When Should You Replace Your Brakes (Pads and Rotors)?


Your brake pads and shoes (along with the rotors) have no set or specific time-frame before they start failing. How often you should replace them depends on how often you drive, where you drive, and how you drive the vehicle. There are seemingly endless factors involved. For example, if you drive 8,000 miles a year, that’s not very much, but if you primarily drive in congested cities, such as Washington, D.C., Chicago, or Boston, you’re going to be replacing the brake pads/shoes more frequently than someone who drives triple that at 32,000 miles a year but primarily through flat areas like Nebraska.

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Your brakes are used much more during urban driving than on rural highways or roads.

No Clear-Cut Schedule

Unfortunately for drivers, there is no schedule or perfect number to tell you when to replace your brakes, so it is essential that you take your vehicle in for maintenance at the scheduled times and have your trusted mechanic check the brakes periodically. You can also listen for sure-fire signs that the brakes are going bad.

The rule of thumb for most mechanics is to have the brakes inspected when you get the tires rotated, which should be roughly every six months or 6,000 miles. Most technicians recommend that you get the oil changed once every three months or 3,000 miles, so you should get the tires rotated every other oil change. During the inspection, the mechanic can look at the thickness of the brake pads and the condition of the drum hardware or calipers to determine wear and tear.

Sensors/Noise Can Help

No one wants to hear horrible noises coming from their vehicle, but it is a sure sign that something is wrong and needs to get checked out. Therefore, if you hear a screeching sound when you use the brakes (or when you let your foot off the brake), that’s an indication that the wear sensors built into the braking system are scraping against your brake disc and the pads need to be replaced.

If your car is newer, it likely has sensors and an indicator light to tell you that something is wrong with the brakes. However, these sensors can malfunction, so it’s best to keep up with routine maintenance and inspections from a qualified auto technician.

Other Signs

The sensors on vehicles can help you determine that there is a problem, but it’s best to listen for signs of malfunction, such as squealing, squeaking, or metal-on-metal sounds. Many times, a grinding that sounds like metal-on-metal means that the brake pads are gone altogether. Sometimes, minor sounds can be stopped when you clean the brakes, but prominent or persistent noises usually indicate worn parts.

If you notice that you press down on the brake pedal and feel it pulsating, it could indicate that the discs are warped or worn. However, be aware that panic braking (when you slam on the brakes) can activate the anti-lock braking system on the car, which can also cause the pedal to vibrate. Therefore, make sure that you press down on the brake lightly to determine if there is a pulsating feeling.

Another indication that the brakes are going out is if you feel that the car pulls to the side when you brake, the front pad might be worn or compromised. You may also notice that it takes longer to stop the vehicle or you have to press farther to get the brake to work.

The brake warning light may only come on if your system is low on fluid. You should refill the fluid reservoir, and the light will go off unless there is a leak and the fluid drains out soon after.

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When Should You Replace Your Brakes (Pads and Rotors)?

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