When and how to check your car's brake pads
Last updated: January 1
Proper brake pad maintenance is not only critical for helping your car last, but also for your safety as a driver or passenger. Simply put, your vehicle's brakes are what enable you to slow down and stop. To help ensure your vehicle can stop safely, consider these tips on when and how to check your car's brake pads.
When to check your brakes
There's no specific schedule for when it's time to replace your brake pads, according to Cars.com. That means it's a good idea to check your brake pads regularly to help determine the amount of wear and tear. Typical brake pad wear depends on how and where you drive, says Cars.com. For example, if you drive in urban areas, your brake pads may wear out faster than they would if you drove on rural roads due to the stopping and starting of city traffic.
Whether you go to a professional mechanic or handle maintenance yourself, it's a good idea to check the brake pads each time your tires are rotated — about every six months, says Cars.com. It's also a good idea to check your car owner's manual or talk to a professional technician so you understand what service schedule and parts may be right for your particular vehicle.
How to check your brakes
Fortunately, brake pads are designed to provide clear signals that they need to be checked and possibly replaced. Here are some ways to check your brakes:
Brake checks while driving
Here are a few ways you can be in-tune with your brakes and whether it's time to have them checked.
- Listen to your brakes. Brake pads are designed to make a noise as an early warning signal that they need to be changed, says J.D. Power and Associates (J.D. Power). This noise will usually sound like metal scraping on the wheels when the car is moving. The sound caused by these wear indicators will typically get louder the more the brakes are used. If, after inspection, you still have noisy brakes, you may require different adjustments or repairs.
- Pay attention to your brake pedal and steering wheel. When brake pads are worn out, a vibration can often be felt in the brake pedal when braking. A vibrating steering wheel when braking may also be a sign of brake pad issues.
- Notice if the warning light comes on. If the brake warning light on your dashboard comes on while you're driving, Cars.com says you may be running low on brake fluid. Have your brakes checked as soon as possible.
If you have concerns about whether or not your brake system is functioning properly, you should have it inspected by a professionally immediately.
Visually inspect brake pads
It can also be helpful to take a look at your brakes to see if there are any obvious signs of wear and tear. When the car is parked safely and the ignition is off, follow these tips for visually inspecting your brake pads:
- Look at the wheels. Brake dust accumulation in the wheel is a sign of normal wear, according to MotorWeek. If you notice that your wheels are dirtier or cleaner than usual, you may want to have your brakes inspected.
- Observe the brake pad. On many cars, the brake pad can be seen through the wheel. Look at it to determine its thickness. If it seems very thin, less than Â¼ inch, it is likely in need of replacement, according to J.D. Power. Some brake pads have a slot in the center that serves as a wear indicator. Look at the slot — if it's almost gone, the pad probably needs to replaced.
When to replace brake pads
Cars.com says some common signs that may indicate it's time to replace your brake pads include:
- Pulsation or vibrations in the brake pedal.
- Longer stopping distances.
- Your foot goes down further than normal when you apply the brakes.
- The vehicle pulling to one side when you brake, according to J.D. Power.
If you do not feel comfortable checking your brake pads, take your vehicle to a local dealership or repair shop where a professional can do it for you. Not only will replacing worn brake pads help make your car safer, it may help save money in the long run by helping prevent avoidable accidents.