What Do Brake Pads Do?
You already know that functioning brakes are an important feature of any vehicle, but do you know exactly what brake pads are and their function?
Brake pads are actually the most important part of your car’s braking system. The pads are the part of your brakes that contact and apply pressure and friction to the brake rotors, stopping your vehicle.
The brake rotors are the flat, shiny discs located behind the wheels on most cars. Each of your car’s wheels has its own brake pad and rotors.
Over time, the constant friction between these two parts wears the brake pad down. The less traction it has, the less effective it is at stopping your vehicle when you need it most.
Do You Need to Replace All Four Brake Pads at Once?
Most brake pads are sold in sets of four, but does that mean you have to replace all four pads at once?
The first thing to consider is that your brakes and rotors come in pairs — the front and the rear. You can replace your brake pads in pairs (the front or the rear) at the same time or separately. If your front brake pads are in need of repair or replacement, your mechanic can fix this issue independently.
It’s also important to note that your front and rear brake pads wear at very different rates. The front brake pads do most of the work, causing them to wear faster and need replacement more often.
When you step on the brakes, your car lurches forward, landing squarely on the front wheels. This is where most of your car’s braking power comes from.
This action also increases the amount of friction between the front tires and the road while simultaneously taking pressure off the rear tires and brake pads. Most car manufacturers design their vehicles according to these basic principles. The brake pads in the front of your car are equipped and built to absorb the shock, pressure, and friction of heavy braking.
Signs You Need Brake Repair
Are you unsure if your brake pads need replacing? Here are a few signs that your vehicle is in need of brake repair or new brake pads.
Brake Light Will Come On
We’re all familiar with those annoying little lights that illuminate on our dashboard. But, in some cases, these lights aren’t something to ignore.
A sure sign that you need brake repair is if the service light on your dashboard comes on. This light is usually red or yellow and may be accompanied by an exclamation point symbol in parentheses — (!) — and the word “brake” or “anti-lock brake”.
Also, double-check that you didn’t accidentally engage your parking brake. If you did, you’ll see a letter “P” illuminated on your dashboard. Disengaging the parking brake should turn the light off. Seeing this signal could be a false alarm and there may not be any issue with your brake pads.
Some older cars don’t have illuminating dashboards so you’ll need to identify the problem in a different way.
If the state where you live requires an inspection, this may uncover that your brake pads are below the permitted thickness. Some mechanics can also perform a visual inspection to determine if your brake pads are worn and in need of repair.
Another sign that your pad’s thickness is wearing thin is a squeaking, squealing, or grinding sound when you brake. This is the metal where the brake pads once were scraping against the metal of the rotors. Left too long, you may need to replace your rotors as well.
A qualified mechanic can advise you on the safest option.
A Vibrating or Shaking Steering Wheel
When your brake pads are wearing thin or you have an uneven rotor, it can cause your steering wheel to shake or vibrate as well.
When functioning properly, your rotors are smooth and allow your wheels to turn easily and the brake pads to make contact. Wheels don’t always rotate evenly, though, and can cause imperfections in your rotors.
Friction is created between an uneven rotor and your brake pad as the wheel spins. This can wear away at the pad or transfer some of it onto your rotor, creating a bump.
When you brake and feel shaking or wobbling, it’s your brake pad hitting these rotor imperfections. You may also notice your car pulling to one side. In some cases, this can be a result of something wrong with your steering or suspension system (like your wheel alignments), but can also be a result of your brakes needing repairs or service.
Change in Brake Pressure
Your brake pedal should offer some resistance when you press on it. If you notice less (or more) resistance when you step on the brakes, your vehicle may need immediate brake repair.
Some people describe this sensation as a “soft” or “sinking” or “squishy” feeling. This change might be caused by air or moisture trapped in the braking system or loss of brake fluid. It may also be an issue with the master cylinder — both of which need immediate attention by a mechanic.
Perform Routine Brake Repair and Stay Safe
There’s no room for error when it comes to brake repair. If your vehicle is showing any signs of worn brake pads, rotors, or other brake-related issues, you need to get it to the shop as soon as possible.
Explain the warning signs that you’ve noticed and allowed an experienced mechanic to diagnose the problem. Having brakes that function properly will keep you, your passengers, and other motorists safe.
Having a mechanic perform routine maintenance on your vehicle can prevent any issues before they arise.
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