How Far Should I Go on My Brakes?

Brakes

CARS.COM — Trying to put a time or mileage limit on how long brake pads and rotors should last is harder than trying to predict what kind of gas mileage you should expect. Brake life depends on how much we drive, where we drive (think city versus highway) and how we drive (meaning lead foot versus slow and steady). Brakes pads wear out at different rates depending on these and a number of other factors, so it's hard to determine when you will need to replace. Let's take a closer look at how long brake pads last and how to tell when they are due for replacement. We will also discuss rotors and some of the most common signs that rotors are going bad. 

Related: Brake Pads: What You Need to Know

How Long Do Brake Pads and Brake Rotors Last?

As a guideline, brakes will wear out much faster if most of your driving is in a major urban area where stop-and-go is the rule, as opposed to those who spend most of the time in their vehicle on the open road, where they might not touch the brake pedal for an hour or more. This applies to both brake pads and brake rotors. 

If you drive in Boston, New York City or Chicago and spend more time stopping than going, you could need new brake pads every 15,000 miles. If you live in western Iowa and commute from Moville to Holstein, your pads could last three or four times that. Rotors typically last significantly longer than pads, and it is often possible to have them resurfaced rather than replacing them. 

But if you're a driver who frequently applies the brakes when it isn't necessary — or even drives with one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the brake — it might not matter where you live. Your brake pads and brake rotors are going to wear out sooner than later.

If you own a hybrid or electric vehicle, your brakes should last longer because the regenerative brake systems they use provide much of the stopping power, reducing wear on the pads and rotors. In addition, applying the brakes early for a slow, gradual stop doesn't increase brake wear, and it helps recharge the batteries for powering the electric motor. Some hybrid owners say their pads and rotors have lasted more than 80,000 miles.

How to Tell Your Brake Pads or Brake Rotors Are Due to Be Replaced

Brakes wear gradually, so you might not notice a mild but steady degradation in stopping ability, or that the pedal goes farther down when you apply the brakes (which is one sign that the pads are worn). You may also be able to visually inspect your brakes to determine if you need new brake pads. Check for wear by looking at the brake pads through the spaces in your wheel's spokes. The wheel will obstruct a significant part of your view, but you should be able to see the brake pad pressed against the rotor. Brake pads should have a minimum thickness of 1/4 inch. If there is less, it is due to be replaced. 

Your ears can help. Turn off the stereo and listen when you apply the brakes. Squeals, squeaks and rattles are indications that your brakes need attention, though they don't necessarily mean you need new pads or rotors. A high-pitched squealing sound may be your indicator, letting you know that you need to replace your brake pads soon. A metal-to-metal grinding sound, on the other hand, probably means your pads are worn down so far that it's well past time to replace them. Squealing or grinding in a vehicle that hasn't been driven in a while may not be a sign of trouble if it clears up on its own after driving for a while. 

Pay attention when driving. If your vehicle or steering wheel "pulls" to one side or the other when you press the brake pedal, it could indicate that your brake linings are wearing unevenly. Your brake system may need to be adjusted, or you could be in need to replace brake rotors or pads. If you also notice a vibration when applying your brakes, it likely indicates that your brake rotors are warped and due for replacement. Vibration in your brake pedal is not normal, and it is something that should be checked out right away. 

Because brakes are so important, monitor their condition instead of waiting for something to go wrong. For example, some rotors can be resurfaced for far less than it would cost to replace them if you don't wait until they're too far gone and have to be scrapped. All brake components wear down over time, but paying attention to the effects of wear and tear could help you save a lot of money and put off the need for a total replacement of an expensive component. 

After the first year or so of driving a new vehicle, it's a good idea to have the brakes inspected at each oil change. Repair shops can measure pad thickness as well as check the condition of the rotors, calipers and associated hardware, the brake fluid and give you a status report.

You might not need brake work that day, but it's better to know than to guess — and be wrong. Making sure your pads and rotors are in good shape, and keeping up with this vital car maintenance, could help you avoid a serious accident while behind the wheel. 

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