5 Signs You Need Brake Pad and Rotor Replacement

BOY Blog

Your car’s brakes and rotors are designed to last for an extended amount of time — in fact, they are usually due for replacement every 15,000 to 50,000 miles, and should always be replaced together. However, harsh conditions, the type of brake pad, and even driving habits can affect when brakes and rotors should be replaced. Knowing the signs that it’s time to bring your vehicle in for brake and rotor service won’t just save you time and money; it can also save your life.

The Important Role of Brakes and Rotors

Your car’s braking system is made up of several different components that all work together to create the friction necessary to stop your car safely and quickly. These parts include:

  • Brake lines. Most cars have a hydraulic system that uses fluid to transfer the pressure that’s created when the pedal is applied to the brake. Brake fluid is stored in the master cylinder and moves to the calipers through the brake lines.
  • Brake pads. Made from different metals with friction material attached to the surface, the brake pads work by pressing against the rotor and creating the friction necessary to slow and stop the car.
  • Rotors. The rotor, which is bowl-shaped and attached to the wheel, takes kinetic energy and turns it into thermal energy, which is then absorbed and dissipated.
  • Calipers. Calipers squeeze the brake pads against the rotors to slow and stop the car.

As these parts wear down from use over time, they become less effective at stopping. The problem? Many drivers don’t think to have their brakes maintained until they are at risk of critical failure — a decision that can have deadly consequences. 22% of car crashes annually in the United States are due to brake failure; that’s 300,000 accidents that could have been prevented through proper maintenance.

Fortunately, the braking system is designed to alert you when it’s time to make an appointment at a trusted auto repair shop. Cars are usually equipped with a dashboard light that will turn on when maintenance is needed. Sometimes, the brakes themselves have what’s called a “feeler,” or a little piece of metal that makes a squealing noise when it comes into contact with the rotor but doesn’t damage it.

5 Signs Your Brakes and Rotors Need Replacing

Along with the dashboard light and the feeler, there are other signs to listen and look for that mean it’s time to bring your car in for a brake and rotor replacement. These five red flags are:

  • Vibration. If you drive at or over 30 mph and feel vibration when applying your brakes, your rotors may be warped. Brakes need to be inspected at the first sign of vibrations or pulsing sensations while braking, as these are signs that you’re at risk for sudden brake failure.
  • Grinding. If you can hear grinding, the pads have completely worn away, and the rotors are damaging each other. Driving any longer can result in needing total brake replacement, which is incredibly expensive.
  • Pulling. If your vehicle pulls to one side when you brake, the pads have worn unevenly. Replacing them all is quick and affordable.
  • Squealing. Squealing is often due to the feeler striking the rotor when the pads grow too thin.
  • Fading. If your brakes feel spongy or like they’re sinking when you apply them, there’s a possible issue with your brake fluid. Fading brakes take longer than they should to stop, putting you at risk of rear-ending someone.

How Much Does Brake and Rotor Maintenance Cost?

The total cost of brake and rotor maintenance and replacement depends on the make, model and mileage of the vehicle, as well as the severity of the issue itself. The following numbers are national averages you can use to make a general estimate, but the best way to get accurate pricing is to bring your car into an auto repair shop for inspection.

You’ll probably replace your brake pads more than any other part of the system, since they are physically worn down by use. General pricing is between $35 and $150 for parts for all four wheels. Labor varies but tends to be $80 to $120 per axle, for a total of $115 to $270 per axle. It’s most common (and easiest) to replace the pads as pairs instead of one at a time.

If the rotors are due for replacement, you should have them changed out when you get your brake pads done. Expect to pay between $30 and $75 per rotor, and between $150 and $200 for the labor for each axle, for a total of between $250 and $500 per axle.

When you bring your car in for inspection, the auto technician will make sure the components are fitting together properly for optimum performance. Then, depending on what you need done, they’ll either repair and replace the brake lines; resurface the rotor and drums; replace the wheel and master cylinder; and double check that the parking brake is working correctly. They’ll also put new brake pads so you’ll have the right amount of friction to safely stop your car.

Maintaining your brake system is an important part of being a safe and responsible driver. While it’s tempting to put off needed maintenance because of the time and expense, the afternoon in the shop for brake services is nothing compared to the headache of a car crash. 

That’s why it’s important to develop a relationship with a high-quality auto repair shop. The experts there will make it easy for you to stay on top of maintenance and keep your car stopping on a dime.

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