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The brakes on your car, truck, or SUV are designed to help you stop or slow your vehicle. When the stopping power of your brake system begins to fail, you’re creating a dangerous situation for yourself and other drivers. Here are some frequently asked questions about the maintenance of your car’s brake pads and rotors.

How do I know when my brake pads need changing?

New vs Worn Brake Pads
New vs Worn Brake Pads | Shutterstock

Here are five signs from the NHTSA that it’s time to get to the mechanic or put your car up on a jack and replace those brake pads:

  1. Squeaking or squealing noise coming from the brakes
  2. The indicator light turns on
  3. Deep grinding metal sound
  4. Vibrating brake pedal
  5. Brake pas appear less than one-quarter inch thick

How often should you replace your pads and rotors?

Typically, your brake pads should last between 10,000 and 20,000 miles. Some may last longer and others not quite as long, depending on the composite materials of the brake pads and how hard you drive. Your brake rotors should last between 50,000 to 70,000 miles unless you ignore your brake pad indicator.

What is the brake pad indicator?

The brake pad indicator is a small metal clip attached to your pads. This clip is set at a specified depth to inform you it’s time to change your brake pads. You need new pads when the indicator clip begins to rub on the rotors.

If you wait too long, the deep grinding metal noise you hear will tell you it’s time to change your rotors too. This indicates the clip digging into the rotors because you waited too long to change the pads.

How much do brakes usually cost to replace?

New Brake Pad and Rotor
New Brake Pad and Rotor | Shutterstock

Replacing just the pads usually costs between $115 and $300 per axle. This cost varies by vehicle and repair shop but should include parts and labor. If you need to replace the rotors as well, the cost can quickly skyrocket to as much as $700 per axle.

Is it ok to just replace the pads?

Yes, as long as the rotors are still in good condition, you can replace only the pads. To ensure your brake rotors are still in good condition, you should replace the pads as soon as you hear the indicator clip making a noise.

What happens if you don’t replace your brake pads soon enough?

Four things that can happen when you ignore the brake indicator are:

  1. You can damage the brake rotors and calipers
  2. Your brakes may have a slow response time
  3. The car beings to vibrate when braking
  4. Worn brakes can wear down your tires

How do you know if the brake rotors are bad?

Broken Brake Rotor
Broken Brake Rotor | Shutterstock

Here are some signs that you need to replace your brake rotors:

  1. Vibration in the steering wheel
  2. Pulsating brake pedal
  3. Intermittent brake noises
  4. Grinding when hitting the brakes
  5. Screeching after brake pad installation
  6. Out-of-round rotors
  7. Deep grooves or score marks
  8. Cracked rotors
  9. Blue discoloration
  10. Corrosion
  11. Strong chemical fumes
  12. Wobbling or rotor runout
  13. Lopsided, inconsistent braking
  14. Oversensitive/insensitive brakes
  15. Longer stopping distances

Don’t drive with worn-out brake pads or rotors. Your vehicle’s stopping power is the first line of safety you have out on the road.

Next, check out signs that you have a nail in your tire, or learn how to inspect your brakes in the video below:


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