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How Long Do Brakes Last?

Your car's brakes are arguably its most important component. Sure, the engine is quite pivotal to its workings too, but what's worse - not being able to move, or suddenly realising that you're hauling it at 70mph and can't stop? Thus, the brakes are one of those items that should be checked out and then maintained regularly, making sure that you can always have a set of pads to rely on to stop you.

However, and as crucial as they may be to your car's performance, basic functionality, and safety, brakes aren't made to last forever. Eventually, they'll start to lose their bite, and are in need of a full replacement. But how long do brakes actually last? And when we mean brakes, we of course meant the 'brake pads', which are the frictional pads that rub against the brake discs to slow you down.

More Miles Than You'd Think

Those brake pads are the most frequently serviced item within your car's entire braking system. Well, it turns out, your brake pads can go for a lot longer than you might expect. Nevertheless, they do get worn down pretty heavily a lot of the time, thanks purely to the intense friction and heat that is exerted every time they're clamped down onto the discs to scrub away speed to slow down your car.

Naturally, there are a lot of different factors that come into play to influence how many miles you can get out of the brake pads before they're beyond use. You should always refer to your owner's manual to understand the exact mileage that you're recommended to swap out the pads, based on your car manufacturer's own design and testing. This will give you a more precise reading.

In general, though, most brake pads on average last anywhere between 15,000 to 40,000 miles if we're looking at the broader market for cars today. Understandably, that's a very wide range, with 15,000 miles being only realistic for heavy-duty or high-performance vehicles that use their brakes more often. 40,000 miles, meanwhile, is a good figure for some of the more economical cars.

Just to be safe, many technicians round that up to 20,000 miles, as the best mileage interval that you should have your brake pads checked, and then replaced if necessary. This applies to most cars that you'll encounter. If you're sending out your car for its regular service, then the brakes are among the components that get checked frequently, so you'll likely not have to worry about it.

Warning Signs To Look Out For

But let's say the brakes haven't been inspected or replaced in a while, or if your local dealership has been skimping on its check-up procedures... How can you tell that you may need a new set of brake pads? On the bright side, problems or wear with your brake pads can be fairly easy to notice, and these symptoms usually afford you ample time to prepare for a replacement.

So, let's take a look at some of the red flags to spot, just so you know that it's right about time for a brake pad replacement:

  • The most obvious sign that your brake pads are worn is if your car might take a longer amount of time, or a further physical distance to slow down and come to a stop. This loss of performance can be indicative that your brake pads have worn down by a significant margin.
  • You can tell that your brake pads (or braking system as a whole) aren't all fine and dandy if you hear any squeaking and squealing sounds as you press down on the brake pedal. This is actually a safety feature built into many brake pads, where you'll start grinding down on the 'wear indicator', which emits said squealing or squeaking sound to let you know that it's running thin.
  •  A step up in seriousness would be the sound of metallic grinding or a screech in some cases. This is bad, as it means that your brake pads have likely worn themselves out completely bare. Hence, the brake discs are now making contact with the brake callipers - which are the ones responsible for clamping the brake pads down - and prolonged use can cause catastrophic damage.

  • If you feel vibrations while under braking, this might be a tell-tale sign that your brake discs are perhaps warped. When this happens, you'll be wearing out your brake pads unevenly, and its overall performance will be characterised as a shudder any time you press the brake pedal. This will get worse over time.

  • Should you drive a modern vehicle, there may be a plethora of warning lights and indicators that'll warn you when it's time to change out the brake pads. The ones that we'll look into here are the ABS (anti-lock brake system) and 'brake system' warning lights. The latter of them is the one that you regularly see when you engage the parking brake.

Making Them Go The Distance

So, having learned that your brake pads will inevitably need an unavoidable replacement, is there a way that you can get around this. Well, there are at least more than just a few ways that you can practice to effectively and efficiently extend the usable lifespan of your car's brake pads. The first, and most obvious, would be to change up your driving style to put less strain on them.

This is by far and away the primary reason why most need to go through multiple sets of pads over the lifetime of their cars. Consider driving slowly when you can, as lower speeds mean that the pads won't need to exert as much friction to slow you down. Also, think twice about exuberant driving next time. The more frequently you brake, and the harder you lean on them, the more it'll wear.

If you own a manual, you can learn something called 'engine braking' to slow your car down instead of relying on the brakes. This is where you gently let your foot off the accelerator and downshift gradually through the gears to slow down your car. Realistically, you can do this with any car, since you can cruise it to a halt to lose momentum. Only use the brakes if you need to stop in a hurry.

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