Brake pads, an essential component of the disc brakes, function by converting the kinetic energy of the vehicle to thermal energy with the use of friction. Now, by the sound of it, it seems like brake pads are one of those components which would go through a lot of wear and tear. This is certainly true.
Although it needs to be checked every now and then for any damage or malfunction, it is usually neglected either because it isn’t easily noticed or because it is assumed that a lot of work and money would go into its repair. Hence, people think it’s best to leave it on its own. However, using faulty brake pads can prove to be dangerous, as you will learn later in this article.
Nevertheless, it is extremely important that your brake pads are in good function and are not damaged because any malfunction of brake pads can have serious effects on the performance of your vehicle. This article will help you figure out exactly how brake pads function, how to repair them, how to continuously check them for damage or malfunction as well as how to escape the extravagant pricing charged for the replacement of brake pads.
What are the major components that make up a standard car’s braking system?
In order to understand what we’re dealing with here, it’s best to get a brief overview of how the car’s braking system operates. This will help you understand why brake pads are important and how to achieve smooth and instantaneous brakes. Having this information in hand, you can rest assured that the mechanic isn’t charging you for a repair that you don’t even need.
In brief, this is how your car’s braking system operates: The force you put on the pedal is transmitted to the tires and they bring the car to a halt through friction. Sounds simple right? Now, let’s dive into the parts which help bring about this action.
The pedal is the only component of the braking system that you’re in direct contact with. When the driver wishes to stop the car, he presses the brake pedal. This action moves a piston which is located in the master cylinder.
Located right in front of the driver’s seat, the master cylinder, usually, in turn, comprises two other master cylinders. Each master cylinder controls a particular set of wheels. It is connected to the brake cylinders via hydraulic tubing lines. As the pedal is pressed, a piston is moved and a valve opens. The opening of the valve is essential for the hydraulic fluid to pass to reach the brake cylinders through a series of tubes and hoses.
Brake fluid is a very essential component as a car’s braking system works on the basis of hydraulics. It needs constant replacement if you want your car to function smoothly as brand new. Brake fluid runs through the entire braking system. It is a silicone-based liquid that absorbs moisture from the air. Pro tip: If you think that your car’s brake fluid may be leaking, you can check that through the brake pedal. If the pedal feels soft/ spongy that the fluid is probably leaking.
There is only so much pressure that you can apply on the pedal right? This is where a brake booster comes in the picture. When the pedal is pressed, the brake booster allows air to flow in, amplifying the pressure needed to stop the vehicle.
The drum brakes are located on the rear wheels. When the pedal is pressed, pressurized fluid makes its way into the wheel cylinder of the drum brakes. This pressure causes the brake shoe to chime in contact with the inside of the drum brake.
Located on the front wheels, the disc brakes are important to us because of this where the brake pads are involved. When the pressurized fluid from the master cylinder reaches the disc brakes, it moves a piston. This piston squeezes the two brake pads together. The friction thus generated causes the wheel to stop.
There are certain cars that have their disc brakes located on both the front and back tires. For the ones in which the disc brakes are located only on the front tires, a proportioning valve is present. In times of a hard brake, this valve reduces some of the pressure going to the rear brakes to stop all four brakes evenly.
What are the advantages of having disc brakes?
Disc brakes are always preferred over drum brakes because they provide much better stopping performance. Sometimes, due to the overheating of brake pads, “brake fade” takes place. A brake fade happens when there is a reduction in the car’s stopping power which usually happens after repeated usage of brakes (for instance, heavy traffic). It is seen that disc brakes offer better resistance against brake fade in comparison to drum brakes.
Drum brakes usually don’t have a booster. Hence, the pressure applied by the driver on the pedal is proportionate to the braking force. This is not the case in disc brakes. Disc brakes come with a brake booster, thus reducing the force needed to be applied by the driver on the pedal.
What are the different types of brake pads?
A good variety of brake pads is available depending upon the vehicle, the intended use, ranging from soft ones to more durable, harder ones (such as is used in race cars). In case you’re wondering what kind of brake pads should be used in your car, you might want to check what your vehicle manufacturers suggest. This is because each vehicle manufacturer suggests a particular set of brake pads for their car.
You must always ensure that the brake pads you’re purchasing are non-standard ones. This is necessary because the operating temperature for each brake pad varies. For instance, performance pads (hard, durable) will not provide effective braking unless used under high-temperature conditions. Similarly, standard pads (soft) will fade when used under hard driving conditions.
Pro tip: If you’ve noticed that your car shows excessive brake fade, then you may resolve the issue with the installation of better quality, harder and durable brake pads.
Different types of materials used in the making of brake pads
Here are a few things to keep in mind about the material of brake pads while purchasing one:
- The material’s ability to resist or overcome brake fade. Irrespective of where you drive your vehicle, you will come across situations where you will have to engage in constant brake application. The material of the brake pads should be such that under high temperature, it should resist brake fade.
- Even though brake pads are located towards the inside of your vehicle, they often get exposed to moisture (either through rainwater or during car wash). Therefore, the material of the brake pads should be such that it withstands a temporary exposure to water.
- Your brake pads, as mentioned above, are bound to be exposed to moisture as well as heat up quite often. The material of the brake pads should not only recover from temporary exposure to water and from overheating but at the same time, it should be able to generate the same amount of friction needed to stop the car irrespective of whether it is drying or cooling.
- The material of brake pads should provide a friction coefficient typically between 0.3 and 0.5. This means that the friction coefficient should be low enough to prevent the wheels from locking but at the same time, it should be high enough to provide a smooth braking experience.
- Quite obviously, the material of the brake pads will wear down in the long run due to the friction which is generated by them. However, having said that, the material of the brake pads should resist wear and tear to a certain degree. The degree of resistance can be calculated by keeping the following the mind: the rotor should not wear off before the brake pads do.
- The material of brake pads should be such that it provides a smooth contact with the rotor or the drum (whichever be the case). The material shouldn’t degenerate or cause dents and pits to the surface that it is in contact with.
- Quietly and smoothly functioning brakes is what your vehicle’s brake pads should provide. Therefore, the material shouldn’t create a lot of noise without compromising on the braking force.
When should brake pads be replaced?
As far as the issue of when you should replace your vehicle’s brake pads is concerned, you must remember that there are various factors that you need to take into consideration. For instance, the vehicle’s average mileage, how often you drive your vehicle, how you drive your vehicle, where do you usually drive your vehicle, how long has it been since the last time your vehicle’s brake pads were replaced and of course, the most important aspect, are you facing any problem with your car’s braking system.
It is usually advised by car manufacturers that brake pads be checked for wear and tear after 5,000 miles of driving. Although each vehicle uses a unique set of brake pads, therefore, they will wear accordingly, it is however advised that brake pads be replaced every 50,000 miles.
Now, there are a lot of issues related to the vehicle’s braking system which can be attributed to the brake pads. Given below is a list of all the issues and how they can be related to brake pads. Though, you must also remember that in case you are experiencing any of the following issues, it is also possible that apart from the brake pads, there may be another component of the braking system that could be causing the issue.
Symptoms that your brake pads need replacing
Not all of the following symptoms/issues can be threatening. However, in case you are experiencing any of them, it is always a good idea to get your vehicle checked.
- The first issue is when braking your car requires that you place an abnormally huge amount of force on the brake pedals. The possible cause of this issue could be that your brake pads have worn out. However, it is also possible that the car’s brake fluid is contaminated, that the master cylinder of the vehicle is faulty, or that there is a loss of vacuum.
- The second issue is when your vehicle drifts to a particular side while braking. This issue is solely caused by brake pads and you should immediately get them checked. This could be caused either because the lining of the brake pads is contaminated with oil/ brake fluid; the last time the brake pads were replaced, they weren’t replaced in pairs or because the brake pads are not placed correctly.
- The third symptom is when your vehicle shows extremely poor braking performance. This could be caused by using worn brake pads. In case the brake pads are in good shape, then they may be soaked in water or oil or be overheated to create such an issue. It is cases like the above that the material used in the making of brake pads become important.
- Another symptom of faulty brake pads is sensitive braking. This symptom can be attributed to brake pad linings. Either the brake pad linings are greasy or they are incorrectly placed.
- The fifth issue is noisy braking whereby you may hear a loud screeching or grinding noise, every time you press the pedal. This issue can be resolved by either replacing the vehicle’s brake pads (as they may be extremely worn out) or in case they are in good shape, to fit them correctly.
- The last symptom is when your vehicle’s brake pedal feels soft or spongy. It is very important that your brake pedals feel solid under your foot. In case they do feel soft/spongy, it is extremely likely that the vehicle’s brake fluid is contaminated. It is usually advised that a vehicle’s brake fluid be changed every two years or so because they can damage other parts of the braking system.
Average brake replacement cost
Just like there are many factors that determine whether the brake pads need replacement or not, similarly, there are many factors that could affect the cost of brake replacement. A list of the numerous factors can be found below. If you’re looking for the average cost of replacing specific components of the braking system, here’s a list for you that could come in handy:-
- Cost to replace caliper rotors and brake pads
The cost to replace brake pads and caliper rotors can range anywhere between USD 120 and USD 500 depending on the extent of damage and the model selected. To be quite honest, brake pads, on their own, can be bought at a cheap rate. It is, however, the installation that can get pricey if you’re getting it done by a professional mechanic.
Now, although it may seem as though you can do the installation on your own (to avoid paying extra bucks), you must keep in mind that if brake pads are not installed properly, it can prove to be dangerous (as mentioned above). On the other hand, it is the rotor that takes up a lot of time and energy during caliper and brake pads replacement. This is what adds a few hundred dollars to the bill.
- Cost to replace brake master cylinder
The brake master cylinder rarely needs replacement, but when it does, it can take up a lot of time and money. The average cost to replace the master cylinder starts from USD 350 and can go up to about a few thousand dollars depending on the damage as well as the vehicle. Now, you may breathe easy because chances are that your car’s brake master cylinder replacement isn’t happening anytime soon.
If you keep the calipers and brake pads of your vehicle in good shape and condition, the master cylinder will work just fine. All the more reason to replace faulty brake pads and calipers, eh?
- Cost to replace brake fluid
You will need to replace the brake fluid usually along with the caliper or master cylinder replacement. It is definitely important to constantly replace the brake fluid because it can get easily contaminated. And when it does, as mentioned above, it can cause a lot of damage to the other components of the braking system. It doesn’t cost a lot to replace the brake fluid. Therefore, your mechanic will mostly just charge you for the labor. The cost of replacement can range between USD 60 and USD 120.
Now, a quick disclaimer, all the prices mentioned above are average estimates. It is definitely possible that a mechanic can charge you less or more depending on the damage they find in your car’s braking system. However, having the above information in hand, you can always strike a knowledge bargain. And at the same time, you will also know what you’re paying for.
Factors that affect the cost
Multiple factors can affect the cost of brake pads replacement. Here’s a list of a few factors for you to keep in mind:
- Mechanic/ garage used
It definitely goes without saying that different mechanics/ garages will charge you differently for the same work. One thing you must always remember is that for a particular model of brake pads (or any other component, for that matter), every mechanic has to charge you the same. It is only the cost of labor that fluctuates.
Having said that, it is also possible that bigger garages place their orders in bulk and therefore, you may find the same model for a cheaper price there. It is always better if you ask around a bit before handing over the work to the first garage you see. While most garages won’t be able to tell you the exact figure without knowing the extent of work needed to be done, they can always come up with a ballpark figure.
- Quality of parts
Although it may seem cheaper for you to simply purchase the parts and get the job done yourself, we do not recommend doing this. For one, you may not be able to fit the part exactly where it needs to go and this can prove to be dangerous. Secondly, garages usually have contacts through which they can purchase certain parts at a cheaper rate.
Obviously, the amount goes up with the quality of parts. It is, however, advised that you purchase good quality parts as that will only be a one-time investment. On the other hand, if you buy low-quality parts, chances are that your car will break down more often than usual causing a long term loss.
- The type of brakes you have
As mentioned above, there are two types of brakes: drum brakes and disc brakes. Certain vehicles have only disc brakes, whereas, some vehicles have drum brakes in the rear end and disc brakes in the front end. Drum brakes happen to be cheaper than disc brakes. However, the quality of disc brakes is far superior to drum brakes. Therefore, in the long run, disc brakes prove to be advantageous as they don’t require frequent replacements as drum brakes do.
- Make and model of your car
Of course, it isn’t possible to determine how frequently the brakes would need replacement or how much they would cost simply by knowing the model of the car. However, if the model of your car is newer, then it is possible that any replacement would cost less in comparison to older models.
- Front of rear- where the brakes that need replacing are based
Instead of both your front and rear brake pads wearing down together, it is rather more likely that one end of your vehicle will take more damage than the other. This is so because when you press the brakes, the front end of your vehicle usually uses more force to halt the vehicle in comparison to the rear end. Therefore, you will notice that the brakes on the front end wear down much faster.
Also, in order to counter this imbalance, the brakes on the front of the vehicle are usually thicker and harder and the brakes on the rear of the vehicle are thinner. Hence, there is a considerable price difference between the front and rear brakes replacement.
- The age of your car
It goes without saying that the age of the car will have an effect on the bill you pay for any replacement. This is because as the vehicle ages, the model of the vehicle becomes old. Not only is it difficult to find parts of older models; but when you do find them, they are priced very high. Classic cars, at times, are not repaired by the usual mechanics/ garages. Oftentimes, one has to approach a specialist who knows the best place to buy the parts from as well as has the experience to work with classic cars.
- Added extras
Usually, when you take your vehicle to the garage for brake pads replacement, you will notice that the mechanic not only replaces it but also suggests some other replacements or fixations (which he deems ‘necessary’). Now, we’re not saying that they’re always trying to make a profit out of you. On the contrary, we advise you to take them up on the extras because they do have more experience and in the long run, the replacement will seem worthwhile.
Always remember that irrespective of all the factors discussed above, you are at liberty to discuss the bill with the mechanic in detail. He will clear all your doubts and you can rest assured that you are not paying for something your vehicle doesn’t need.