How to tell when your brake pads need replacing

What happens when brake pads wear out?

Simple: you can't brake properly. One of the many, many reasons it's important to get your car serviced regularly is that the garage will check your brakes to make sure the pads aren't worn. Nonetheless, problems can still arise. Here's what you need to know:

What are brake pads?

The brake pads sit either side of the brake disc, almost but not quite touching it. When you push the brake pedal, the pads clamp onto either side of the brake discs on the wheels, and the resulting friction brings the car to a halt. But every time you use the pads, they get a tiny bit worn, and eventually, this means they become less effective.

Signs that your brake pads might be wearing thin

You should not be driving with worn brake pads. If you see any of these signs, they could be in need of replacing:

The orange warning light illuminates on your dashboard. This is the obvious one. Do not ignore it – take the car to the garage as soon as you can.

A screeching noise when you brake. This usually happens when you have ignored other warning signs. It will set your teeth on edge, and it is meant to. You should never reach the stage when you are hearing this. Even worse, if you hear a grinding noise, your brakes discs could be getting damaged too – and these are far more expensive to replace.

They look thin. Here's how to check your brake pads: peer through your alloy wheels. The pad is the material you can see that’s pressing against the circular disc. You should be able to see at least 3mm of material on the outside if your brake pads are healthy.

Pulling to one side. If the car feels as if it pulls to one side when you brake, it may be a sign of bad brake pads and you need to get it checked out. It might not be your brakes – you may have unevenly inflated or worn tyres, or a problem with your suspension, but pay your mechanic a visit either way.

Feeling shaky: If the pedal vibrates when you brake, the pads or brake disc may be damaged.

Long braking distance: If your car is taking longer to stop than it should, or you have to press the pedal really hard to brake, this is another bad sign. The latter might indicate a brake fluid leak – put an old white sheet or a piece of light cardboard under your car overnight, and see if there's clearish liquid with a similar consistency to cooking oil there in the morning.

Brakes that are too sharp, on the other hand, could indicate that your brake fluid needs changing.

How long do brake pads last?

This depends on the manufacturer,the driver, how much weight your car tends to carry and all sorts of other factors. As a very rough guide, the RAC says they should last for around 25,000 to 60,000 miles, but they can last longer. The pads on the driven wheels (usually the front wheels) will wear out quicker than those on the non-driven wheels.

If you do a lot of your driving on the motorway you may find that your brake pads last longer than if you do most of your driving around towns and on shorter journeys, where you are more likely to be stopping and starting at traffic lights, roundabouts and junctions. If the car regularly carries or tows heavy loads, in the form of either passengers or luggage, braking requires more effort and so the pads are likely to wear out more quickly. In general, driving carefully and braking steadily and gradually rather than suddenly is kinder to your brakes.

The type of pads you have also affects their lifespan. Ceramicbrake pads are the longest lasting, then semi-metallic, then low metallic, then organic. Ceramic brake pads are, of course, also the most expensive.

At Carwise Group, we have a huge range of used cars for sale – and they're all thoroughly inspected by our in-house technicians, so you know the brake pads, discs, fluid and everything else are in good working order. If you'd like to test drive one of them, contact us in Dunstable, Harlow and Maidstone today.