How Long Do Brakes Last?

One of the things that every car owner wondered at least once in their lifetime – How long do brakes last? When that time comes, how will I change them? The brake pads are one of the most important parts of your vehicle, so here’s everything you need to know about their longevity.

There’s not a single universal answer to how long brakes last. Most manufacturers give a very broad estimate of anywhere between 20,000 and 70,000 miles. This is because there are different types of pads, and just as many factors that affect how fast they will wear and tear.

Why Are Brake Pads Important, and How Exactly Do They Work?

Brake pads are one of the most important parts of your car’s braking system, located somewhere between the brake drum and the brake shoe. 

As they are inside the brake caliper, pressing down on the pedal causes the caliper to start exerting pressure on the pads, which then, in turn, clamp onto the brake rotor (brake disc), slowing the vehicle down. The kinetic energy of your vehicle moving forward is transferred into heat because of all that friction. 

The Brake Pads Are One of the Most Important Safety Features of Your Vehicle

Your vehicle is definitely not safe enough to drive if the braking system is not functioning properly. You won’t be able to deaccelerate, and that could be potentially very dangerous. So, consider one of your driver’s responsibilities to regularly ensure that every part of the braking system is in order, including brake pads, calipers, brake discs, and rotors. 

kids in the car
The most important thing is to keep your loved ones and yourself safe while on the road

How Long Do Brakes Last, and Why Do Braking Pads Wear Down?

Unfortunately, every braking will wear out over time, and they need to be replaced to ensure a safe time on the most famous US routes. Why does this happen? Well, the culprit is simply friction. The same thing that braking pads and rotors use to slow down your vehicle. 

While rotor wear occurs much slower than wear on brake pads, you will need to replace both of them sooner or later. If you notice black dust on the wheels, it’s probably braking pad residue and not from your rotors. But I’ll discuss the indicators of worn-out braking pads in greater detail later on. For now, let’s see what timeframe between replacements you could expect. 

There’s Not One Single Answer to How Long Brake Pads Can Last

If you’re looking for an exact timeframe or mileage between replacing your brake pads, I have bad news – there’s no single answer because it depends on various factors. Many vehicle manufacturers estimate that braking pads can last up to 70,000 miles. Still, most choose to replace their pads much earlier than that, and that’s quite a gap, isn’t it?

So, there’s no universal rule to decipher how long brakes can last because there are just so many factors that affect the degradation of the brake pads and how fast it happens. While having an exact number would be helpful to know when to replace them, it’s more important to understand the indicators of worn-out braking pads. 

A car's engine and other components
Every part of your vehicle can deteriorate over time, but luckily can be replaced as well

Signs That Your Braking Pads Need to Be Replaced

So, there’s no universal schedule for replacing your braking pads that can work for all cars, locations and driving circumstances. However, there are ways to figure out if it needs to be done. Here are some of the most common indicators that the time to replace your brakes has come:

There’s a Squealing Sound When You Push Down on the Brake Pedal

If you hear a screeching or squealing noise while operating your vehicle, you’re actually hearing a modern brake pads safety feature. This is called a brake wear indicator, and most braking pad manufacturers include it in their products. The indicators rub against the brake rotor, and that’s where the squealing comes from. So, if this happens, it’s time to get your brake pads inspected.

You Hear Metallic Grinding Instead of a Squealing Sound

If there’s a metallic grinding or a screeching noise instead of a squeal, you should stop your car immediately. This sound indicates that your braking pads have worn out completely, meaning that the brake discs and the calipers are in direct contact. This can potentially severely damage the braking system, so you should get your four-wheeler checked out by a mechanic as soon as possible.

Your Brake Pedal Is Falling Closer to the Floor

If you notice that the brake pedal is falling closer to the floor when you press on it, it could mean that your brake pads are getting thinner and worn out. Additionally, this could indicate that your brake fluid is leaking, and you need to take care of it.

Your Brake Pads Are Very Thin

The squealing or metallic grinding sounds are indicators that the braking pads are on their last resort. However, you should avoid that from happening and measure them to see if they’re getting too thin. New ones are usually 0.3-0.5 inches thick, and they should always be above ¼ inch to function properly. If they’re getting thinner than that, it’s time for a replacement.

The Indicator Light Is Going Off

Modern vehicles usually have an indicator light that starts to flash when it’s time to change your brake pads. Just keep in mind that when you change the braking pads, you will also have to replace the sensor on the indicator in order for everything to work properly again.

How to Change Your Brake Pads?

So, if your indicator light is going off, or you’ve noticed a squealing sound every time you push down on the pedal, it’s time to replace the brake pads. Of course, a qualified mechanic will replace them skillfully, but if you want to save yourself money, you can try to do it yourself.

DIY Project – Changing Your Brake Pads

Here are the steps you need to take in order to replace your old braking pads with new ones:

  • Get the correct brake pads – visit a local auto parts store or car dealership, and get the right braking pads, rotors, and calipers for your specific model,
  • Use a lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts – loosen every lug nut that connects the wheel to the car about ⅔ of the way, and make sure your vehicle has cooled down before you do this,
  • Jack up the car until the wheels can be removed comfortably – put some blocks behind other wheels to secure the vehicle from rolling forward or back,
  • Remove the wheels – finish removing the lug nuts all the way when the vehicle is raised and pull the wheel off, 
  • Remove the caliper bolts – use the correct size of ring-spanner or socket to do the job, and if it’s difficult, then use some WD-40, or Super Lube 51004 to help remove them, 
  • Hang the caliper with a wire to the wheel well – it will still be connected to the brake line, so you should hang it up, so it doesn’t put pressure on the brake hose,
  • Replace the old braking pads with new ones – while you’re at it, check the brake fluid and replace the caliper (I always prefer using Power Stop Front S5044),
  • Put the wheel back on and tighten the lug nuts again – once everything is back to normal, it’s time to check if the vehicle works correctly.

As you can see, it’s basically just a bit more complicated than changing a tire, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Just make sure you have all the right tools needed for the task before you begin, and you’ll be good to go.

A man adjusting cables and brakes on his car
You can change the brake pads yourself or visit your mechanic

What Are the Factors That Affect the Lifespan of Your Brake Pads?

So, as I’ve mentioned before, there is no universal rule as to how long your brake pads will last because there are numerous factors that can speed up or slow down the process of wearing out. While you can’t know exactly how long they will last, you should keep in mind the key factors that affect the degradation of brake pads. Here are the most important ones:

Driving Habits

Driving fast and suddenly hitting the brakes causes increased brake wear easily because your car will need a lot of power to come to a stop. So, if you drive more aggressively, you are more likely to slam on the brakes more frequently, and the process of wear and tear will be faster because of that. When you’re driving slower, you’re exerting much less force from the brake pads, meaning they will definitely last longer.

Driving Environment

Besides the driving habits, where you drive can also impact the lifespan of your brake pads. If you regularly drive your off-road vehicle through mountainous areas and hills, you will naturally use the brakes more often than on flat terrain, and that will wear them down. The heavy traffic you experience in your small city car can also have a negative impact because you’re constantly stopping.

The Type of Transmission

When you have a manual transmission system, you don’t have to rely only on brake pads in order to slow down. There’s something called engine braking, and it allows the vehicle to slow down by downshifting gears and not by using brake pads, which will eventually wear them down. On the other hand, if you have an automatic transmission system, engine braking is not recommended because you can end up damaging your vehicle.

The Type of Brake Pads

This one’s probably obvious, but the type of brake pads you use plays a significant role in how long they will last. So, the quality of the material will definitely have an impact on their durability and increase or decrease the speed for wear and tear accordingly. There are three main types of brake pads, and each has a specific lifespan that needs to be considered.

The Pros and Cons of Each Type of Braking Pad

As I just mentioned, there are multiple types of braking pads, and all of them are made from different materials that maximize friction. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons when it comes to each of the three main types of brake pads:

Type of Brake PadProsCons
Non-Metallic/OrganicWork well in dry conditionsLowest lifespan
Semi-Metallic/MetallicExtended durability and a great braking response Less effective in a colder climate
Carbon-CeramicLast longer, comfortable brakingExpensive and must be warmed up

How Can You Extend the Lifetime of Your Brake Pads?

So, now that I’ve covered everything you should know about the brake pads in your vehicle, all that’s left is to tell you how you can help them stay in good condition for a longer time. I recommend trying out these methods:

  • Try to drive slower – aside from it being safer, if you don’t drive aggressively, you won’t have to stomp on your brakes, and that means they will wear out slower, 
  • Reduce the weight of your car – the heavier your vehicle is, the greater the force to stop it is needed, so get rid of any unnecessary things from your cargo space and trunk,
  • Use engine braking – if you have a manual transmission system, engine braking will expand the life of your brake pads because you will use them only in emergencies. 

Sooner or Later, the Time to Replace Your Brake Pads Will Come

You can practice safety and have regular maintenance of your vehicle, but you will still have to replace them at one point, no matter if your car is a used vehicle or a brand-new one. So, be sure to check your brake pads often, and when the time comes, invest in a good quality pair and enjoy your time on the road in the safest way possible.