How To Know When Your Brake Pads Are Old And How To Change Them

Knowing when it’s time to replace your car’s brake pads is crucial for maintaining your vehicle’s safety and performance. One of the most common causes of injury per year is a motor vehicle accident, many of which are caused by poor car maintenance. Brake pads play a critical role in stopping your car, and worn-out pads can compromise your ability to brake effectively. Here are some key indicators that can help you determine when it’s time for new car brake pads.

Squeaking or Squealing Noises

One of the most common signs that your brake pads need replacement is the presence of high-pitched squeaking or squealing noises when you apply the brakes. Brake pads are equipped with wear indicators that make a distinct noise when they become too thin. If you hear these noises consistently, it’s a clear indication that your brake pads are worn and should be replaced.

Grinding Sounds

If you notice a grinding or growling noise when you apply the brakes, it usually means that the brake pads have worn down completely. When this happens, the metal caliper and disc rub against each other, causing damage and reducing braking efficiency. Grinding sounds should never be ignored, as they can lead to more expensive repairs if left unattended, and doing so can lead to catastrophic accidents.

Reduced Braking Performance

If you notice that your car takes longer to come to a complete stop or the brakes feel less responsive, it’s a strong indication that your brake pads are nearing the end of their lifespan. Worn brake pads have reduced friction material, making it harder to generate the necessary stopping power. The car accident attorneys at DuBois Law Group note that reduced braking performance can compromise your and others’ safety on the road and should be addressed promptly.

Vibration or Pulsation

Another sign of worn brake pads is a pulsating or vibrating sensation when you apply the brakes. This can occur due to uneven wear on the brake pads, causing the brake rotor to become warped or damaged. The pulsation can be felt through the brake pedal or the steering wheel, and it indicates that both the brake pads and rotors may need replacement.

Visual Inspection

Occasionally, you can visually inspect your brake pads to get an idea of their condition. Most brake pads have a small opening on their surface that allows you to see the thickness of the pad material. If the pad is less than 3 millimeters thick, it’s generally recommended to replace them. Additionally, if you notice any signs of cracking, glazing, or uneven wear, it’s advisable to replace the brake pads.

Mileage and Maintenance Schedule

The lifespan of brake pads can vary depending on various factors, including your driving habits, the type of brake pads used, and road conditions. However, as a general guideline, brake pads typically last between 30,000 to 70,000 miles. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for manufacturer recommendations regarding brake pad replacement intervals. If you have reached the recommended mileage or your vehicle has exceeded the maintenance schedule, it’s a good time to consider replacing the brake pads.

The Step-By-Step Process Of Replacing Your Brake Pads

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • New brake pads (matching your vehicle’s specifications)
  • Jack and jack stands
  • A lug wrench or socket set
  • C-clamp or brake piston tool
  • Brake cleaner
  • Wire brush or sandpaper
  • Service manual or online guides for your specific vehicle


  • Park your vehicle on a flat surface and engage the parking brake.
  • Loosen the lug nuts on the wheels that you’ll be working on (but don’t remove them yet).
  • Place a jack in the designated jacking points of your vehicle and lift it until the wheel is off the ground. 
  • Secure the vehicle with jack stands.

Remove the Old Brake Pads:

  • Remove the lug nuts and take off the wheel.
  • Locate the brake caliper, which is usually positioned near the top of the rotor.
  • Remove the caliper retaining bolts or pins using the appropriate tools and slide the caliper out carefully.
  • Use a C-clamp or brake piston tool to compress the piston back into the caliper. This step is necessary to create space for the new, thicker brake pads.

Inspect and Prepare the Caliper:

  • Inspect the brake caliper for any signs of damage or wear. If there are any issues, it’s advisable to consult a professional.
  • Use a wire brush or sandpaper to clean the caliper and remove any rust or debris.
  • Ensure that the sliding pins or bolts move freely.

Install the New Brake Pads:

  • Apply a thin layer of brake lubricant to the backing plates of the new brake pads.
  • Attach the brake pads to the caliper, ensuring they align with the rotor properly.
  • Slide the caliper back onto the rotor and secure it in place with the retaining bolts or pins.

Finalize the Installation:

  • With the new brake pads installed, ensure all components are properly aligned and secured.
  • Repeat the process for the other brake pad on the same wheel or on other wheels if necessary.
  • Once all the brake pads are replaced, carefully lower the vehicle back to the ground.
  • Pump the brake pedal a few times to re-establish proper brake pad contact with the rotors.
  • Double-check the lug nuts and tighten them to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Paying attention to the signs of worn brake pads is crucial for maintaining your vehicle’s safety and performance, and protecting yourself, other drivers, and your wallet. If you experience any of the aforementioned signs, it’s highly likely that your brake pads need replacement. Remember, promptly replacing worn brake pads ensures optimal braking efficiency and enhances your safety on the road. If you’re uncertain about the condition of your brake pads, it’s always best to consult a professional mechanic for a thorough inspection and necessary replacements.

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