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How long should brake pads last?

How long should brake pads last versus how long DO brake pads last

If you’re searching for the answer to how long do brakes pads last, chances are your brakes are wearing out too fast. There are several factors affecting how long brake pads last versus how long brake pads should last. So let’s examine some of those factors.

What type of brake pads are you using and what’s the quality level?

Brake pads come in several types: organic, non-asbestos organic (NAO), semi-metallic and ceramic. Organic brake pads often contain a small amount of asbestos, are generally very quiet in operation and perform best at low temperatures. But they tend to fade at higher temperatures.

When EPA regulations came into effect regarding asbestos content, carmakers switched NAO brake pads. NAO pads don’t contain asbestos, but instead use organic materials like fiberglass, Kevlar and low levels of copper and steel to help transfer heat to the brake pad backing plate. NAO pads are soft and quiet like organic pads, but they have a shorter life and create lots of brake dust.

Semi-metallic brake pads contain 30% to 65% metal content so they last the longest of all four types and they perform best at high temperatures. They’re the most aggressive of all four types, but because of their aggressiveness and high metallic content, they wear out rotors faster, create more noise and vibration and brake dust.

Ceramic brake pads are made with ceramic fibers and powders and

Wagner ThermoQuiet ceramic brake pads

a binding agent. Depending on the manufacturer and quality grade, ceramic brake pads can handle high temperatures with less brake fade and faster recovery time. They also provide less brake noise and vibration and less brake dust. However, there are no industry standards as to what exactly qualifies a brake pad to be labeled as ceramic. If you’re buying ceramic brake pads, make sure you’re getting brake pads made by a name brand manufacturer. Carmakers have switched to ceramic style brake pads on almost 60% of all new passenger cars because they provide slightly better braking than NAO, but with less noise and brake dust.

Trucks and large SUVs, on the other hand may be equipped with semi-metallic brake pads. Semi-metallic brake pads provide the best braking of all three types because the metallic content draws heat away from the pad to rotor surface, allowing the pad to create and disburse heat better. But semi-metallic pads have some serious drawbacks like rapid rotor wear, noise and vibration and lots of ugly brake dust. So many truck owners switch to a ceramic style pad and that change alone can result in shorter brake pad life.

The lesson here is that, for maximum brake pad life, you should stick with the same type of brake pad that was installed at the factory.

Then there’s brake pad quality that affects how long should brake pads last

Most aftermarket brake parts manufacturers offer three brake pad quality levels; economy for the budget conscious consumer, OEM quality to match what the manufacturer installed and premium quality for extended life and less noise and vibration.

Economy brake pads are made with low quality raw materials

If you had your brakes installed by a chain operated repair shop, chances are you’ve got economy brake pads. Many chain operated shops buy their brake pads in huge lots from offshore non-name-brand manufacturers. They’re often made with cheap raw materials and obsolete brake pad formulas to keep the price low.

Economy brake pads lack noise reduction features and backing plate stiffness

In addition to using low quality raw

brake pad chamfer and center slot

Brake pad chamfer and center slot

materials, they often lack key noise reduction features like chamfered lead in edges, center slots and grooves and high quality bend-resistant backing plates. A chamfered lead in edge reduces noise as the brake pad touches the rotor. The center slot decrease the likelihood of cracking due to brake pad backing plate deflection (bending). Low quality steel backing plates allow flex at the outer edges of the brake pad, and that flex can cause the brake pad material to crack and fall off, dramatically decreasing brake pad life.

Chain operated repair shops usually provide a lifetime warranty on their economy pads to lure you into thinking you’re getting a premium product. The packaging may even list the brake pads as Premium quality. If you get suckered into that trap and your brake pads wear out quickly, the shop will assure you the pads will be replaced at no charge due to their lifetime warranty. However, you’ll have to pay for the labor, and in many cases the shop will recommend new rotors, which you’ll also have to pay for.

Some independent repair shops use economy brake pads and rotors to compete with the chain operated shops, but most independent shops use OEM or premium brake parts because they care about their reputation.

In summary: In you install the same type of brake parts used by the carmaker and choose an OEM or premium brake pad and rotor, you can expect maximum life out of those components.

What else affects how long brake pads should last?

These factors also affect how long brake pads last:

Condition of shocks and struts

Condition of the metering and adjustable proportioning valves

How much cargo you carry

Whether you drive in stop and go traffic versus highway commuting

How you brake

How do shocks and struts affect brake pad life?

As you brake, vehicle weight shifts forward, causing the nose to dive. Front struts/shock and springs offer resistance to the dive movement. Struts have a useful life of 50,000 to 100,000 miles depending on the terrain you normally drive upon. Worn struts and shocks result in more front end dive and weight transfer and put more stress on front brakes, causing them to wear out faster. If you don’t replace your worn struts/shocks, you’ll increase your stopping distance and wear out your front brakes faster.

How do metering valve and adjustable proportioning valves affect brake pad life?

Metering valves are used in cars and trucks with front disc brakes and rear drum brakes. They direct more fluid to the drum brakes at first application because brake shoes must move farther than caliper pistons. However, once the rear brake shoes contact the drum, the metering valve’s job is done. If the metering valve fails, it can cause more fluid to flow to the front brakes, causing them to wear faster.

The proportioning valve also regulates pressure to the front and rear brakes. Disc brakes require more pressure than drum brakes to achieve the same amount of stopping power. However, if the front disc brakes apply too much braking force, the rear of the vehicle will lift and decrease vehicle stability (think of what would happen if you applied just the front brakes on a bicycle). So an adjustable proportioning valve detects rear lift and temporarily increases brake fluid pressure to the rear wheels to counteract the lift and restore even braking pressure. If the proportioning valve fails, the front brakes will wear faster due to rear end lift and excessive weight transfer to the front wheels.

Cargo weight

The amount of heavy cargo you carry affects brake pad life. If you carry a full load of passengers or materials, you can expect shorter brake pad life.

Stop and go, mountainous and highway driving

Stop and go and mountainous driving is extremely hard on brake pads because they don’t get a chance to cool properly. In fact, overheating brake pads from riding the brakes or steep mountain driving can cause the brake pad material to glaze and crack.

How you brake affects brake pad life

This one is pretty simple: if you wait until the last minute to brake, you’ll wear out your brake pads faster.

How long should brake pads last?

When you consider all the above factors, front brake pads typically last between 40,000 miles for stop and go city driving and approximately 60,000 miles for highway commuting driving. Rear brake components typically last around 80,000 miles for all conditions.

What to do if your brakes wear out too quickly?

First, make sure you’re using the right type and quality brake pad and rotor for your vehicle.

Next, check the condition of the worn out brake pads. Are they evenly worn between the inner and outer pad? If not, check brake caliper slide operation and also check for rust formation on the brake caliper bracket/abutment and rust on the brake pad clips.

Then check for brake pad taper. That’s an indication of uneven brake application due to brake pad binding or improper caliper movement.

Next, check for brake pad friction material delamination or cracking. If the brake pad friction material has separated from the backing plate, that can be caused by backing plate flex or poor fiction material bonding. Cracked friction material can be caused by overheating or low quality brake pad material.

If the pads are wearing evenly and show no signs of taper, check the operation of the metering and proportioning valves.

©, 2017 Rick Muscoplat

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