How Often Do You Need New Brakes?

Your car’s manual will tell you how often the manufacturer expects you to need new brakes, but very few manuals go far enough to claim they have it pinned down. Usually, the recommendation is to have a brake inspection every 20,000 to 30,000 miles or every year or two, depending on the manufacturer. That’s because the way you drive and where you drive has a greater impact on the lifespan of your brakes and their associated parts than it does on practically any other part in your vehicle, except for maybe the tires.

If you are the kind of driver who brakes hard, tows or carries extra loads in the truck, or drives in constant stop-and-go traffic, the chances are your brakes are going to wear much quicker than average. This extra strain greatly lowers the life expectancy of OEM brake pads, which are designed for the kind of driving recommended as best practices for individuals with a private operator’s license. Most people don’t drive like that, though. Some tend to be more cautious, braking slowly and early to keep the ride gentle and minimize forces on the passengers. Others like the biofeedback of rapid acceleration or deceleration. These different driving styles will wear the break system differently. That’s why brake inspections are needed to determine the best time to replace brake pads.

What’s the Difference Between OEM and Performance Brake Pads?

Often, it’s the friction material in brake pads that differs, with performance pads generally using material that is formulated to operate at tolerances beyond that of the OEM quality control specifications. This means performance brakes will generally last longer, even when you are pushing their limits on a regular basis. Their lifespan is just as variable as any other brake pad, though, it is just generally longer than OEM pads.

The important thing to remember about all OEM parts is that they were chosen to reach a desired trade-off point between cost and performance. That means they will be cost-efficient as replacements for most drivers, but those who ask their cars for a little extra might want to invest a little extra in the parts they use when replacing worn out components.

How Often To Change Brake Pads

If you check your owner’s manual, there is a thickness tolerance for brake pads, and when they are thinner than tolerance, it’s time for new ones. Besides this though, nearly all brake pads are equipped with either an electronic pad sensor (many European vehicles) or a “feeler” on the bad that once the brake pad is worn, it either triggers a light (in the case of the sensor) or you get a very high-pitch scraping noise any time you press the brake. This is done so that this metal feeler makes contact with the rotor in a fashion to make a noise, but not enough to damage the rotor. It’s telling you it’s time to change your brake pads! If you’re using performance pads, you might find the manufacturer of the pad has a different tolerance than your manual lists. In that case, many people choose to change it by the guideline that would be earlier, to avoid the possibility of pushing the pad too far.

What Happens if You Totally Wear Out Pads?

The reason for this minimal thickness and warning lights or feelers is pretty simple. Brake friction material against a rotor stops the car. Steel backing plate on a worn out set of brake pads against a rotor does not, and once you reach this point of grinding brakes, severe damage is being done to the rotor which will require replacement. If only one pad is worn out, the performance issue might be easy to compensate for, but the extra work the other brakes are doing will just wear them out sooner, and chances are the one opposite the worn-out pad is also pretty close in terms of wear.

Pads on opposite sides of the car tend to wear slightly differently, but usually not enough to make them have very different life expectancies. That’s why it’s recommended by many professionals that you change pads at least a pair at a time, if not all wheels at once. The loss of performance and extra strain on the other brakes isn’t the only issue, either.

When you wear through a pad, the brakes still try to work, which means you’re pushing material that isn’t meant as a friction pad against the disc. This will absolutely damage your rotors, usually beyond repair and can even damage your calipers, making a simple brake job into an expensive and drawn-out repair. It’s a lot better to replace pads a little early than to risk potentially more expensive-to-repair damages.

So, How Long Do Brakes Last?

It’s a persistent, debatable question, even if it isn’t an easy one to answer. If you really want to know how long a particular model has lasted different users, you need to look at reviews. If you start monitoring your own vehicles, eventually you will get a feel for the rate at which you’re wearing the brakes down, and you’ll probably be able to estimate when a replacement is going to be necessary. Most drivers get somewhere between two and five years on a set of brake pads.

Trucks often face a different fate with brakes, depending on whether or not frequent towing or cargo-carrying is happening. If you frequently use your vehicle to tow, the chances are good you will cycle through brake pads much quicker.

It’s not common for people to go longer than five years on pads if a vehicle gets driven regularly, and brake inspections are still necessary even if you’re sure you know how fast you are wearing through a pad. Why? Well, brake inspections don’t just look at the pads, they inspect the whole braking system. Sometimes, other components rust or wear down, even if you’re replacing the pads as recommended, and an inspection will help catch those before they complicate and involve other parts, just like it does for your pads.

How Do Performance Parts Exceed Specifications?

Typically, performance upgrades in any automotive category are built with upgraded materials and designs from the original but a compatible fitment. This means they might change the capacity of an operation, use materials that can tolerate higher temperatures and stresses, or introduce materials that were not available at the time of manufacture. It depends on the part and the performance purpose, but typically these changes help extend part life or improve performance in other ways, and very often both.

Since brakes are so variable in their lifespan, it’s hard to tell exactly what a performance upgrade will bring in terms of extended life. It is much easier to see the stopping power upgrade in terms of stopping distance improvements. Generally, improved stopping distance in emergencies will translate to longer life when the car is under less strain, but when it comes to brake pad lifespans, it’s better not to try to guess. Regular monitoring will give you all the information you need to keep your car in great shape with the pads and brake parts that suit your driving style. You can get the parts you need at your local AutoZone Store.
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