Symptoms Of Worn Brake Pads

Is it time to replace your car's brake pads? Here's a simple guide that explains the symptoms of worn brake pads and how to fix it.

Unusual squeaks, vehicle vibrations, and dashboard warnings can signal that you need to replace your brake pads.

The symptoms and signs of worn brake pads vary and are wide-ranging. But the most common signs of bad brake pads are squeaks, unusual vibrations, and illuminated dashboard warnings.

If you experience any of these symptoms with your vehicle, you may have questions:

  • What do bad brake pads look like? Experts note that brake pads should be thicker than ¼ inches and not less than ⅛ inches.
  • How do I know if my brake pads are bad? You will see, hear, and/or feel unusual warning signs when brake pads wear down too much.
  • Is driving with worn brake pads dangerous? You’ll get many warning signs before the brake pads wear down to a dangerous level that dips below ⅛ inches. Also, there’s usually a marking on the pad that lists specs, such as minimum pad thickness.

I will start the guide off by explaining how you can tell if your brake pads are worn.

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Unusual Noises And Vibrations May Warn Of Worn Brake Pads

brake pads with brake disks in the background

Pay attention to any unusual squeaks when braking, which could signify worn-out brake pads.

The noise could be something simple like having dusty brake pads. Or it can signal a bigger issue, like the need to replace front or rear brake pads. A brake warning light on the dashboard may accompany the squeaking noise.

If you experience uncommon vibrations when braking, it could also be a sign that the brake pads are worn. They are grinding against the rotor and causing some shaking.

Likewise, a visual inspection can determine if the brake pads are too thin. Caliper measurements can help confirm the minimum pad thickness.

Costs of Replacing Worn Brake Pads

When drivers experience signs of bad brake pads, their first concerns are: How big of a problem is this? And how much is it going to cost to fix?

The cost of replacing worn-out brake pads is inexpensive. The average cost is between $20 and $100 per set, and labor adds another $70 to $130.

The total cost, however, depends on how many brake pads are being replaced and what type and brand is being used.

Usually, the front or back brake pads have to be replaced. You’d rarely need to replace all four pads at the same time.

You may also have to replace related parts, such as the rotors.

Types of Brake Pads

Car Brake Pads

Brake pads vary by material, quality, and price point, which all affect how long they will last and how reliable they are.

The materials used to make brake pads vary from semi-metallic to ceramic, although some European cars have metallic pads. The three most common options are:

  • Organic pads: soft, quiet, shorter lifespan
  • Semi-metallic: long-lasting, slightly noisy
  • Ceramic: most durable, light on dust, quiet

Reportedly, over half of the new vehicles sold in the U.S. feature organic brake pads made of various materials like rubber or fiberglass and are less costly than semi-metallic pads but not as long-lasting.

Most better brands of brake pads have a small metal clip on the brake pad which will scrape against the rotor and squeal when the brake pads wear down.

Many auto enthusiasts recommend ceramic brake pads for longevity and quieter performance.

What Can Happen If My Brake Pads Are Worn?

Brake pads wear down gradually, and worn-out brake pads don’t generally pose immediate driving dangers. However, driving and braking performance is usually affected. Worn brake pads can result in the following:

  • The brake electronic wear sensor makes a grinding noise as pads scrape against rotors
  • Weakened braking performance that requires more distance to fully brake
  • Unusual sounds emanating from the wheel bin area
  • Vehicle shaking and vibrating when braking
  • The brake warning light activating

Driving with worn brake pads is not an immediate danger. However, you should avoid driving with worn-out brake pads because the friction from the thin pads scraping against metal rotors can cause sharp grooves in the rotors and lead to much more expensive problems.

How Do I Know If My Car Is Likely To Have Problems With Worn Brake Pads?

Car Brake Pad

Brake pads will gradually wear down from use, and many factors dictate how long it will take for the pads to get so worn down that they’ll need to be replaced.

For instance, the brake pads may wear down quicker if the vehicle owner routinely brakes hard and often or if a driver regularly travels in hilly areas that are tougher on the brakes.

In general, brake pads reportedly last between 20,000 and 40,000 miles, but some can last as long as 100,000 miles.

Check Online For Any Brake-Related Recalls

If your vehicle’s make and model is susceptible to any uncommon brake or break pad problems, which is possible, you can check online for any potential recall alerts.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are reliable sources you can check for any potential problems or recalls affecting your vehicle.

Likewise, automotive enthusiast forums are ideal sources of information. For instance, one popular forum shed light on an Infiniti model’s alleged issue with premature brake pad wear in a thread that features vehicle owners sharing similar experiences and offering sensible solutions.

How To Fix A Problem With Worn Brake Pads

changing brake pads

To fix a problem with worn brake pads, you will have to replace them. Sometimes this may include just the pads; other times may include the rotors too.

Some online reports in a popular automotive forum claim that clearing the dust off the pads may help curb issues with squeaky brakes.

If your vehicle is prone to encounter particularly challenging terrain, such as living in a hilly area, you can prevent premature wear and tear on the brake pads by using a lower gear when driving down steep hills.

Summary: Replace Worn Brake Pads Promptly Or Risk Big Future Problems

As long as you replace worn brake pads promptly after hearing squeaks or feeling vibrations when braking, you should have no further problems.

Of course, if your brake pads sound like they’re scraping against the rotors because the pad is too thin to be safe, then that’s a more urgent case where the pads should be replaced immediately.

However, you’ll recognize many warning signs–from squeaky brakes to illuminated dashboard alerts–before your brake pads get to the point that would make driving dangerous.

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David M. Ciminelli

David M. Ciminelli is a Southern California-based journalist and longtime auto enthusiast who has contributed to a plethora of popular automotive sites.