One question that gets asked a lot around the automotive industry is:
Well, we would love to be able to give you an exact answer. Unfortunately, we cannot. You see, the lifespan of a brake pad depends on any number of variables ranging from general physics to your individual driving style. If we were actually to try to assign a number to it, we would refer to a combination of manufacturing specs and auto mechanics. That would leave us anywhere from 30,000 miles all the way up to 70,000 miles. We’ve seen stories of brake pads lasting the entire life of the vehicle, and we’ve seen stories where they’ve lasted less than 100 miles.
Diving a bit deeper into the topic question, there are other factors that we need to look at when determining how long brake pads last. Some of the elements include, the type of brake (is it a drum brake or caliper brake?), are the brake pads composed of ceramic or metal? And external elements such as the weather where the vehicles being driven. One important thing to remember about brake pads, and brakes in general, is that they are always being stressed out by pressure and friction. Finally, add into the mix the extreme temperatures your brakes can reach during even a casual Sunday drive, and you can see the answer to that question is very tricky.
So if we were trying to answer the question, one place to start is with the brake composition. Most motorists are unaware of the different types of frictional material that make up the brake pad. There are four main categories, each with unique characteristics. These four categories are synthetic, metallic, semi-metallic, and organic.
Synthetic: To the everyday motorist, this is what we would call a ceramic pad. The composition is usually fiberglass and fibers, or nonmetallic and non-organic materials. These brake pads are unique in that they are lighter and they tend to last significantly longer than the other three main types of brake pads. As you would expect with anything lighter, stronger, and better, the price is nearly double that of the different types.
Metallic: Metallic brake pads are few and far between. This is just because of the advancement in technology in the brake pad world. One of the only places that metallic brake pads were seen was in the racing world.
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Semimetallic: Semimetallic brake pads are comprised of metal and other organic materials. The metal can be anything from copper and iron or just plain old steel.
Organic: Organic brake pads are incredibly involved in their making. Typically, material that has fibers get combined with the slew of other materials that are designed to modify friction such as powdered metals or graphite. Finally, they are treated to help with noise reduction and the transfer of heat.
Now that we know a little bit about the brake pads compositions, we can start to theory craft. When looking at how your car reacts when you press the brake, you may get an indication of what type of material your brake pads are made out of. This will also help determine approximately how long they may last. Brake pads that provide a weaker stopping power like ceramic pads typically last longer than those that provide the most stopping power like organic. The extra stopping power that the organic brake pads offer means that they are going to wear out a lot quicker.
The final piece of the mechanical puzzle relates to the device that the brake pads press against. They don’t just push against the wheel or the tire, brake pads actually pressed up against the rotor. This device is engineered sort of like a heatsink. One of its purposes is to dissipate the heat that is generated when you apply the brake. The rotor is also designed to provide the car with enough stopping power while helping to extend the life of the brake pad. The rotor works in conjunction with the calipers and the brake pad when stopping the vehicle.
Some factors can be seen with the naked eye and other factors that no one may know about. For example, if the rotor is warped or the calipers are malfunctioning the brake pad may continuously rub against the rotor reducing the lifespan of the pad. One unknown factor could be the individual that’s driving the car. Are you the type of driver who rides the brakes unknowingly? Or perhaps you are the type of driver who doesn’t let the engine help slow the car down but instead slams on the brakes at the last minute?
No matter what your brake pads are made out of or your personal driving style you should always watch, and listen, for signs that your brakes may need to be replaced. Common indicators include your car pulling to one side or the other when applying the brakes, your brakes seeming to lose power especially after braking for long periods of time, or a high pitch squeal that sounds like metal on metal contact. This last point is essential because brake pad manufacturers often include a spring clip that rubs against the rotor when the pad gets low enough.
Once again, as we would love to give you a definitive answer to the question of how long do brake pads last, there are just way too many factors involved. If you have serious concerns, take your car to a trusted mechanic and have them take a look for you.
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