Six Symptoms of Bad Brake Pads

The six symptoms of bad brake pads will tell you when it's time to get your brake pads replaced. They include the bad brake response, noises, strange feel while braking, swerving, a strange smell, and an indicator light for services needed. Most vehicles need new brake pads between 35,000 and 60,000 miles. This is a wide range, so you should consult your owner's manual or mechanic to know when you might need to replace your brake pads.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Insurance Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years Leslie Kasperowicz

UPDATED: Jan 12, 2022

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What You Should Know

  • Generally speaking, your brake pads will last between 35,000 – 60,000 miles
  • There are two types of brake pads: organic brake pads and ceramic pads
  • Replacing brake pads on all four wheels usually costs between $230 and $540

No matter how clean your driving record is, you never know what to expect from other drivers on the road — not to mention the people and animals who occasionally cross it in front of you. And when something suddenly enters your line of sight, it’s important that your brake pedal is responsive and effective.

Maintaining safe brakes means keeping regular tabs on your car’s brake pads. Brake pads are used to generate friction with your tires, slowing them down until your car is at a stop. Over time, the pads wear down. Eventually, they are unable to properly stop your car and require replacement.

How can you tell when you need new brake pads? How often should they be changed? 

In this short guide, we’ll cover six warning signs that indicate a brake problem and that a trip to the mechanic is in order. We’ll also discuss the basics of proper brake maintenance, including frequency, cost, and brake selection.

Remember that in addition to keeping your car in good working order, you should make sure you have the right auto insurance coverage. You can use our free quote comparison tool to find great car insurance rates right now.

#1 — Poor Brake Response

When your car has problems, it will eventually tell you. 

Your goal as a car owner is to address problems before they get serious. After all, the extra second it takes your brakes to stop your vehicle now could lengthen to two seconds at the worst possible time.

Poor brake response is one of the first signs your brake pads may be deteriorating and are in need of brake service. The difference in response will be minor at first but will continue to grow as your brake pads become more worn.

If you feel like it’s taking you longer to brake at stop signs or in traffic, take your car in for maintenance before the problem worsens.

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#2 Noise

Some people balk when their vehicles make the slightest noise — whether it’s extra vibration across an uneven roadway or a suspicious volume when starting up. Others are content to motor along with cars that roar, sputter, and squeak.

Our rule of thumb? If you notice changes in your car’s habitual sounds, pay attention.

  • Scraping or metallic squealing sounds are a clear indicator that something has changed in your brakes.
  • Whether you have worn brake pads or your brake pads are victim to dust, these sounds indicate your car should be taken to a mechanic.

#3 — Feel While Braking

A common sign of brake trouble is abnormal brake response. 

  • Most of us know instinctively that our brakes shouldn’t kick back. Pulsating brakes signal that your brake pads are in need of replacement. 
  • Any vibration while braking may also indicate poor brake pads.
  • A squishy brake feel can also indicate problems according to If it feels like you’re pushing against a spring when you push down on your brake pedal, it may be a sign of worn brake pads, contaminated brake fluid, or air in the brake system.

So, is the problem the brakes or the brake pads? While you can inspect the brake pads yourself (after removing your vehicle’s wheel), we always recommend a mechanic over a YouTube tutorial.

#4 — Swerving and Drifting

It’s always disconcerting if you notice your car is drifting to one side. After all, it’s probably also drifting when you zone out driving.

While swerving to a side is less common than the above-mentioned symptoms of bad brake pads, it definitely indicates an issue — either with your brake pads, your suspension, or another element of your car.

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#5 — Something Smells Off

We’ve all had the moment when we smell something acrid on the highway, only to wonder if it’s us or the semi-trailer truck driving to the right.

If you’ve determined your vehicle is the source of your scent, you have an issue.

Chemical odor while driving may be a sign of a few different problems. While it is certainly worth checking your brake pads, it could also be a sign you’re due for an oil change. For more information on when to get an oil change, contact us today.

#6 — Indicator Lights

Want a sure-fire way to know when you’re due for a brake pad replacement?

Newer cars have an array of indicator lights. In some cases, you may have an indicator light that will tell you that your brake pads need changing.

Don’t ignore that indicator light! Call up your local mechanic pronto.

Rule of Thumb for Brake Pads

Now that you know six of the telltale indicators that you’re in need of a brake repair, you’re probably wondering how you can take care of the issue before it puts you and others at risk.

After all, the braking system of your car is crucial to your safety on the road, and most issues with the braking system should be taken care of with immediacy.

Some drivers determine their maintenance schedule by the recommendation in their driver’s manual. Don’t have yours on hand? Generally speaking, your brake pads will last between 35,000 and 60,000 miles. 

While that is a fairly wide range, where you are within that range is largely determined by the material used in your brake pads.

Next, we’ll cover some of our tips for planning your next brake pad change.

Know Your Brake Pad Type

Whether or not you need to replace your brake pads at a given time can depend on the type of brake pad your car has.

  • Organic brake pads are made of rubber, glass, fiberglass, and a few other ingredients, then bound together with resin. They wear more quickly than ceramic and metallic brake pads and are most effective in areas without extreme heat or extreme cold. Car owners with organic brake pads will likely need replacement around 40,000 miles.
  • A material known largely for its versatility in kitchenware is one of the best for brake pads: ceramic pads. Ceramic brake pads tend to be more expensive than organic brake pads but last longer and are much quieter. Car owners using ceramic brake pads will likely find themselves needing replacement after about 50,000 miles.

If you’re looking to lengthen the time between brake pad replacements, consider going with a ceramic option.

Ask Your Mechanic

Hopefully, you’re already taking your car in for regular oil changes.

Regular maintenance trips are a great opportunity to check in on the overall health of your car. 

Your mechanic should tell you when it is time to replace your brake pads. Along with explaining other questions you may have that include, why does my car AC smell? How often should antifreeze be changed? Or what is the average car air conditioner compressor repair cost? 

Don’t want to overpay? You can always get a second opinion. But in most cases, you should replace your brake pads as soon as possible when there is an issue. Faulty brake pads can be dangerous and can potentially lead to accidents. If you are aware of an issue with your brake pads, be sure to resolve it quickly.

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Planning Your Brake Pad Replacement

Regardless of what car you have, you’ll eventually need brake work. Brake pad replacement is fairly common, meaning most auto shops will be able to service your car.

The cost to replace your brake pads will depend on where you get them replaced, the type of brake pads you choose, and the type of car you own. 

  • When replacing brake pads, you’ll likely be paying somewhere between $115 and $270 per axle.
  • Your front brakes will likely wear much faster than your back brakes. Some of that can be attributed to the physical structure of the car and the placement of the friction required to stop it.
  • Your mechanic will likely ask you if you want to replace the brake pads on all four wheels (two axles). If you are able to replace all four, it is best to do so. One worn brake pad means others will soon follow. Replacing the brake pads on all four wheels usually costs between $230 and $540.

As with most maintenance, a more expensive car means more expensive repairs. You can save by choosing one of the five cheapest cars to repair when you purchase your vehicle.

As long as the shop isn’t too busy, brake pad replacement should last between 15 minutes and an hour. 

Noises After Leaving the Auto Shop

 New brake pads take some time to get settled in your car and can be noisy for the first few days. Sometimes this noise dissipates over time.

Sometimes, it persists. If it does, there may be debris on your brake pads. 

If you are hearing noise from your brakes a week after replacing your brake pads, take it back to the shop. So long as you have a receipt, most auto shops will correct what is needed free of charge as long as the issue is brake pad-related.

Maintain Your Car Budget

If you notice anything strange about your brakes, be it a slight vibration or an angry squeak, it’s time for a trip to the mechanic. While you may dread the cost, taking preventative measures can stop an accident before it happens.

And while brake pads come at a fixed price, your car insurance doesn’t have to.

We know how difficult it can be to find reliable auto insurance. With our free auto insurance comparison tool, we can match you with the best rates in your area.

Save on your insurance today. Whether you’re a first-time driver or live most of your life on the road, we believe there’s a great rate for you. Let us help you find it.

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