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Brake pads are a key component of any road vehicle’s braking system. They’re fitted within the brake calliper and lightly hover over the brake disc of all four wheels. As pressure is put on the brake pedal, fluid in the calliper begins to push the pads against each side of the disc to slow the wheels and bring the vehicle to a complete stop.

As this mechanical action occurs any time you push down on your brake pedal, the brake pads will suffer natural wear. Eventually, through regular braking, your brake pads will need to be replaced, but how exactly do you check your brake pads to know that you need new ones?

In this guide, we explain how you can check your brake pads, when you should carry out these checks and how often the typical span of a brake pad is.

When to Change Brake Pads

Fortunately, many cars now have a dedicated warning light for indicating when the brake pads are wearing down and need to be replaced. This would typically appear on the car’s display board where you’d also find warnings for other issues with your vehicle such as doors not being correctly closed or a fault with the engine.

How Long Should Brake Pads Last?

Although the average life expectancy of a brake pad will differ depending on the vehicle, they’re likely to remain intact for somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000 miles. This figure can also be extended or shortened based on where the car is being driven, as the brakes are likely to be used more in cities and towns than they would in the countryside.

The driver may also influence this, as some are more likely to use the brakes more often or more sharply than others. ‘Riding the brake’ is a common term given to drivers that use their brake excessively, reducing the lifespan of their brake pads. It can be hard to alter the way you drive, but learning to be more conservative with how often and firmly you brake could help your brake pads to last longer.

However, not all cars have this feature, so if you aren’t able to receive warning messages in this way, you’ll need to take a different approach. For example, early signs that your brake pads are wearing thin include:

  • a vibrating brake pedal when you apply pressure
  • the car pulling to one side when you use the brakes
  • a screeching noise when you brake, implying that the brakes have entirely worn away.

Alternatively, you may be able to perform a visual inspection of your brake pads. This isn’t applicable to all vehicles, but some models show the outer pad through the spokes of the wheel. As a general rule of thumb, if you can see 3mm of the pad and experience none of the above signs, your brake pads should be in good condition, but if you see any less, you should arrange for the brakes to be checked immediately.

Anyone can do this type of check, but it would be strongly advised to avoid the temptation to change the brake pads yourself. The process of doing this requires the vehicle to be elevated, technical procedures to be carried out and inspections to be made that only a professional would be equipped to do. After the brake pads are changed, you need to know that your braking system is going to work, but by doing it yourself, you won’t have the guarantee of a professional and you could be putting yourself, anyone else in the vehicle and other drivers at risk.

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