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DIY: How to Check Your Car's Brake Pads

Updated September 2015

Proper brake pad maintenance and inspection is not only critical for the long life of your car; it can save your life. This is particularly true when it comes to your car's braking system. Brakes are what enable your car to stop, to hopefully avoid accidents and drive more safely overall. Unfortunately, many drivers overlook brakes when it comes to performing auto maintenance.

Mechanic working on brake pad.

What Needs To Be Done?

Brake pads are the primary part of your car's braking system that requires regular maintenance.

  • Regular inspection of your brake pads is critical to the longevity and safety of your car.
  • If the brake pads are worn out, they need replacement by a professional mechanic.

Why Inspect Your Brakes?

Safety and avoiding damage to your brake rotors are the most important reasons to regularly check your brake pads.

  • If your brake pads wear out, your brake rotors can become damaged. Brake rotors are a much more labor-intensive and costly part of the braking system to replace.
  • Regularly checking and replacing your brake pads can greatly prolong the life of the brake rotors.

How Often to Check Your Car's Brakes suggests getting your brake pads professionally checked each time you have your tires rotated -about every 6 months.

The site also says typical brake pad wear depends how and where you drive. For example, if you drive in urban areas, your brake pads could wear out faster than someone who drives on rural roads.

It's always a good idea to check your car owner's manual or talk to a trusted professional so you understand what's right for your particular vehicle.

How to Check Your Brakes: Step by Step

Fortunately, brake pads are designed to provide clear signals that they need to be replaced. Here are some ways to check them:

Listen to your brakes

  • Brake pads make a noise when they are worn out and need replacement. This noise will sound like metal scraping in the wheels when the car is moving. The sound will get louder as the brakes are used.
  • The brake is designed to make this noise as an early warning signal that the pads need to be changed.

Look at the wheels

  • Brake dust accumulation in the wheel is another sign of wear.
  • As the brake pads wear out completely, the amount of dust on the wheels decreases. Noticing cleaner wheels after previous brake dust accumulation may be a sign that brake pads need replacement.

Observe the brake pad

  • In most cars, the brake pad can be seen through the wheel. Look at it to determine its thickness. If it seems very thin, less than ¼ inch, it is likely in need of replacement, according to J.D. Power and Associates.
  • Some brake pads have a slot in the center that serves as a wear indicator. Look at the slot; if it's almost nonexistent, the pad probably needs replacement.

In most cars, the brake pad can be seen through the wheel.

In most cars, the brake pad can be seen through the wheel.

A new brake pad and a worn brake pad

A new brake pad (top) and a worn brake pad (bottom)

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Feel 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 can also be a clear sign of brake pad issues.

If you do not feel comfortable checking your brake pads, it is smart to visit a local dealership, repair shop or mechanic who can do it for you. Not only will replacing worn brake pads make the car safer, it can help save money in the long run.

Need help remembering to check your brake pads? Sign up for Allstate's Maintenance Reminder.

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This section highlights examples of precautions you can consider to help maintain your personal property. Please recognize that a particular precaution may not be appropriate or effective in every circumstance, and that taking preventive measures cannot guarantee any outcome. We encourage you to use your own good judgment about what's appropriate, and always consider safety.

Coverage subject to terms, conditions, and availability. Policy issuance is subject to qualifications. Allstate Insurance Company, Allstate Indemnity Company, Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company, Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company, Northbrook, IL. © 2015 Allstate Insurance Company, Northbrook, IL.

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