Your brakes are one of the most important safety items on your car, but knowing when to replace them can be tricky. Many drivers wait until their brakes have far too little material left before scheduling a replacement. On the opposite side though, replacing on a regular schedule may also mean wasting money by replacing pads that are still in relatively good condition. Knowing when to replace your pads doesn't need to be complicated, however, and these tips will help to make sure that you get the most value out of your brake pads while also ensuring that your vehicle is safe in all conditions.
Minimum Pad Thickness
Although there may be some debate about the "right" time to replace pads, there is no debate about when a replacement is imminent. 3mm is generally considered to be the minimum thickness for continued brake pad usage. Your pads are still safe to use when they have reached this level, but you should plan on a replacement as soon as possible. Of course, the challenging part is knowing when your pads are at or below minimum thickness. Luckily, there are several options to alert you that a replacement is around the corner.
Use Your Ears
If you drive an older vehicle, then your first warning that your pads are low is likely to be a loud squealing. The stereotypical squeal of brake pads is produced by metal on metal contact between the wear indicator in the pads and the rotor. When the friction material on a brake pad falls below minimum thickness, a metal bar is exposed that rubs against the brake disc and produces an audible warning. If you hear this sound, it's time to get in touch with a mechanic for a brake job.
Use Your Eyes
Most newer cars are equipped with brake wear sensors. Depending on your model of car, you may have a single warning light that illuminates when any sensor is triggered or you may have multiple warnings for your front and rear brakes. These sensors are sacrificial, which means that a triggered sensor has already been destroyed and will need to be replaced with your pads. Some people opt to replace their brake pads before their wear sensors are triggered, allowing reuse of the existing sensor.
Use Your Brain
Of course, the best way to know when to replace your pads is to have your brakes regularly inspected. Tire rotations and oil changes are perfect times for brake inspections. Not only will these inspections help you to know your exact pad thickness, but they will also reveal other issues that may exist within your braking system. Technicians will provide you with an exact measurement of your pad thickness, allowing you to know the next time you'll need brake pad replacement services well in advance.