DIY

Common Symptoms of Bad Brake Pads

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Brake pads are a crucial yet frequently neglected part of your car. All too often, you’ll hear a vehicle that makes a horrendous grinding noise while braking. That sound usually means your brake pads’ metal backing plates are digging into your rotors—and that’s bad news.

During my 14-plus years in the auto industry, I’ve seen some brake pads that were worn to the point that their backing plates were nearly fused to the rotors. I’ve also seen some oddball stuff, including a dead mouse that was caught between a rotor and a brake pad (my heart went out to that little guy).

But I digress. Getting back to the topic at hand: You don’t want to keep driving with worn brake pads until you’re that person with the screeching car. It’s a good idea to visually inspect your brakes (or have your mechanic check them) on a regular basis. That way, you can catch signs of wear early on.

If, however, you haven’t been that proactive, we’re here to point out a few symptoms that may indicate your pads are due for replacement.

If your brake pads are visibly worn, it’s time to swap them out. Most professionals suggest replacement when the friction lining is less than 4mm thick at any point.

You May Have Faulty Brake Pads If…

Are you concerned you may have worn or faulty brake pads? If your car is exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms, you may be right:

You may also hear a high-pitched squealing or grinding noise that indicates your metal brake pad wear indicators are digging into your rotors. The sound may be heard only when braking, or it may be audible whenever the car is in motion.

Also, sometimes the friction material of low-quality brake pads can cause a squealing noise.

When the brake pedal is pressed, pressurized hydraulic fluid flows from the master cylinder and acts on the brake calipers, which contain brake pads, producing friction to stop the vehicle.

What Do Brake Pads Do?

There are two different types of braking systems: disc and drum. Disc brake systems rely on brake pads and disc-shaped brake rotors for stopping power. All modern cars have front disc brakes and many have disc brakes at all four wheels.

Brake pad operation is straightforward. When you press the brake pedal, pressurized hydraulic fluid flows from the master cylinder and acts on the brake calipers. Each of the brake calipers contains a set of brake pads that squeeze against the brake rotor, creating the friction needed to stop your car.

There are also three basic types of brake pads: organic, semi-metallic, and ceramic. Each is classified based on the type of friction lining used. Typically, ceramic pads are the most costly, but they also make little noise and produce minimal dust.

What to Do If You Think You Have Faulty Brake Pads

We’re talking about your brakes here—and you don’t want to mess with your brakes. Worn pads can reduce stopping ability and compromise vehicle safety. If you suspect you have bad brake pads, diagnose and repair the problem right away.

Most professionals recommend either resurfacing (if possible) or replacing the rotors when you swap out your brake pads. It’s best to replace these components together so they mesh from the beginning, promoting even wear and optimal performance. Brake pads are also serviced in pairs (two pads per wheel; four pads per axle).

The good news is that brake pad replacement’s one of the easier repairs and, therefore, is usually pretty affordable. So, don’t put it off any longer.

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Author

Mia Bevacqua

Chief Mechanic at CarParts.com

Mia Bevacqua is an automotive expert with over 15 years of industry experience. She holds ASE Master, L1, L2, and L3 Advanced Level Specialist certification, as well as a bachelor's degree in Advanced Automotive Systems.

Throughout her career, Mia has applied her skills toward automotive failure analysis inspections, consulting, diagnostic software development, and of course, freelance writing. Today, she writes for companies around the world, with many well-known clients showcasing her work.

Mia has a passion for math, science, and technology that motivates her to stay on top of the latest industry trends, such as electric vehicles and autonomous systems. At the same time, she has a weakness for fixer-upper oddballs, such as her 1987 Chevy Cavalier Z-24 and 1998 Chevy Astro Van AWD.

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