How to Check Your Brake Pads

set of new brake pads

The safety of your vehicle highly relies on its brake system and brake pads are a critical part of the system.

The reason why they are so important is because they are what stops your vehicle when you press on your brakes.

Technically, when you press the brake pedal, hydraulic fluid pushes the brake caliper pistons, which squeeze the brake pads against the rotating disc or rotor, causing your vehicle to slow down or stop.

Over time, the friction materials on the pads wear down, reducing their effectiveness. If ignored, this can lead to dangerous consequences, especially when you are driving at high speeds.

With that said, it’s important for drivers to check their brake pads regularly and replace them when necessary.

How to Tell If Brake Pads are Bad

worn out brake pad

Here are signs that could suggest your brake pads are worn out:

Squeaking or Squealing Noise

One of the most common signs of worn-out brake pads is a high-pitched squeaking or squealing noise when you apply the brakes.

This noise is caused by a metal shim, known as an indicator, that’s designed to emit this sound as a warning when the brake pads wear down to a certain point.

However, keep in mind that a squeaking noise might also occur due to dusty or wet conditions and doesn’t always indicate worn-out pads.

Grinding Sound

If the sound changes from a squeak to a grinding noise when you apply the brakes, it’s likely that your brake pads are worn down completely.

This grinding noise is produced when the metal of the brake calipers rubs against the metal of the rotors, which can cause significant damage.

Reduced Responsiveness or Fading

If your vehicle doesn’t respond as swiftly when you apply the brakes, or if the brakes feel less effective than they used to, the brake pads could be worn or damaged. Brake fading might also occur due to overheating after frequent hard braking.

Vibration or Pulsation

If your brake pedal vibrates or pulsates when you apply the brakes, it might mean your brake pads are worn unevenly or that your rotors are warped. The vibration is caused by the brake caliper and rotor coming in and out of contact due to the uneven surface.

Indicator Light

Some vehicles are equipped with a sensor that alerts the driver when the brake pads are wearing thin. If your brake warning light comes on, it could be a sign that it’s time to check or replace your brake pads.

Increased Stopping Distance

If you notice that it’s taking longer than usual to stop your vehicle when you brake, it’s a clear sign that your brake pads might be worn out.

Physical Inspection

If you look through the spokes of your vehicle’s wheel, you should be able to see the brake pad pressed against the brake rotor. If you see less than 1/4 inch of the pad, that’s a sign your brakes need to be inspected or replaced.

Pulling

If your vehicle pulls to one side when braking, it could suggest that the brake pads are worn unevenly. Other causes might be a stuck brake caliper, collapsed brake hose, or uneven brake fluid.

How to Check Brake Pads

Here is how you go about checking brake pads for wear.

Prepare Your Vehicle

Park your vehicle on a flat and stable surface. Make sure your vehicle is off and the parking brake is engaged for safety.

Locating the Brake Pads

Your brake pads are located on the inside of your wheel, behind the spokes. If your vehicle has open-spoke wheels, you can peek through them to see the brake pad.

You might need a flashlight to be able to see the brake pad. Otherwise, you may need to remove the wheel.

Visual Inspection

Look through the wheel well to see the outside brake pad, which will be pressed against the brake rotor (a large circular metal disk). The brake pad should be at least 1/4 inch thick. If it looks thinner than that, it’s likely time to replace the pads.

Check for Uneven Wear

Inspect the brake pad to see if it’s wearing evenly. If one side of the pad is much thinner than the other, it might suggest a problem with your calipers or other components of your braking system.

Inspect the Brake Rotor

Look at the surface of the rotor. It should be relatively smooth. If you see grooves, rough spots, or any other signs of damage, your brake pads may be worn out and damaging the rotor.

Check for Metal Shavings or Brake Dust

Excessive amounts of metal shavings or brake dust on your wheel rim or around the brake system can indicate that the brake pads are wearing too quickly or unevenly.

Warnings and Tips

  • Avoid Sudden Braking: Try to anticipate stops and brake gently, this helps reduce the heat and pressure on your brake pads and extends their lifespan. Hard and sudden braking increases wear and tear.
  • Reduce Speed: High-speed driving increases the heat produced during braking, and this accelerates the wear on your brake pads. Drive at a moderate speed to help increase the lifespan of your brake pads.
  • Don’t Overload Your Vehicle: Heavy loads put extra stress on your brakes. Try to avoid carrying unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially if they are heavy.
  • Regular Maintenance Checks: Regularly inspect your brake system for any signs of wear, fluid leakage, and other abnormalities. These checks can help in early detection of potential issues and save you from costly repairs in the future. This includes checking brake fluid levels and replacing it as recommended by your vehicle manufacturer.
  • Brake Fluid Maintenance: The brake fluid plays a crucial role in maintaining the efficiency of the braking system. It should be replaced as per the vehicle manufacturer’s guidelines. Old or contaminated brake fluid can affect braking efficiency and also cause damage to the brake components.
  • Avoid Riding Your Brakes: Some drivers have a habit of resting their foot on the brake pedal, this is known as riding the brakes. This can lead to unnecessary wear on the brake pads. Use your brakes only when you need to slow down or stop.
  • Professional Service: Have your brake system inspected by a professional mechanic at regular intervals. They have the knowledge and tools to detect issues that you may miss. Remember, prevention is better and cheaper than cure.

Conclusion

Neglecting the health of your brake pads can lead to more expensive repairs down the line and, more importantly, compromise your safety and that of other road users.

Therefore, make sure to include brake pads in your regular car maintenance routine. In addition, adopt good driving habits like avoiding hard braking, not overloading your vehicle, maintaining your tires, and replacing brake fluids as per manufacturer’s recommendations.

Remember, brake pads are a crucial part of your car’s safety features. Take care of them, and they’ll take care of you, ensuring smooth, safe stops for thousands of miles.