A wide range of factors can affect how long a set of brake pads will last, from your driving style to the quality of the pads themselves.
Mechanics and manufacturers typically estimate that they should last between 30,000 and 70,000 miles, but there are reports of them lasting significantly longer than that.
It’s no wonder that there’s such a wide range in the lifespan of brake pads – there are so many factors at play. Pads are made from various materials, like composite, metal, or ceramic, and are attached to different brake systems and rotors.
Longevity of Front Brake Pads vs. Rear Brake Pads
When you press the brakes, the forward momentum of your vehicle puts significant pressure on the front half of the car, requiring those brakes to work hard to slow the vehicle down. The front brakes of a vehicle provide 70% to 75% of the stopping power, while the back brakes do the rest. This means that your front brakes will be exposed to more friction and heat.
Rear brakes typically generate about 30% of the stopping force, which means they experience less heat and potentially less wear. However, the rear brake pads and rotors are smaller than those in the front, so in most cases, they still wear out at the same rate as the front brake pads.
For this reason, it is recommended that you change the front and rear brake pads simultaneously.
The 3 Most Common Types of Brake Pads
There are three main types of brake pads, and there are both pros and cons to each type. Each one has its uses, usually depending on the type of vehicle and the needs of the driver. The three main types of brake pads are organic (non-metallic), metallic (semi-metallic), and ceramic.
Organic Brake Pads
Modern organic brake pads are no longer made with cancer-causing asbestos. Rather, they are created from a variety of materials, including rubber, kevlar, fiberglass, and carbon compounds. Over 60% of new vehicles in the US come standard with this type of brake pad.
Organic brake pads are usually reasonably priced, produce less dust, and create less friction and heat than other brake pads, making them ideal for the standard car used for commuting and normal driving.
However, these pads do have their disadvantages, too. They tend to wear down faster than other types of pads, and the range of temperatures and driving conditions they can function optimally in is not as wide. They will not work their best in extreme weather conditions or when they are overheated.
Metallic Brake Pads
Also known as semi-metallic brake pads, these pads have a metal composition that ranges from 30% to 70%. The metal used can be steel, iron, copper, or other blends of alloys.
Metallic brake pads are designed for high-performance conditions, offering great braking performance in a wide range of conditions and temperatures.
While metallic brake pads have the advantage of being longer-lasting, they produce more dust, are noisier, and put more stress on the brake discs.
In terms of pricing, they sit between the organic and the ceramic brake pads.
Ceramic Brake Pads
Ceramic brake pads are usually reserved for high-performance cars. They offer a stopping power that can’t be found in the two other types of brake pads, and they last the longest.
This type of brake pad is made of ceramic fibers, copper fibers, and other filling materials bonded together. This makes them cleaner (they produce less dust) and quieter than other pads.
One of the main disadvantages of ceramic pads is how long they take to reach an operating temperature. While they may be great for dynamic drivers and weekend racers, they are not as practical for use in an everyday car.
Is There a Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Brake Pads?
There’s a lot of debate about whether you get what you pay for when it comes to brake pads. Some people swear by their chosen expensive brands, while others believe that the cheaper options work just as well.
So, which is it?
The truth is, there is a big difference between cheap and expensive brake pads. However, whether that difference is worth the extra money, or not, is up to you. Generally speaking, the more expensive brake pads will last longer and provide better braking power. However, they can be more difficult to install if you’d like to do that job yourself, and they may not be compatible with your car.
Cheaper brake pad options, on the other hand, may not last as long as the more expensive brands, but they are usually easier to install and can be found in just about any auto parts store.
This topic is somewhat complicated, so if you want to learn all there is to know about the performance of various brake pads in a range of price categories, then we highly recommend watching the video below:
Explained Engineering did extensive testing of 5 different brake pads, ranging in price from $20 to $90, and the results were very interesting. The trials they did included high-temperature testing, corrosion resistance testing, performance testing, noise testing, and more.
How to Make Your Brake Pads Last Longer
There are several ways in which you can be more careful with your brake pads while driving your car, to make them last as long as possible. Doing so will not only save you money by making your brake pads last longer – it will also help you save fuel, your tires will last longer, and there will be less stress on other components of your car.
- Drive more slowly – the faster you drive, the faster you generally need to brake, especially in emergencies. The faster you need to brake, the more heat and friction you create in your brakes, and the faster the pads will wear down.
- Travel light – if you are regularly carrying things in your vehicle that don’t need to be there, you are adding unnecessary weight that increases the stopping force your car needs. Empty your vehicle of everything you don’t need, and only carry loads when necessary.
- Don’t ride your brakes – when traveling downhill or in traffic, don’t sit with your foot on the brake pedal. Rather use your gears to slow your manual shift vehicle, or learn how to coast your automatic.
- Use “engine braking” – when you take your foot off the gas, a so-called “engine braking” will occur. Engine braking is an interesting phenomenon, but all you need to know is that it “saps” the energy from the engine, and in turn, slows your car down. When driving in traffic, start slowing in this manner when you can see that you will have to stop soon. There is no benefit to rushing up to each stop light and stopping abruptly.
Signs That Your Brake Pads Need Replacing
There are a few different warning signs that your car might need new brake pads. If you notice any of these signs, it’s probably time to take your car in for a checkup.
- Your car feels different – if you notice that your car pulls to one side when you brake, that the pedal doesn’t respond as well when you press it, or that the car shudders when you have your foot on the brake pedal, you most likely need to replace your pads.
- Strange noises – if you hear a metallic grinding sound when you brake, or if your brakes squeal despite using them normally, the pads most likely need to be replaced.
- The pads are too thin – if you check your brake pads and can see that they are less than ¼-inch thick, it is time to replace them.
- An indicator light comes on – older vehicles will not have this feature, but newer models may alert you with a dashboard indicator light when your brake pads get too thin.