Brakes, and especially the brake pads, are one of those things that many people often look past when it comes to your motorcar’s maintenance. But it’s nonetheless a crucial member of the family when it comes to the bits and pieces that make your car work as magically as it does. But have you ever taken your car out for a drive, and notice it being a bit off lately? In that case, your mind might be pondering over how much you’ll need to spend to cover a brake pad replacement cost.
Have you heard any odd squealing noises while braking? Perhaps you felt that your car is taking a lot more real estate just to slow down than before? Maybe you’ve faced more dangerous circumstances before, like your car tugging itself to one side, or slightly losing control? This highlights just how important it is to care for your four-wheeled companion’s brake pads. Your car might be able to go places, but it’s practically a mobile coffin if it can’t stop properly.
But just what are brake pads, and how do they work? Are they that important in being able to stop your car? What if you’re thinking of ignoring these little troubles, and just go out for a drive anyways? More importantly, what do you need to do to have them replaced, and how quickly will it empty your bank account? In our brake pad replacement cost guide, we’re going to take a look at all these burning questions, and help you figure out what to do next.
What are brake pads, and how do they work?
Before we look ahead any further into our brake pad replacement cost guide, it might be prudent to understand more of how they work. A bit of interesting historical trivia first. During the early days of the automobile in the late 1800s, stopping a car was done primarily through the use of wooden blocks. These were the first type of automotive brakes. Following the creation of the first “car”, Karl Benz’s – of Mercedes Benz fame – wife decided to take it for a drive.
On the world’s first long-distance road trip across more than 106km, Bertha Benz noticed that the wooden brakes were inefficient. They would frequently stop working and failed due to the heat. Using her ingenuity, she helped to invent the world’s first brake pads (among other innovations), in trying to stop the wooden blocks from heating up. With the help of a leatherworker, she added leather pads onto the wooden blocks. Since then, the design for brake pads has evolved.
After World War II, more cars started adopting the technically advanced and more capable form of braking – disc brakes. Prior to that, and owing to a shortage of material, most cars used drum brakes. Disc brakes offered better stopping power compared to drum brakes, and are more resistant to “brake fade”. The latter happens when the brakes start to overheat. The function of disc brakes is helped with the addition of brake pads.
How are brake pads able to stop a moving car?
Brake pads are located within the disc brakes, with their friction pads facing towards the large plate-like rotor. There are two sets of brake pads, each on either side of the rotor plate. Through hydraulic pressure or a brake-by-wire system, your input on the brake pedal will then clamp the brake pads together against the rotor. The friction pads will then create an immense amount of friction to slow down your disc brake’s rotor. Consequently, this will slow down the movement of the wheels.
In essence, brake pads convert the kinetic energy of your car and turn it into thermal energy that is caused by friction. High-performance or heavy-duty vehicles may often have more than just two brake pads. Other than the pads, there are several other key components to note. The aforementioned rotors are discs where the brake pads will clamp against. The calipers are what force the brake pads to clamp together against the rotor, to slow down the rotation of the wheels.
What are the types of brake pads that you need to know about?
Apart from looking into how brake pads work, we might also want to know more about the different types of brake pads to choose from. This will be helpful to learn in our brake pad replacement cost guide later on. In general, the key differences between these brake pads are the types of material that have been coated on their friction surfaces. The unique attributes of those materials will then determine how well those brakes work to suit your needs.
The key factors to take note of while choosing your brake pads will vary. But in general, there are three important things to consider. Firstly, you’ll need to discern the operating temperature of those brake pads, as some require more heat to work. Secondly, you might want to figure out how much brake fade they will have, which can affect your car’s braking performance. Third, it will also help to know the friction coefficient, and whether it will cause too much or too little friction for your car.
You might also want to know more about how much brake dust those particular pads can emit. As the friction surfaces of the brake pads make physical contact with the rotors, they can produce “dust“. These are fine particles that are ground away from either the brake pads or the rotor discs. For our brake pad replacement cost overview, here are some of the common types of brake pads that you might find:
1. Non-asbestos organic (NAO) brake pads
This is the most common type of brakes you’d find on a lot of smaller or more affordable cars. NAO brakes are made from strong fibers, and unlike its earlier iterations, do not contain asbestos owing to serious health concerns. Other than natural fibers, it might also contain traces of glass, Kevlar, carbon, rubber, or fiberglass. These are then bonded together with a heat-resistant resin.
They are relatively inexpensive, are quieter than other types of brakes, and grip more softly against the rotors. This has the side effect of creating less wear on the rotor discs themselves. However, this also means that they won’t offer as much stopping power. NAO brake pads can also create a lot of brake dust, and wear themselves down faster than other types.
2. Low-metallic NAO brake pads
Low-metallic brake pads contain organic materials, just like the NAO pads. However, around 10-30% of the material is made from metallic components. This can include traces of iron, copper, steel, or graphite that have been bonded together with the organic fibers. These brakes tend to be a bit noisier and can emit a lot of brake dust on their own.
They are also a bit more costly than fully organic NAO brake pads. However, low-metallic NAO brake pads have excellent heat transfer capabilities and thus better braking performance than fully non-metallic pads. As such, you’ll be able to find low-metallic brake pads more commonly on some mid-size cars, such as sedans or crossovers.
3. Semi-metallic brake pads
Most of the vehicles on the roads today use semi-metallic brake pads. Once again, they are a hybrid compound of the previously stated organic material, and metallic components. Semi-metallic brake pads have more metallic ingredients in them, up to 65% of the total compound. They are more versatile in their use case, and can even be found on high-performance cars, and heavy-duty vehicles.
Heavier forms of transport such as SUVs, large sedans, or trucks use semi-metallic brake pads. The pads themselves are extremely durable, although they can wear down the rotors a bit quicker. They have excellent heat transfer abilities, and thus good stopping power. However, semi-metallic brake pads are louder while under braking and don’t always perform well at lower temperatures.
4. Ceramic brake pads
As the name suggests, ceramic brake pads are made from ceramic fibers. This is the same type of material you’ll find on glassware and pottery, but has been forged specifically for its braking properties. They are bonded together as stacked glass ceramic fibers, with some filler material, non-ferrous metals, and a heat-resistant resin.
Ceramic brake pads are far quieter even while under intense braking. They also wear down – both the pads and the rotors – very slowly, and emit very little brake dust. The one downside is that ceramic brake pads are far more expensive. Not to be confused with carbon-ceramic brakes, simply ceramic brake pads are not designed for high performance or heavy-duty use.
Symptoms of worn down brake pads that you need to look out for
Given the amount of friction that is generated while it’s in use, there’s no wonder why brake pads require regular changing. Although surprisingly, they don’t wear off as quickly as you might imagine. Naturally, this will vary quite widely depending on your car, how often and hard do you apply the brakes, and the brake pads themselves. So, it’s hard to find a spot-on average for many miles you’ll need to drive before the brake pads need replacing.
For example, the brake pads on a pickup truck that needs to haul heavy loads every single day may wear out faster than on a family hatchback doing school runs. Although on average, most brake pads last around 25,000 miles to around 70,000 miles. Some might even be able to handle 100,000 miles before needing a replacement. We recommend that you check your car’s owner’s manual to determine more precisely when you should consider having those pads checked out.
However, there are other ways of noticing when your brake pads might be on their way out. Here are some of the tell-tale signs that you’ll be needing to visit a workshop soon, for our brake pad replacement guide:
1. Loud screeching or squealing sounds under braking
Turn down the stereo, wind down the window, and pay attention to any odd noises. Some brake pads have thin metal strips built into the frictions material. When they are worn out, these thin metal strips will start grinding against the rotor discs. This screeching or squealing sound is akin to two metal plates being ground against one another. Hearing this while applying the brakes is a clear indication that the usable friction pad surface on your brake pads are on their way out.
2. Loud, unpleasant grinding noise
Hearing this much more noticeable grinding noise is a very serious case of your brake pads wearing out, compared to before. A loud grinding sound under braking often means that the brake pads’ friction material has completely worn down. Now, the brake pads are left to their bare metal backplates, and are being squeezed directly onto the rotor discs. Braking without the friction material on your brake pads is not recommended.
For one thing, it is highly hazardous. Without the friction pads, your car’s brakes won’t be able to generate enough friction as before to initiate the full braking power. This ultimately reduces your car’s ability to stop in time and could cause an accident. Then, there’s not to mention the damage caused against the rotor discs, as its surface is being ground down. In this case, it will often need to be replaced, resulting in a much more expensive repair job than just changing the brake pads.
3. Brake pads visibly running thin
Another clear symptom for our brake pad replacement cost guide involves you getting out of your car. You can try peering through the spokes of your wheels and check the brake pads themselves. If it has a quarter-inch or more worth of friction material, then it should still be usable. If there is less than a quarter-inch of friction material on your brake pads, then it should be replaced. You might want to jack up your car to see it more clearly if the wheel spokes aren’t big enough.
4. Braking takes longer and farther than usual
As your brake pads wear out, they wouldn’t be able to apply as much friction as usual. In that case, you can notice your car requiring more time and distance to just slow down, before coming to a halt. Maybe, you feel the need to depress the brake pedal down a bit further than usual before the brake pads can start grabbing down on the rotors. This can be dangerous to drive, and is a clear sign that your brake pads are nearing the end of their life.
5. Spongy brake pedal
Depending on your car, you might easily be able to tell the condition of your brake pads from the feedback your foot receives as it operates the brake pedal. If the brake pedal feels too stiff or too squishy like a sponge when depressed, it may be a sign that your brake pads need changing. More critically, you might feel vibrations or shudders through the brake pedal. This is a more serious symptom and could indicate that your pads or rotors could be at fault.
6. Dashboard warning light
Modern cars have sensors built into the brakes that can warn you whenever there’s a problem, or if the brake pads need to be changed. There are usually two separate sensors working in tandem. One sits within, and near the end of the friction pads. Once the friction material is being worn down to its last surface area, the sensors will come into contact with the rotors.
The other sensor monitors just how much the pads have to move before the rotor starts slowing down. More movement means that there’s less friction material made available to clamp down on the rotor discs. If these two sensors indicate that your brake pads need to be serviced, it will warn you through a warning light on the dashboard.
7. Car swerving to one side while braking
This is no doubt the most deadly symptom that you can experience in our brake pad replacement cost guide. Your car swerving to one side under braking is another sign that your brake pads need a replacement. Or, there might be a more serious fault within the braking system as a whole. It happens when the braking force is not being applied evenly. This then causes one side of the car to slow down more than the other. This results in the car swerving to the less-braked side.
Should you keep on driving with worn-out brake pads?
There are a many number of causes that result in you needing to read this brake pad replacement cost guide. Most obviously, the friction material on your brake pads will naturally wear itself down over time, thus necessitating a replacement. Or, perhaps you – like yours truly – practice the art of two-pedal driving, or “left-foot braking”. This habit of keeping your foot rested and ready to apply the brakes at any moment can wear down the brake pads prematurely.
But you might just not worry too much about this. Maybe, you think to yourself, I’m only going out for short drives. Plus, there might not be a lot of traffic to be concerned about. You might then just be tempted to not bother with replacing your brake pads soon. This is despite experiencing some of the more serious symptoms that we talked about earlier. So, could you keep on driving your car, even when knowing that your brake pads are on their way to the grave?
Our answer – not if you can avoid it. Maybe if you’re confident that there’s a workshop nearby, your brake pads are okay enough, and there isn’t a lot of traffic; it ought to be safe for you to drive. Otherwise, your worn brake pads won’t be able to give you as much stopping power as they once did. This, in turn, creates a major road hazard. With worn-out brake pads, you might not be able to slow down or stop in time in case of an emergency, for instance.
How much is it for a brake pad replacement cost?
Finally, we can get into the meat of our brake pad replacement cost article, and discuss a bit more on the price. Once again, it’s difficult for us to discern an exact price tag for how much it’s going to cost you to replace your brake pads. However, the average general estimation is that a brake pad replacement cost is around $150 to $300 per axle. Note, one axle means two wheels – front and rear. This accounts for the cost of the brake pads themselves and the labor.
For heavier duty or high-performance vehicles that need more braking force, you can expect this cost to rise. Exotic cars with more specialized brakes will certainly cost a lot more. A complete brake pad replacement cost for all four wheels average between $300 to $1,000. Although for most cars, you can expect a bill of around $500 to replace all your car’s brake pads. If you’d like to save some money and replace them yourself DIY-style, you can find most brake pads for around $30 per wheel.
Under most circumstances, you won’t need to replace the rotors every time you change out the brake pads. But if the rotors are worn down, it will be good to change them up as well. For the pair, including changing both the brake pads and the rotor discs, cost an average of between $250 to $400 per axle. You can always use sites such as YourMechanic, Wrench, RepairPal, RepairSmith, and so on to find a more precise quote for a full brake pad replacement cost, depending on your car.
How can you prevent brake pads from wearing down quickly?
Understanding now that brake pads are not the cheapest expense you might have to make, you may have developed the foresight to try and extend their lifespan. But given how much friction is being induced onto those poor old brake pads, could you prevent them from ever needing a replacement? Of course not, but there are several things that you can do to prevent them from wearing out too quickly. Crucially, a change in your driving style can do wonders in this regard.
Try to not drive aggressively, as constant hard braking will generate more friction. Eventually, it will wear down your brake pads like there’s no tomorrow. And try to not practice the “left-foot braking” style of driving. If you’re not on a rally course, there’s no need for you to lean your foot on the brake pedals at all times. Even worse, some people have the habit of constantly resting their foot on the brake pedal. This slight depression will still force the brakes to work, even when they don’t have to.
Practice a more gentle approach to driving, and it will help to extend the available usability of your brake pads. Learn to cruise and coast your car more steadily to a halt. Let your foot off the accelerator pedal if you know you need to stop soon. If you could, try to remove as much load as possible from your car, as it can put added strain when you eventually need to slow down. Do these things, and you won’t ever need to read this brake pad replacement cost overview ever again.
Brake pad replacement cost – Conclusion
Finally, we can now end this brake pad replacement cost article, and hope you’re more acquainted with how much you’ll need to spend to replace your car’s tired brake pads. In the grand scheme of things, brake pads are among the more reasonable parts to maintain price-wise. In all, brake pads are an important part of every single car. When the time comes that you eventually need to have them changed, brake pads are not something you can easily sweep under the rug and forget.
We needn’t have to remind you of the catastrophic consequences of what happens when you can’t stop your car in time. The lives of everyone in your car rely on those tiny pads to do their bidding. But this doesn’t mean that you have to be stressed out over thinking about them all the time. Simply practicing a more calm driving style is enough to make sure they last long enough. In all, the burning friction and stress that your brake pads go through every day, and all it asks for in return is a bit of love.