Trustworthy Advice:
What are brake pads and rotors?


As an essential safety feature for your vehicle, your brakes couldn't be more important. Best practice is to check brake pads about once a year, or every time you have your tires rotated. But safe braking involves more than just pads.

Take a look at eight parts that you should replace when you get new brakes.

  • What are brake rotors?

    Disc brake systems, which usually appear on the front two wheels of a vehicle (and often the rear as well), use brake rotors to work properly. The rotor attaches directly to the wheel of the vehicle by way of a brake caliper. When brake pads apply enough pressure to the rotors, they slow or stop the vehicle.

    If you hear a grinding noise as you press the brake pedal, it could signal cracked or worn rotors.

  • When to replace brake pads?

    Brake pads do a lot of work to stop your car and tend to need the most attention. You'll know it's time to replace the brake pads if you hear one of these noises:

    • Squealing: This noise is there for you. It’s not fun to hear, but the pads are made to squeal when they are almost worn out. Some cars are equipped with brake pad sensors. When the pad wears down, the sensor touches the brake rotor, and that produces a squealing sound.
    • Squeaking: This sound indicates that your brake pads have experienced excessive wear and tear.

    You might also notice one of these things happening while you're driving:

    • Pulling: If your vehicle pulls to the right or left while pressing the brake pedal, it might be time for new brake pads.
    • Pulsating: If the brake pedal pulsates as you move, consider it a sign that the brake pads are worn, or that the brake rotor is warped. At this time you should consider brake pad and rotor replacement.

    When you replace brake pads, don't forget to purchase and replace your brake hardware. These components ensure a proper brake replacement job.

  • What are brake calipers?

    Part of the disc brake system, the caliper holds the brake pad in place. The caliper contains hydraulic pistons which push the brake pad against the brake rotor, stopping the wheel.

  • What are brake drums?

    Many vehicles have drum brakes in the rear. The friction between the brake drums and the brake shoes also assist in slowing or stopping the vehicle. You'll need to change the drums when you do a full brake replacement. Don't forget to replace the hardware and wheel cylinders at the same time.

  • What are brake shoes?

    Brake shoes are integral parts of drum brakes. Since they work by transferring kinetic energy to thermal energy, brake shoes create tons of friction, can get incredibly hot, and wear down over time. Because this friction is largely responsible for stopping your vehicle, making sure the brake shoes are in good shape by replacing them regularly is essential.

  • Master cylinders and wheel cylinders?

    Master cylinders and wheel cylinders both control pressure via a combination of pistons and brake fluid. Since these parts interact directly with brake lines, they can fail if you don't maintain fluid levels or if you use a brake fluid that isn't compatible with the cylinder. Most need replacement every five or so years.

  • What are brake boosters?

    These components amplify the pressure you apply to the brake pedal and can improve your ability to slow or stop quickly. Without a brake booster, you may have to apply more than twice the normal pressure to stop your vehicle.

  • Brake hoses and lines?

    Hydraulic hoses and brake lines run from the master cylinder to each wheel. These parts hold the brake fluid, often under pressure. Leaks in hoses and brake lines aren't uncommon, which is why regular checks and replacements are necessary.

Make sure your vehicle stops right every time, and never compromise your safety. When you need new brakes, keep this list as a handy reminder of which parts to replace.