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Short & Sweet


The most important thing to know about brakes is that the pads squeeze the rotors and that friction slows the car down. Brakes are an important safety feature that you should have checked often.

Symptoms of Bad Brakes:

1. Your brakes are making a high-pitched squeaking sound.

2. You hear grinding sounds when you hit the brakes.

3. You have a “mushy” brake petal.

4. You smell something foul and your brakes start smoking.

5. Your brakes pulsate or shake when you apply them, especially at higher speeds.

6. Your brake fluid is low.

7. Your brake light is on.

For more details about these symptoms, click on the symptoms tab!

Care & Repair:

For safety have your brakes checked every 6 months, every 6,000 miles or if there are symptoms indicating your brakes are going bad. You don’t always need to make a special trip to get your brakes checked, if you get your tires rotated or changed, they are going to check them for you.

Brakes can last anywhere from 100 – 100,000 miles. Most mechanics and manufacturers agree that the most common range is 30,000 – 70,000 miles. It really depends on how you drive and the quality of your brakes.

Cost: Pads – $135 – $285; Rotors – $200 – $600 (Includes labor)

“I left work and drove to the gas station and when I got there, the brake pedal went all the way to the floor, NO BRAKES! Luckily I wasn’t in a busy area. My car is pretty old, about 14 years and the brake lines were all rusted. I found out I needed to replace all of the brake lines, more than my truck is worth. Time for a new ride!” – Diedre R. 



There is more than one type of braking system; drum brakes and disc brakes. Most vehicles use disc brakes; so we are going to focus on those. Some older vehicles and a few newer vehicles use drum brakes, but only for the rear wheels. The good thing about drum brakes is that they usually don’t wear out, so if you have them, you most likely won’t need to worry about them. Brakes are one of the most important safety features on a vehicle and that is why it is helpful to understand the basics.

1. Disc Brakes

The most important thing to know about disc brakes is that the pads squeeze the rotors and that friction slows the car down. When you press on your brake pedal, your master cylinder engages and sends brake fluid through your brake lines to a piston. The piston then applies pressure to the brake pads which creates friction against the rotor, a metal disc that attaches to the wheel hub, which supports your tire. The brake pads are held into place by a metal bracket called a caliper. When all of this works together, it slows the rotation of the rotor and your tire, causing the vehicle to slow.

This is very similar to how brakes work on a bicycle. See the diagram below.




We have all heard that car in the fast food drive-through lane. The annoying squeaking as you inch forward to grab that delicious cup of coffee. Well, if all of a sudden you realize that person is you, take a look below to see what the issue may be.

1. A high pitched squeak (Squeeeeeeeeeaaaak):

Most brakes have a tendency to make a squeaking noise, especially when you first start driving your car for the day and if there is a lot of moisture in the air. Brakes pads are made of a semi-metallic material and that metal on metal can create a squeak from time to time. When your brakes start making a consistent squeak, it is time to see if you need to change your brake pads.

Squeaking brakes do not always mean that you need to replace your brakes. Sometimes rust can collect on the rotors and can cause additional noise. Lower grade brake pads can increase brake noise. Brand new pads may also squeak for a while. If it has been more than 6,000 miles since you have had a brake inspection and you begin to hear a constant squeaking sound, you may want to have them checked.

2. Grinding sounds the moment you hit the brakes until the car comes to a complete stop:

When you begin to brake does the vehicle make a sound similar to dragging an outdoor chair across a cement patio? This may mean your brake pads have completely worn out. In other words, the metal to metal contact that is now happening may quickly be causing damage to your rotors. These are expensive to replace, get in and get this fixed quickly!

3. Mushy brake pedal:

If your brake pedal gets spongy or soft, it is probably because your brake fluid needs to be replaced. Brake fluid will absorb moisture and when it has absorbed too much, the fluid will need to be replaced. Most manufacturers recommend that you change your brake fluid every 2 – 3 years.

4. What’s that funk:

If you smell something foul and your brakes start smoking this could be a sign of a couple of things. First, check your emergency/parking brake and make sure that it is not engaged. If it is not your emergency/parking brake, you might have a brake caliper or wheel cylinder that is stuck. Make sure to get this checked out by a trusted mechanic right away.

5. Brake, shake and rotor:

If your brakes are pulsating or shaking when you apply them – especially at higher speeds – this could mean that you have a warped brake rotor. You will have to take your vehicle to the shop to get your rotors machined or replaced in order to resolve this issue. Most of the time when you have this problem, your front brakes are the issue. If you feel the shaking in your steering wheel when you brake, it is probably your front rotors. Less commonly, if you feel shaking in the seats or through the floor you most likely have a problem with your rear rotors.

NOTE: The most common cause of shaking rotors is overheating your brakes. If you do a lot of highway driving and are constantly slamming on the brakes, you are going to be more likely to be shaking when you drive down the road. Unless you are shaking from road rage, then new rotors will not help!

6. Brake dust:

Brake dust is that black residue that can collect around the wheel well and on your hubcaps. Unfortunately, it takes more than a bottle of pledge and a rag to clean this kind of dust. The dust comes from brake pads that are slowly being worn away. This is generally a result of normal wear and tear. Brake dust does not harm your car, so if you can deal with the look of it, it is no big deal. If you can’t, there are tons of products meant to help you clean it off. Brake dust is going to be a lot like laundry, the second you get it done it is going to pile right back up again. If you wash your car regularly, you should be okay.

tipiconTIP: If you have a white car and you notice little orange specks on your paint, this is likely from your semi-metallic brake pad dust. To remove the specks you will need to get an acid bath for your vehicle. You will need to go to a professional detailer to have the specks removed.

Care & Repair

tipiconTIP: If you are concerned about safety, you are better off having a cheap part put on by a good mechanic than buying an expensive part and having your husband, boyfriend or a bad mechanic put it on. No offense to the husbands and boyfriends, they may actually be good at it, but you get the drift.

1. How often should I have my brakes checked?

A general rule is to have your brakes checked out every 6 months, every 6,000 miles or if there are symptoms indicating your brakes are going bad. You may want to choose to check them seasonally, like the beginning of summer and the beginning of winter. You don’t always need to make a special trip to get your brakes checked, if you get your tires rotated or changed, they are going to check them for you.

2. How long do brakes last?

Brakes can last anywhere from 100 – 100,000 miles. Most mechanics and manufacturers agree that the most common range is 30,000 – 70,000 miles. It really depends on how you drive and the quality of your brakes. Go to the “Cost” tab to learn about different types of brake pads and what type would work best for you.

3. What type of driving wears brakes out?

* Driving with both feet

* Slamming on your brakes

* Living in a mountainous area with winding steep roads

* City driving

4. Rotor Replacement, Resurfacing & Pad Slapping

Typically when you get your brake pads replaced, you want to make sure that your rotor surface is smooth and flat. If you are replacing your brake pads due to normal wear, you will most likely need to resurface or replace your rotors. Rotors develop grooves with normal wear. If you put a new, smooth brake pad against that grooved rotor, you could experience noise and vibrations. This could also diminish the quality of how your brakes function. Rotors don’t always need to be replaced, if they are thick enough, sometimes they can be resurfaced. Manufacturers have a minimum of how thin a rotor can be. A mechanic should know if the rotor can be grinded down so that it is smooth again, without making it too thin. Pad slapping is when the pads are replaced and the rotors are left untouched. This is not usually recommended.

5. There are four types of brake pads on the market and each type offers different benefits:

* Semi-metallic: These brake pads are a mixture of metal and inorganic materials. Semi-metallic pads are built to be durable and have excellent heat transfer. This is important since brakes are one of the most important safety related parts on your vehicle and stand up to a lot of heat on a daily basis. However, semi-metallic pads also wear rotors down faster, can be noisy, and may not perform as well at low temperatures.

* Non-asbestos organic: This type of pad is made from natural fibers and is sometimes referred to as organic or NAO pads. These pads are less noisy, but they wear faster and create more dust.

* Low-metallic NAO: This is a hybrid pad combining natural materials and metals. This mixture of materials improves heat transfer and provides better braking, but they also create more brake dust and they may be slightly noisier due to the addition of metal.

* Ceramic or synthetic: This is a blend of materials that includes ceramics and are top of the line in the world of brake pads. These pads are quiet, clean, last longer, and offer good braking performance without wearing down the rotors. What’s the catch? They are considerably more expensive than standard brake pads – generally twice as much.

6. Know your needs:

* If you live in mountainous or hilly areas, deal with steep declines on your daily trek, tow or carry heavy loads, or transport lots of passengers you might want to consider a severe-duty brake pad.

* The type of car you drive makes a difference. If you are driving a smaller vehicle an organic pad will be sufficient, but trucks and SUV drivers might want a brake pad with more metal such as a low metallic NAO or a semi-metallic pad.

* When it comes to safety, a standard pad is just as safe as the upgraded pad.

7. What’s in a certified label?

brake padsNOTE: Your car expert may not be familiar with these standards. Their opinion will more likely (and should) be based on their experience and the performance of the brake pad.

*There are two types of certification when it comes to brake pads: D3EA (Dual Dynamometer Differential Effectiveness Analysis) and BEEP (Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedure). D3EA certification is provided through an independent company and is more rigorous than BEEP, which is overseen by the manufacturers.

* Not all aftermarket or upgraded manufacturers’ brakes get certified, so the best way to make sure you are choosing a quality brake pad is to select a manufacturer that has a heavily tested standard line of brake pads. You can safely assume that if a manufacturers’ standard line is a good choice, their upgraded pads will be as well and may also provide additional performance benefits.

NOTE: The process of resurfacing a rotor is sometimes also called machining or refacing.


After you have confirmed that you need new brakes, here are a few points to know about purchasing.

1. Common brake scams:

* $99 Brakes: If you see an advertisement for $99 brakes, be aware that this is only for pad replacement. This is something that is just meant to get you in the door. Once you are there, the service representative will most likely recommend that you also get your rotors replaced or refinished. This is standard practice for brake maintenance. It is not a $99 “brake job”, rotor replacement or refinishing will add to your total bill.

* Lifetime Brakes: A lifetime brake offer entitles you to free brake pads for the life of your vehicle. This sounds great, but the brake pads are typically the least expensive part of a brake job. So when it comes time to collect on your free brakes, you may only be saving $30 for the pads, but you will still have to pay for the labor and any additional parts such as new rotors. This is another marketing tactic that is used to get you in the door. The deal will probably not be as sweet as it appears.

2. The cost for a pair of pads is anywhere from $35 – $85 and a pair of rotors is $100 – $375:

This is the price for the actual parts, not including labor. If you want to look up how much brakes and rotors cost for your individual car, go to: Brakes and rotors should take about 2 – 3 hours for a mechanic to replace. To get a full estimate on how much brakes will cost for your car, go to

About The Author

Pedals and Pumps

PedalsandPumps provides direct, honest information about car maintenance and repair. We provide money and time saving tips for readers who want to maximize their dollar and simplify their auto owning experience.


If you have lost a cap on your tire inflation valve, mention it at your next oil change and the technician will probably replace it for your for free. More ways to tell if you have a tire pressure issue.