When is the best time to service your brakes? Of course, the most obvious answer is "before they fail." However, brakes can go through multiple stages before they reach a point where they can begin to impact your braking performance. Given the critical nature of your brakes, it's generally a good idea to schedule a service appointment sooner rather than later.
But, why do your brakes make noise, what can those noises tell you about their condition, and when should you take immediate action? Keep reading to learn why your ears may be the most essential tool you have to determine when your brakes require servicing.
Why Do Brakes Make Noise?
Believe it or not, manufacturers design brake pads to make noises. The squealing you hear when your pads begin to wear out is no accident. Instead, you're hearing the sound of metal-on-metal contact caused by a small wear indicator inside the friction material. When the material falls below a certain minimum thickness, the metal tab contacts the rotors, and you hear a squealing noise.
In theory, this is the only noise your brakes should make. Unfortunately, the indicator doesn't always work as it should. For example, the tab can break or bend, in which case the noise will stop. Don't assume your brakes are okay if they squeal for a while and the noise goes away. Once you hear that squealing, you know your brakes are approaching the minimum acceptable level.
Severely neglected brakes may also make loud, grinding noises. These sounds occur when no friction material remains, leaving only the metal braking plate to press directly against the rotors. This situation will reduce your stopping power and rapidly ruin your rotors, creating a much higher repair bill than a simple brake pad replacement.
When Is the Situation Critical?
You should replace your brake pads any time the friction material falls below the minimum recommended level. The "recommended" level might vary depending on who you ask, but you've already used up most of your initial friction material once the thickness drops below 3mm. This thickness is also typically when you'll begin to hear squealing from the pads.
It's helpful to think of squealing pads as an essential repair but not yet an emergency. While you don't need to cancel your plans for the rest of the week, you should address the problem within a few weeks. Waiting much longer than this can potentially cause your brake pads to wear enough for the rotors to come into contact with the backing plates.
Once you hear grinding, you've already done damage, and it's time to treat your brake service job as an emergency. Avoid driving a car with grinding brakes as much as possible and schedule a service appointment as soon as you can. The longer you drive a car in this condition, the more likely you are to damage your rotors or even reduce your ability to stop your vehicle safely.
For more information, contact a local auto shop that offers brake services.