It’s time to dig into one of the most controversial, hard to answer questions regarding car parts, brake maintenance and overall auto component value. And the question is this: How long do brake pads last?
It’s a question any serious (or even semi-serious) car enthusiast would like to know. But to truly answer the question, we should rephrase the query just a little bit: “How long SHOULD your brake pads last?” The difference between the two questions might seem tiny, but it’s pretty big. “Long” might be the better descriptor – the distance that separates what your brake pads should get and what they actually get is at least hundreds of miles!
Ask your local mechanic, your default car expert at work, or even a random stranger on the street, and you’re likely to get 3 different answers. Most of the time, those answers will be off – way off, usually tens of thousands of miles different.
Wow, that’s certainly different than other car performance estimates, isn’t it? Even something like miles per gallon is fairly easy to figure out. Given the optimistic ratings that auto manufacturers put on the price sticker, even an estimate of 35 MPG is typically within 5-10% of the number.
Same with horsepower. With some torque calculations, OEM specs and a little more data, pretty much anyone can come within a few horses of the actual rating. So why is brake pad mileage rating so hard to determine?
The Ratings Game – Does One Exist for Brake Pads?
When talking about mileage ratings, tires are at the top of the list. But anyone who’s driven a car for more than a few years knows that tire mileage ratings are widely inaccurate. A 75,000 mile tire usually shows serious signs of wear in half the distance. In fact, many independent studies estimate that a tire’s true wear is roughly half of the given rating. So if you just purchased a set of 50,000 mile tires, keep an eye on their condition around 20,000 to 25,000 miles.
That’s the story for tires. But what about brake pads – does a true performance estimate exist for brake pads, and if so, where can you find this information?
Estimating Brake Pad Life
Even the most experienced auto mechanics, drivers, vehicle engineers and others in the know can’t truly pinpoint how long brake pads actually last. As a general rule of thumb, there’s about a 40,000 mile range in play. Average brake pad life is somewhere around 25,000 to 65,000 miles.
However, many people have heard of brake pads lasting more than 70,000 miles, even beyond the 80,000 mile threshold. You may have even experienced super-long brake pad wear yourself. There’s a great chance that the type of driver who enjoys ultra-extended brake pad life is either a highway commuter with very little stop and go driving, or an 83-year old grandmother who obeys all the traffic signs and has her car on a strict maintenance schedule (more on that grandmother in a bit, keep reading).
Despite manufacturer promises, endless online reviews, word-of-mouth information and a thousand other sources, one undeniable fact about brake pad wear is this: if you’d like to extend your brake pad life as long as possible, optimize your driving habits the smart way. And if you’re a speedy driver, we have some bad news in this regard – you’re going to have to drive slower to get the most out of your brake pads. It’s a smart idea to stay within posted speed limits regardless, but that’s doubly true to get every last mile out of your brake pads.
Driving Style – A Huge Factor in Brake Pad Longevity
The term “little old lady car” is often used in a self-mocking manner; it’s used to describe an automobile that’s not going to wow your with performance, but is rather a reliable performer with working, efficient components.
When talking about brake pad life, it helps to drive like a little old lady, at least in a figurative sense.To get the most out of your brake pads, consider adopting the following 3 driving habits:
1. Slow down. Speed is the biggest single factor that limits brake pad life. Nothing burns brake pads faster than fast driving punctuated by sudden stops.
2. Mind your cargo. If you’re carrying extra stuff in your trunk or the bed of your pickup truck, consider lightening the load. More mass means more brake power is needed for slowing and stopping.
3. Flush your brake fluid. Low brake fluid level or dirty fluid eventually catches up with brake pads. A good rule of thumb for flushing your brake fluid is every 25,000 miles.
A Word on Brake Pad Material – Another Factor in Brake Pad Life
Want to really optimize brake life? Consider what goes into your brake pads – there are basically two different methods of manufacture.
Ceramic pads are primarily constructed of ceramic fiber and other materials that combine to produce less friction and heat during the braking process. Because of the unique materials, ceramic pads offer better stopping power, but sacrifice more pad life per stop than semi-metallic pads.
Semi-metallic pads are the most common type of pad, although ceramic pads are becoming more prevalent. Mostly made of shaved metal and other elements bound together by a robust resin, semi-metallic pads are on the higher end of brake pad life estimates, compared with their ceramic counterparts. However, braking quality isn’t as responsive as ceramic pads.
So what is the recommended brake pad material? It’s up to you. For overall better stopping power, go with ceramic pads. For slightly inferior braking performance but maximum brake pad life, go the semi-metallic route. As brake pad technology continues to advance (however slowly), drivers should expect both ceramic and semi-metallic pads to increase both quality and performance in the next decade. It wasn’t that long ago that drivers reasonably anticipated about 15,000 to 25,000 miles for a set of brake pads. Today, we should expect to get at least double that mileage range.
Driving habits, brake pad material, even external driving conditions – many factors go into determining how long your brake pads will remain on the road. In order to ensure your car performs up to its manufacturer recommended standards, having high quality brake pad & rotor kits will help you get the most from your money. BuyAutoParts.com offers a great selection of rotors, pads and other brake components, and our online resources can help you get your brake project started off on the right foot. For any questions about our brake parts, please call us (888) 907-7225. Our online chat is also available for customers every Monday thru Friday from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM EST.