Brake maintenance might not be the most interesting part of owning a car but it’s easily one of the most important. When it’s time to replace your brake pads, doing it sooner rather than later can save you more than just money, it can save your life.

What do brake pads do? Brake pads are a part of disc brakes and their job is to create friction and push against the rotor, allowing the car to slow down.

They feature two sides, a backing plate and a friction one, and after some time, the friction material will wear down and the entire pad will need to be replaced.

Replacing a worn or faulty brake pad is a priority and it’s a job that you want to tend to as quickly as possible, but there’s a lot to learn about them.

If you’ve been wondering ‘what brake pads do I need for my car’, we’re here to answer that, with our guide to everything related to this crucial vehicle part.

What Is a Brake Pad?

What Is a Brake Pad?

A brake pad is an essential part of your car and it’s found within the disc brake system.

This system features a number of components that work together to bring your car to a halt, and if the pads are faulty or worn down, none of the other parts will work effectively, leaving you driving an unsafe vehicle.

When you push down on the brake pedal, the system uses this hydraulic pressure to push the friction side of the brake pad against the rotor.

While pressed down, it forces the rotor to slow down and the car to stop. The overall size of a brake pad is around an adult palm’s size but they are essential for driving any type of vehicle and need to be kept in good condition.

As you drive and regularly use the brakes, the heat, and friction that’s created when the pad pushes against the rotor eventually wear it down.

Eventually, there’ll be nothing left of the pad and it won’t be as effective at slowing down the rotor, so being aware of your brake pads and knowing when to change them and what type you need is essential for safe driving.

The History of Brake Pads

The History of Brake Pads

Although it’s hard to imagine a car existing these days without brake pads, there was a time when they weren’t standard in vehicles.

The first type of brakes found in cars were drum brakes, which featured a set of shoes or pads that pressed down against a rotating brake drum, but after these were found to be ineffective and unsafe, the brake pad was eventually invented.

When disc brake technology was introduced to the world of vehicles, brake pads came as well.

The first mention of these brakes was found in a patent in 1902, but it wasn’t until years later that they would be commonplace.

During the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans race, it was a Jaguar fitted with disc brakes that would win the title, and they soon become a staple in many modern cars.

By 1963, most mainstream vehicles made in Europe used disc brakes, and by the late 60s, America had caught on as well.

Their adaptation of the disc brake system used fixed calipers which meant it was cheaper to install, and also more compact.

Today, almost every modern car uses the disc brake system and the brake pads that go with them.

The Importance of A Chamfer

The Importance of A Chamfer

A common feature on directional brake pads is the chamfer, and this is a small angled cut on the edges of the friction side of the pad that offers a lot of advantages in the right setting.

Not every type of brake pad uses them and some types of friction material won’t benefit from a chamfer but if yours does, they can be hugely beneficial.

The purpose of a chamfer is to control how the edge of the pad makes contact with the rotor and the location that it does it so that the larger edge is the one doing the work.

Chamfers are also helpful in reducing the noise that the brake system makes, so the driving experience is more comfortable.

Types of Brake Pads to Consider

Types of Brake Pads to Consider

To determine the right brake pads for your car, it’s best to first consult the owner’s manual. You’ll be able to find information about the specific brake system used in your car and see what’s recommended for replacements.

Usually, there will be one of these three types of brake pads suggested:

Ceramic

A ceramic brake pad is a durable option crafted with ceramic and usually includes copper fibres as well.

These are the most expensive brake pad type but considered superior because of their performance-enhancing qualities, quietness, and longevity, so if you can afford the initial outlay to purchase them, they’ll pay off.

Organic

These brake pads are made with a combination of materials like rubber, fiberglass, and carbon, and are the most common type used in cars today.

The materials are held together with resin and are considered less abrasive on the rotor while still being effective, as well as mid-range in terms of price.

Semi-Metallic

Semi-metallic brake pads are slightly more expensive than organic ones but they have the benefit of reduced temperatures which can help them last longer and prevent overheating.

The friction side of these is made with a range of metal fibres, fillers, and resins, and the composition varies depending on the type of vehicle using them, but they can be noisy and abrasive.

Choosing the Right Brake Pads

Choosing the Right Brake Pads

Selecting a brake pad can be a daunting task thanks to the multitude of options and specs you have to choose from.

If you’re in the market for a new set of brake pads, the best route is to replace the ones you have, otherwise, these features should be considered to point you in the right direction:

  • Driving environment: Think about the types of roads and environments that you travel on and this can lead you to choose the right brake pads. Are there lots of inclines and declines, is it hot or cold on the road, what is the traffic like, and what is the weight of your vehicle? All of these should be considered when choosing a brake system and pads.
  • Driving style: Not everyone drives as carefully as others, and if you’re someone who drives in areas where a lot of stopping and starting is required, or even somewhere that brakes are minimally used, you’ll want to consider this when replacing your car’s brake pads.
  • Friction material: The friction material of a brake pad will be either soft or hard depending on how it was attached to the backing plate. A brake manufacturer will use either option so it depends if you’d rather have an adhesive or rivets keeping yours in place.
  • Type of brake pad: As discussed earlier, the three main types are semi-metallic, ceramic, and organic. Semi-metallic is the most popular choice for regular driving, so unless you have special needs for your vehicle, this is the safest and most affordable option.
  • Price: How much you want to spend will also dictate your final purchase but it’s not a car part that should be bought cheap. The best option is to choose something mid-range from a reputable brand so you can feel safe that they’re doing their job, with semi metallics falling into this category.

How to Know When to Replace Them

How to Know When to Replace Them

One of the best skills a car owner can have is knowing common signs of trouble and when to act.

When it comes to your car’s brakes, there are a few symptoms you can look for that indicates the brake pads need to be replaced, so keep this in mind and stay aware.

  • A quick inspection of the brake system can show you whether the brake pads are worn down. You’ll want to look at the friction side of the brake pad and judge from here, as this is the part that pushes onto the rotor.
  • When you push the brake pedal while driving and hear a screeching or squealing sound, it’s likely the brake pads. When these pads are built, manufacturers put a special metal wear indicator on them which squeals when it makes contact with the rotor and signifies to the driver that they need to be replaced.
  • A brake pedal that vibrates could be due to worn-down brake pads, and it deserves an inspection. Sometimes, the vibrating brake pedal is due to a worn brake rotor also, which should also be replaced immediately, so it should never be ignored.
  • If you feel the car is starting to pull to one side when driving, this could be because the brake pads have worn down unevenly. Otherwise, it indicates an issue with the suspension alignment, both of which need to be tended to.
  • The standard rule is that brake pads should be replaced every 60,000kms or so, but this can vary. If you drive frequently or in rough conditions, it will be sooner. For those who rarely use their car or don’t travel far, you may still want to get them checked after a few years of use to make sure they’re in good shape.

The Dangers of Not Replacing Brake Pads

The Dangers of Not Replacing Brake Pads

Nobody wants to take the risk of driving a car without brakes, and that’s exactly what you’re doing by not replacing worn brake pads.

When assessing accidents, worn brakes are a common factor that comes up as the cause, and it’s not a risk you want to take with your life or anyone else’s.

In addition to being unsafe, there is also the monetary consequence of ignoring this problem. When you don’t do something as simple as having the brake pads replaced, you’re opening yourself up to a range of other car issues.

What would have been a simple job now becomes expensive, and you could be fixing the brake rotor as well, or having to repair the entire brake system.

Efficient Braking As You Need It

Brakes are the last thing you want to fail when you’re driving your car, and keeping on top of brake maintenance by replacing the pads is the best way to avoid it.

With some knowledge of the best brake pads that your car needs and the signs that indicate it’s time to replace them, you’ll guarantee this failure never happens to you.

Related Questions

Regular brake maintenance is an important part of car ownership, and whether you want to handle it yourself or leave it to professionals, it can’t be ignored.

If you’re interested in learning more about the role of brakes in the car and how to stay on top of their maintenance, read on to see our answers to a few FAQs.

Can Brakes Suddenly Fail?

Can Brakes Suddenly Fail?

While it is possible for a vehicle’s brakes to suddenly fail, it’s unlikely, as car manufacturers have implemented several precautionary features to prevent it.

However, it’s also up to the car owner to stay on top of maintenance including repairs, inspections, and services to ensure the brake system is in good working order.

Why Do Brakes Stop Working?

A brake can stop working from general wear and use, or due to frequent and sudden stopping while driving or issues like brake fade.

Sooner or later, all brake pads will need to be replaced and sometimes other parts of the brake system too, so make sure to have them inspected as part of your car’s regular service.

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