Do I Need New Brake Pads?

It is the speed of a car that gets all the attention. How quickly can it go from zero to 60 miles per hour? However, at some point the car must stop, which means its brakes must be functioning in top condition.

Despite the importance of brakes to immediate driver safety and the long-term drive-ability of vehicles, they often can be ignored by car owners in favor of the more flashy parts. This tendency to overlook the brakes can lead to more costly repairs down the line, if not some outright vehicle accidents.

The first line of defense is the brake pads, which are arguably the most important element of brakes because they are the component that makes actual, physical contact with the brake rotors to slow and stop the vehicle's momentum. As a result, brake pads can wear out rapidly. So experts recommend that they be replaced by the end of their warranty life.

Still, in much the same way gas mileage will vary depending on the driver's habits, so the useful life of brake pads will be affected by how much the car is driven, whether the driver tends to "ride" the brakes, and other factors. Thankfully, there are a number of signs that vehicle owners can look for to determine if their brake pads need to be replaced.

Checking for wear on the brake pads involves listening and looking. When looking at the brakes through the wheel spokes, there should be a quarter of an inch of the outside pad visible as it rests against the metal rotor. Anything less is an indication the pads should be inspected. Also, worn brake pads can leave deep grooves or scores in the rotor, which are sure signs the pads are past their prime.

Cars will have audible indicators, as well. Most new vehicles are equipped with wear indicators. These are metal shims that will emit a high-pitched squeal when the pads need to be replaced. 

There are other sounds to listen for that can be signs of faulty or worn pads. For example, the brakes may make a clicking sound when the pedal is depressed. This means there is a problem with the devise that manufacturers install to prevent a rattling of the pads when the brakes are applied.

If the brakes make a grinding sound when applied, it could be past the time when the pads need replacement. The sound typically is made when the metal brake rotor and the caliper are rubbing together because the pad between them has worn away. This can mean that, in addition to new pads, the vehicle owner also likely will need to invest in new rotors ¬-- a more costly repair.

Drivers also can tell the condition of their brake pads through the feel of the car when the brakes are applied. There may be a pulsing or grabbing feeling, which indicates worn or warped pads. If the car pulls to the side when braking, this could be a sign of uneven wear on the brake pads.

When it is time to replace the pads, many mechanics will advise purchasing original equipment manufacturer, or OEM, parts. These parts are made by the manufacturer of the original part and are an exact replacement intended for the specific make and model. Owners of a Volkswagen, then, should seek out OEM VW parts.