers will clamp the brake pads onto the rotors to reduce the speed and then eventually bring your vehicle to a halt. Brake pads and rotors are both equally as critical in stopping your vehicle.
The brake pad shims, along with additional hardware, helps to vastly reduce the noise and vibration that is associated with your car stopping. Shims are crafted from metal or rubber and found on the back of your brake pad, between the calipers and the pads. In addition to lowering the noise and vibration, shims that are made from titanium also protect your car’s calipers and fluids from damage caused by extreme heat.
To work efficiently, your brake pads must be able to absorb an adequate amount of energy and heat. When there is too much heat or wear, brake pads will lose their effectiveness, along with your vehicle’s stopping power. Your car brake pad indicators are specifically made to create a scraping sound when the pads are worn out. If you hear a loud grinding or rumbling sound when you put your foot on the brake, the pads need to be replaced. You should always replace your brake pads in pairs and change them every 15,000 to 20,000 miles..
Additionally, when you replace your brake pads, you should also replace the shims and the hardware. Disc brake hardware includes components such as clips, brackets, springs, and slides. All of these parts help to dampen the vibration and ensure the most secure brake pad placement.
Due to normal wear and tear, the brake pad hardware components can become corroded or cracked. Replacing them ensures a safe and quiet braking experience.
Rotors: When you apply pressure to the brake pedal, the calipers cause the pads to clamp down on the rotors, also known as brake discs. When this pressure is applied to the rotors, it prevents the wheels from spinning. Most types of rotors are manufactured from cast iron – or, more specifically, gray iron. This is because this type of material disperses heat well, which is critical in order to avoid overheating and brake fade.
You should replace your rotors every 70,000 miles or so, but it depends upon the usage. Rotors, much like brake pads, should be replaced in pairs for even and efficient stopping performance. You may need to get your rotors replaced if you see or hear any of the following symptoms:
- Squeaking, squealing, or grinding sounds when braking
- Wobbling or vibrating when braking
- Grooves worn into the rotors by the brake pads
- The vehicle takes longer to come to a stop
Symptoms of Bad Brake Pads and Brake Rotors
Now that you understand how brake pads and brake rotors work, let’s discuss the symptoms of when you should replace both of these car parts.
Noise when braking: Loud brakes will be the very first symptom you will notice for both the bad brake pads or the bad brake rotors. The early signs of bad rotors or brake pads will be a loud squeaking or squealing sound when you apply pressure to the brake. But if you do not fix the issue, the squealing sound will eventually lead to a scraping noise.
Your vehicle vibrates when you brake: When your vehicle vibrates when slowing down, this is most likely due to warped or worn out brake rotors. You will often feel irregular vibrations from the brake pedal itself. Be sure to inspect the rotors to see if they have any grooves or weird marks on them. This is a sure sign that they need to get replaced.
Your brake pedal vibrates: Very similar to the aforementioned sign, worn out brake pads will cause your brake pedal to pulsate when you push down on it with your foot. This is extremely similar to the vibrating signs of bad brake rotors but you will be able to tell the difference because the pulse feeling will be in your foot.
Poor stopping distance: If you’re still not sure if you need to replace your brake pads or rotors, you will know once your brake pads do not respond fast enough after you put your foot on the brake pedal. Once the pads have become severely worn out, it becomes tougher for them to slow down the spinning rotors when they are pressed together.
This means that it will be harder for your car or truck to slow down when you need it to. If you are ever in a situation where you’re braking quickly to prevent an accident, having bad brake pads will prevent you from doing so.
This is where you put your life, and the lives of other people, in danger.
Why You Need to Replace Your Brake Pads and Rotors
In order to stay safe and avoid an accident, all of the components of your braking system must be in top-notch condition. Your brake pads and brake rotors are the two most common parts of your braking system that will get worn out over time.
The cost of replacing these parts all together can be high, which is why many people tend to put it off. But eventually, you’ll have no other option if you have trouble stopping your vehicle. This could result in a serious accident and even fatalities.
Additionally, if you let your brake pads wear down to where they expose the metal backing, they will actually cause rotor damage which will cost you even more money.
Brake Pad Replacement Costs
The average brake pad replacement cost will be between $50 and $150. Sometimes, it can even cost you as much as $200 to $300, depending on what type of car you drive. On top of that, you will need to keep in mind the labor costs associated with the replacement services.
These prices are usually between $80 to $100 per working hour. A brake pad replacement job can take a professional mechanic between one to two hours to finish. This means that the total brake pad replacement cost will be between $150 to $400.
Brake Rotor Replacement Costs
Your brake rotors are yet another brake system part that you will need to replace. Every time you apply pressure to your car’s brake pedal, the pads will push against the rotors, which end up slowing your car down.
Brake rotor replacement costs will cost between $200 and $400 for the parts and about $150 in labor costs. This means that you are looking at around $350 to $500 for a total brake rotor replacement job.
Brake Rotor Resurfacing Cost
Even though you may have to replace your brake pads, you may not necessarily need to replace your rotors at the same time. While they do suffer wear and tear, your brake rotors do not wear down as quickly as your brake pads.
In the event that you have enough brake rotor material left on the brake discs, resurfacing (also known as cutting or tuning) your rotors is highly recommended. Any service or repair shop that does brake work has the ability to do this. The process involves putting the brake rotors on a lathe to remove a small amount of the rotor material so that it is nice and smooth again to void of any corrosion or brake pad deposits.
This will cost you around $10 to $15, which is much more reasonable than having your brake rotors completely replaced. Keep in mind, however, that the service shop will still have to remove and re-install the rotors. This means that there will be labor charges added to the final price.
Brake Pad Warranties
Some auto service centers will offer you a special warranty when you replace your brake pads. Examples of this type of warranty include coverage for 12 months or 12,000 miles, 18 months or 18,000 miles, and 24 months or 24,000 miles. The bigger the warranty is, the more you will have to pay for it.
Brake Pad and Rotor Job Rip-Offs
Unfortunately, you may encounter some instances where a mechanic will try and rip you off during the brake pad or rotor replacement job. Some rotor and brake pad rip-offs that you should be aware of include:
- Buying brake calipers when you do not need them
- Paying premium prices for generic brake pads
- Getting up-sold to ceramic pads
- Getting inferior rotors for premium prices
How to Replace Brake Pads
If you have mechanical expertise, you may also want to consider replacing your own brake pads. To do this, you will need to:
- Loosen the lug nuts and raise your vehicle on a jack.
- Remove the lug nuts and the wheels.
- Remove the caliper fasteners, setting them aside and then pulling the caliper away from the pads and rotors.
- Remove the brake fluid reservoir cap and check the levels. Compress the caliper piston using a spreading tool.
- Use a caliper hanger to secure the caliper.
- Remove the caliper bracket fasteners, setting them aside. Then, pull off the brackets from the rotors with the pads attached. Remove the pads.
- Thoroughly inspect the rotors to see if you need to replace those as well.
- Reassemble in reverse order, using your new brake pads.
- Lower your vehicle carefully and bump the brakes a few times.
Pros and Cons of Replacing the Pads Yourself
There are both perks and drawbacks of replacing the brake pads yourself. Brake pad replacement can be complicated, so you need to know your way thoroughly around a car’s braking system. If you do not have the experience or the tools to correctly replace your brake pads, you could be wasting both time and money trying to do the serving yourself.
On the other hand, if you are an experienced mechanic, replacing the brake pads yourself will save you a lot of money than taking your vehicle into a repair shop.
How to Make Your Brake Pads Last Longer
Once you have brand new brake pads or brake rotors, you will want to take care of them to ensure they last you a long time. Here are some tips to extend your brake pads’ lifespan:
- Avoid high speeds: If your wheels are spinning at a faster rate, this means more wear put on your brake pads.
- Coast to a stop: By slowing down naturally instead of applying pressure to your brake, you will make your pads last longer.
- Anticipating traffic: Traffic jams dramatically increase your braking frequency. If possible, take a different route.
- Remove unnecessary weight: Extra weight in your car means that your brakes have to work harder and slowing the vehicle down.
The Bottom Lines on Your Brake Pads
Your braking system is an essential part of your vehicle and keeps you safe. The brake pads and brake rotors must be well maintained in order to help your car to safely slow down and avoid a possible collision.
If you notice squealing noises or vibrating, take your car to a mechanic to be inspected. Or, if you have the mechanical experience and expertise, inspect and replace your brake pad and rotors yourself.