Skip to main content

How to Hear, Feel, and See If You Need New Brake Pads

Thin Brake Pads

When a lot of people think about their vehicle, they often think about getting behind the wheel and just going. Few people think about stopping – until they notice something seems to be wrong with their brakes. In most vehicles, the two front wheels each have a rotor and a caliper, which squeeze together when you hit your brake pedal to slow the car down and bring it to a complete stop. 

To prevent these two parts from coming into direct contact (which would cause enormous stress and friction on the metal surfaces), cars rely on removable brake pads to soften the connection. Brake pads are a crucial component to the safe operation of a vehicle. If something goes wrong, it could risk the wellbeing of you and your passengers. How can you tell if you need new brake pads? Pay attention to these red flags. Should you notice one or more of these symptoms, it’s time to visit the auto repair shop to replace your old brake pads immediately. 

You Hear Your Brake Pads

One of the first indications you need new brake pads that you might notice is a squeaking, squealing, scraping, clicking, or grinding noise coming from the brakes. Each of these sounds might suggest a slightly different reason your brake pads might need to be inspected by a trained auto mechanic.

Squealing brake pads typically mean that your pads are excessively worn down. From here, repairs can get quite costly, as damage to the rotors requires more parts and labor to fix. If, instead, you’d describe the sound as scraping or grating, it could be that your wear indicators (metal tabs on your brake pads) are coming into contact with the rotor and your brake pads have eroded away. Again, it’s time to replace those brake pads!

Clicking or rattling coming from your brake pads could mean that that pad is wobbling instead of fitting snuggly into place. It could be that a clip, pin, or bolt has loosened, which might happen through wear or if surrounding hardware has been damaged. If you hear any sound when you depress your brake pedal, but especially grinding, have your car inspected and replace your brake pads before additional damage is done.

You Feel Your Brake Pads

Sometimes, your brake pads will send you other signals that they need attention stat. Vibrations are a common indication that your rotors may be warped and have worn down your brake pads unevenly. Does the car or brake pedal shake or shiver when you press the brakes? It’s also possible your brake pads overheated and the binding resin is no longer distributed evenly over its surface. Mechanics call this issue glazing

Your brakes should be sensitive and highly responsive to your touch. If you find that it takes you longer to stop, or that you must press the brake pedal forcefully to get the car to react, you may have worn down your brake pads completely. This feeling is called brake fade. It often arises if your brake pads make contact with the rotor over long distances, say, when you’re moderating your speed down a hill or mountain. This is fine on occasion, but if you live in a hilly area, you might be more susceptible to damage through brake fade. 

It’s important to note that if it’s taking longer to come to a complete stop, you might also be low in brake fluid, whether from age or a leak. Don’t wait to get the car checked out by a qualified automotive mechanic. 

You might also find that your car pulls to one side when you brake. That typically means that a brake pad on one side of your car has worn down faster than the counterpart on the other wheel. This can cause friction and stress on your steering rack and wheel bearings. It could also be a sign that foreign matter is clogging your brake fluid. Time to visit your neighborhood auto shop!

Image: The difference between a new (thick) and old (thin) brake pad. Thin brake pads need to be replaced by a qualified automotive mechanic.

You See Your Brake Pads

If you look between the spokes of your wheel, you should be able to easily spot the brake pads. Do they appear to be thin? Thin brake pads are a quarter inch or less in thickness. You’ll want to have these replaced on your next visit to the mechanic, regardless of whether you’re hearing or feeling any of the symptoms above, as you’re overdue for a new set of brake pads.

The most obvious indication that you need new brake pads? Your dashboard might tell you so! Many newer models of cars come with brake pad warning lights on the dashboard. Check your owner’s manual to see if your vehicle has this feature. If the light turns on (or even if it doesn’t, but you experience some of the tell-tale signs of brake pad failure), get your car to an automotive mechanic for a complete inspection and diagnosis.

Are You Experiencing Any of these Brake Pad Symptoms?

If your car is grinding, squealing, vibrating, taking you longer to stop, pulling to one side, showing thin brake pads, or flashing an indicator light, pull into a Metro Motor auto maintenance shop as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the more damage you could be doing to your car – and the more expensive the repairs will be. Left unaddressed, the symptoms could get louder, more frequent, or more intense. Ultimately, brake pad failure could lead to an accident. 

Any of these indicators usually means car service is required immediately. Simply make an appointment online or stop by a Metro Motor service station today. We’ll inspect and diagnose any issues with your car, van, or truck, then recommend the brake pad repairs that will get you safely on the road again.

Find Your Local Metro Motor Auto Service Center

Enter your DC, MD or VA zip code

Luke's Wings Metro Motor