Brake pads: Everything you need to know

13 December


Brakes are a fundamental component of any car, tasked with allowing the driver to decelerate and, if necessary, bring the vehicle to a complete still

Because of this, the importance of keeping your braking system in excellent condition at all times is paramount.

All drivers and fleet operators have a duty to ensure vehicles are kept in optimal condition and pass all maintenance checks, making them roadworthy. Brakes are a crucial part of any vehicle and failure to keep them maintained can result in loss of control or a delay in response, resulting in collisions and potential fatalities.

According to Statista, vehicle defects contributed to 1,750 crashes in 2016, with 30 deaths among them. Of these crashes, 646 were because of faulty brakes, making them the vehicle defect that caused the most accidents. Ensuring your car is ready for the winter is essential as the colder months draw in as the season puts extra strain on vehicle mechanisms, including engines, tyres and brakes.

Not only are other drivers and civilians at risk, but poor brake maintenance can also affect fuel economy, add to pollution, and lead to expensive repair work. This is why checking your brakes is an essential part of any vehicle maintenance plan. Regular checks can help identify a problem before it becomes detrimental to braking efficiency and a possible hazard on the road. If you’re concerned about the health of your brakes, our ServicePoint engineers can complete a full maintenance check, including the braking systems of one, or many vehicles, at a garage convenient to you.

Still unsure about when to get your brakes checked? Our guide below will provide you with all necessary information to understand the condition of your car’s brakes, how they can be kept in premium condition and help keep yourself and all other road users safe.

What are brake pads and what do they do?

The braking system of a vehicle is made up of several major components: the master cylinder, brake calliper, brake disc, brake fluid, and brake pads. These features operate together via a hydraulic system linked by brake pipes. Once the brake is depressed, hydraulic pressure builds in the master cylinder, pumping brake fluid along the pipes and activating the pistons. This creates friction between the brake pads and brings the rotating brake disc to a halt, successfully stopping the vehicle.

Without functioning brake pads, other vital components of your car can begin to wear away and will end up becoming hazardous on the road, as well as being a costly repair. As brake pads are activated every time the brake is used, they can be susceptible to wear and tear, depending on driving habits and vehicle type. This is why it is vital you can identify when to replace brake pads.

How long do brake pads last?

Every time the brake is used, the pads are worn down, which can be an issue if the vehicle is often driven in heavy traffic or congested areas. The size and weight of your vehicle will also play a significant role in the speed in which your brakes wear down.

All of the above impacts when exactly your car brake pads need to be replaced, and there is no set limit on the lifespan of your brakes. According to the RAC, these pieces of kit can continue to perform within a range of 25,000 to 60,000 miles, but this will vary considerably based on driving habits and vehicle performance. 

Like any part of a car, there are different types of brake pads available and some will be longer lasting than others. Organic versions, which consist of high-temperature resin and natural fibres, remain the cheapest option, but invariably do not last as long. Other options are low-metallic and semi-metallic, which provide more durable wear and tear, but will be noisier than their organic counterparts. On the other end of the spectrum, ceramic brake pads are most resistant to deterioration, but are the most expensive to purchase.

How much does a brake pad replacement cost?

Replacement of brake pads can vary depending on number of factors, such as the vehicle’s weight and what your driving style is like. A study from My Car Needs A showed that average prices varied by manufacturer, fluctuating from £100 for a Ford Fiesta to £325 for a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. To help ensure your brake pads aren’t being overused, you should look to get a replacement on average every 2-3 years.

When should I replace my brake pads?

With no set rules in terms of the mileage needed for replacement brake pads, it’s fundamental to spot the warning signs for when it’s time to invest in new ones.

Most modern cars will be fitted with sensors that alert the motorist if the front or rear sets are becoming worn below a safe level. If your vehicle includes this feature, keep a close eye on the dashboard for the relevant warning light on all journeys. If you have a vehicle without sensors, you’ll need to get your brakes checked on a regular basis. Remember, you can go through Allstar’s ServicePoint resource and use your Allstar fuel card to pay for a check at one of our service, maintenance and repair centres, located nationwide.

There are several key signs to be aware of when driving to understand whether there is a need for a brake check. These include:

  • Grinding – Once the material on brake pads becomes dangerously worn a grinding sound can be heard on depression of the brake. The legal limit for brake pads is approximately three millimetres. Anything less than this will expose the metal sensor making contact with the brake disc
  • Sponginess – If your brakes feel cushioned and unresponsive, this can denote a fault with whether the brake fluid is reaching the brake pads effectively and requires attention
  • Pulling – When your vehicle pulls in one direction when you depress the brake, this is a strong indication that a brake fault exists. This can be for a number of reasons, from uneven brake pads to issues with the hydraulic system. A full inspection will determine the precise issue
  • Odd vibrations– If the brake pedal pulsates on applying the brakes, this could be due to warped brake pads or damage to the brake discs from excessive heat. This could mean the brake pads and discs no longer align on contact and need to be checked out, especially if it occurs regularly

If you’re experiencing any of the things above, your vehicle could have serious braking system issues and it is important to have these seen to as quickly as possible.

How to make brake pads last longer

To improve the longevity of your brakes, there are measures that you can put in place to get the most from your vehicle. If you’re a fleet operator, we recommend following the below advice for all company vehicles:

  • Traffic – Check your route before you start heading out. Being aware of congestion or heavy traffic allows you to avoid situations where you would be using your brakes heavily
  • Speed – Avoid driving at high speeds on unfamiliar roads or country lanes that may require heavy braking. This can cause additional strain on brake pads and cause them to wear much sooner
  • Acceleration – Being heavy on the accelerator only adds to the need for abrupt braking, which will have a negative effect on brake pads and significantly increase any wear and tear. Driving responsibly at sensible speeds will alleviate this issue
  • Weight – It’s not always easy to drive light, particularly if you have passengers or deal with heavy goods. However, the lighter the vehicle the less strain on brake pads when coming to a stop. It is recommended to unload anything unnecessary. This also helps with fuel economy

Can I replace my own brakes?

Replacing your break pads requires a certain degree of mechanical knowledge and is more complicated than other vehicle checks, such as topping up oil levels or checking tread depth. If you spot any warning signs, and feel you require a brake pad replacement, it’s probably easier to take your vehicle to a trained technician.

It is a legal obligation for any driver or fleet operator to keep their vehicle(s) in a roadworthy condition. If you want to find out more about keeping company vehicles in top condition, you can find all the information you need in our Vehicle, Maintenance & Repair Guide.

Another factor to consider once you have new brake pads fitted is the aftercare. Bedding new brake pads in is essential for the braking system to work at optimal standards. Your technician should provide advice based on your driving habits and vehicle on the care and attention needed in your first few hundred miles.

With Allstar fuel cards, drivers have access to thousands of sites nationwide, and are able to easily manage admin through our ServicePoint portal, putting the power in your hands. Our range of products will reduce your time wasted on admin tasks and allow you to focus on your drivers and the journey ahead. You can also take advantage of a range of our additional services that work in harmony in one overall package.

For more information about how Allstar fuel cards could benefit you, get in touch with our team today on 0345 266 5101.

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