It’s important for drivers to understand the answer to “How long do brake pads last?” for two reasons. First, knowing roughly how long brake pads should last will help you stay on top of vehicle maintenance. If your brake pads are nearing the end of their projected life, you might want to schedule a service appointment. Second, this knowledge will help you ask the right questions and make smart decisions when a mechanic says your brake pads need to be replaced.
With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about brake pads — including how long they last.
What Are Brake Pads?
Brake pads make contact with your vehicle’s rotors every time you step on the brake pedal. Here’s how the brake system works:
- You press the brake pedal.
- A master cylinder pushes pressurized brake fluid to the caliper to create a clamping force.
- The caliper’s pistons press the brake pads against either side of the rotor.
- Friction slows the rotation of the rotor and the wheel to which it’s attached.
The brake pads are designed to reduce the wear on the other parts of the braking system by providing a buffer between the caliper and the rotor. Brake pads are only found in disc brake systems. The drum brakes found on older car models use brake shoes for friction instead.
How Long Do Brake Pads Last?
Because your vehicle’s brake system relies on friction between the brake pads and rotors, it makes sense that both parts will wear down eventually. Brake pads usually wear down faster than the rotors, but how fast depends on several factors:
- Type of brake pads: Vehicles with disc brakes typically use one of three types of brake pads, and some last longer than others. Ceramic pads last the longest and provide the smoothest braking experience. On the other end of the spectrum are organic pads, which are made from materials that wear down much faster. Semi-metallic pads, meanwhile, fall somewhere in the middle.
- Type of transmission: If your vehicle is equipped with a manual transmission, your brake pads might last longer. Instead of relying solely on your brakes, you can downshift gears to slow the vehicle.
- How you drive: Sudden braking will wear your brake pads faster than a smooth, gradual stop. Similarly, the faster the vehicle is going, the more force it takes for your brake pads to stop the rotors. Your brakes might also wear down quickly if you drive with both feet, carry heavy loads, or follow other vehicles too closely.
- Where you drive: Think about your daily commute and the roads you travel regularly. Steep hills and lots of stop-and-go traffic require more braking, which means your brake pads will wear down sooner.
- Condition of other parts: Generally, brake pads reduce the wear on other brake components. However, if one of those components becomes worn or damaged, that can affect your brake pads’ life span. Examples include a warped rotor or a stuck caliper.
Because so many factors affect how long brake pads last, it’s difficult to provide a universal estimate. Most brake pads will last somewhere between 30,000 and 70,000 miles. Because that’s a broad range, we recommend checking your owner’s manual for information specific to your vehicle.
Signs Your Brakes Pads Need To Be Replaced
If you notice any of the following red flags, your brake pads might be nearing the end of their life:
- Squealing or grinding: If you hear a screeching or grinding sound when you apply the brakes, it’s probably the brake wear indicator doing its job. That sound is purposefully loud and annoying, so you won’t miss the warning. Driving on worn brake pads can damage other brake components, so it’s best to replace your brake pads as soon as possible once you start hearing loud noises.
- Vibrations or pulling: If you feel your steering wheel vibrate when you press the brakes, it could be a sign of uneven wear on your brake rotors. Similarly, if you feel the vehicle pull to one side, one set of brake pads could be more worn than the other.
- Difficulty braking: You know what feels normal for your vehicle. If it seems like you have to press the brake pedal harder than normal to stop, or if your vehicle takes longer than usual to slow, your brake pads might be wearing down.
- Brake warning light: Modern vehicles feature a brake warning light on their dashboard. This light doesn’t always indicate a problem with your brakes — it could just mean your emergency or parking brake is engaged. However, if you eliminate that as a possibility, the brake light could mean there’s a problem with your brake pads or part of the brake system.
- Thin brake pads: You can perform a visual inspection to check the wear on your brake pads. The brake pads are visible between the spokes of your wheels and should be no thinner than 6.4 millimeters or 1/4 inch. New brakes pads are about 8-12 millimeters or 1/3-1/2 inch thick. Brake pads thinner than 3.2 millimeters or 1/8 inch are a serious safety hazard and could fail.
Brake Pad Replacement: DIY or Mechanic?
Replacing your brake pads is a relatively simple task most DIYers can handle. You will need a few tools, though, including a vehicle jack, a caliper compression tool or large pliers, and sandpaper. You should also have brake lubricant on hand, as well as the replacement pads. You might consider changing the brake rotors at the same time.
For reference, having your brakes and rotors replaced by a mechanic is likely to cost $534-$678. Because more than $200 of that is labor costs, you can save a significant amount of money with a DIY approach. The exact cost of a brake pad replacement might vary depending on your vehicle and the pads and rotors you need.
Among the many systems that power and control your vehicle, the brakes stand out. Without well-functioning brakes, an accident is inevitable — and brake pads are vital to your brake system. Changing your brake pads regularly not only helps your vehicle stop more effectively but also preserves the other parts of the brake system. Get the FIXD Sensor and free app today for a custom maintenance schedule based on your make, model, and mileage. With automated maintenance alerts, you’ll never miss important maintenance again.
At FIXD, our mission is to make car ownership as simple, easy, and affordable as possible. Our research team utilizes the latest automotive data and insights to create tools and resources that help drivers get peace of mind and save money over the life of their car.