How Long Do Brakes Last?
As much fun as it is to go fast on the open highway, it’s much more important that you be able to stop. The brake pads, rotors, and calipers need regular maintenance to perform at their best.
If you delay replacing your brake pads on time, it can even cause expensive damage to your rotors and calipers, increasing your repair costs and potentially causing an accident.
So how long do brakes last? The answer depends on many factors, including your driving habits, the environment, the type of brake pads you have, and more.
Have you noticed any problems with your brakes, such as spongy or unresponsive brakes or a loud screeching or squealing noise when you hit the brake pedal?
Here’s what you need to know about estimating the lifespan of your brakes and getting to the bottom of these problems.
How Long Do Brakes Last?
How long brakes last depends on many factors, including the type of brakes you have (disc or drum), whether the brakes are on the front or rear wheels (front brakes wear out faster), your driving habits, typical weather in your area, the type of disc brakes, and the material of the disc pads or shoes.
As a general rule, brake pads last between 25,000 to 70,000 miles on the front disc brakes while the rear brakes usually last for 200,000 miles. Rotors, an essential component of your brake system, last for 30,000 to 70,000 miles.
Disc Brakes Vs Drum Brakes
Disc brakes are comprised of a disc brake rotor attached to the wheel and a caliper that holds the disc brake pads. When you apply the brakes, the master cylinder creates hydraulic pressure that causes the caliper piston to clamp the rotor between the brake pads, creating friction that slows down and stops the vehicle. The front brakes on most vehicles are disc brakes.
With most older vehicles, the rear brakes are drums while the front brakes are discs. Drum brakes are made up of a brake drum that’s attached to the wheel, a wheel cylinder, brake shoes, and the brake return springs.
The master cylinder creates hydraulic pressure that makes the wheel cylinder press the brake shoes against the drum, creating friction that slows down the car.
How Long Do Brake Pads And Rear Brake Shoes Last?
The typical vehicle made before 1970 has disc brakes and brake pads on the front and drum brakes with brake shoes on the rear. If your car was manufactured after 1970, it likely has disc brakes in the front and drum brakes in the rear or disc brakes on all 4 wheels.
Brake pads tend to last between 25,000 and 50,000 miles, although this depends greatly on your driving style. Careful driving habits can help you safely get up to 75,000 miles on your brake pads.
If you drive frequently in the city or in congested freeway traffic, the stop-and-go driving will reduce the lifespan of your brakes. Driving in light traffic and using cruise control, meanwhile, can extend the lifespan of your brakes.
The good news is replacing your brake pads isn’t difficult and you can do it yourself with a little know-how. Here’s a video showing how to replace the brake pads on your car.
You will probably need to replace the front brake pads about twice as often as you need to replace the rear brake shoes because the weight of your vehicle shifts to the front when you brake, forcing the front brakes to work harder.
There are a few types of brake pads that affect lifespan and performance. Semi-metallic brake pads offer the best lifespan for everyday use. Ceramic brake pads are more expensive but they come with a slightly lower life for the pads and the rotors.
Organic brake pads are found on most new cars in the U.S. out of factor. While quiet and easy on the rotors, these brake pads have the lowest lifespan.
How Long Do Brakes Last After Squeaking?
Your brake pads are designed to make a distinctive squeaking or screeching noise when they brake down. You may hear this noise when you apply the brakes and it won’t go away when you release the peddle. Sometimes you may even hear a grinding or grumbling sound. This sound indicates it’s time to replace your brake pads.
All brake pads are made with a metal tab that rubs against the rotor and produces a squealing or squeaking sound when the brakes are applied.
The longer you wait, the worse the noise will get. Once you hear this sound, it indicates your brakes have about 10% of their lifespan remaining. Wait too long and they brakes can begin to grind, causing damage to the rotors and calipers.
How Long Do Rear Brakes Last?
Drum brakes usually last for around 200,000 miles, although they can wear out sooner than this if internal components wear out and put additional strain on the drums.
A mechanic can check the condition of your drum brakes by measuring them as drum brakes get smaller as they wear out.
It may be time to replace your drum brakes if you notice:
- A lot of noise from the back of the car when braking
- The car pulls to the side when braking
- The back of the vehicle shakes when you brake
Related: Replacing A Catalytic Converter
The Lifespan Of Your Brake Rotors
When you apply the brakes, calipers push the brake pads against the spinning rotors to causes friction and slow down the car. The rotors, or discs, are an essential part of your brake system and come in many types:
- Drilled rotors which are good for wet weather
- Smooth rotors which are common with luxury cars
- Slotted rotors which are stronger and last longer than drilled rotors
- Slotted and drilled rotors which offer good stability and heat tolerance
- Two-piece floating rotors which are good for high-heat city driving
The lifespan of your rotors can be shortened due to regular driving through congested traffic, driving through water with hot brakes, too much start-and-stop driving, and stopping too fast rather than slowly stopping.
In general, you can expect your rotors to last for 30,000 to 70,000 miles or more. When the rotors do go bad, they should be replaced in pairs like brake pads. Sometimes worn rotors can be resurfaced as long as they aren’t cracked and warped.
The Lifespan Of Your Brake Calipers
The calipers are the part of the brake system that hold the brake pads and apply pressure to the rotors when the vehicle slows down.
Calipers have rubber brake hoses filled with brake fluid from the master cylinder to help the calipers engage. When you apply the brakes, you are activating the calipers.
Calipers are designed to last as long as your car. They can show wear and develop problems if you don’t change your brake fluid every 30,000 miles or you drive too long with worn rotors and brake pads, which can cause damage to the calipers. You may need caliper repairs or even replacement if you notice:
- Spongy brakes
- Brakes squeal all the time
- Car pulls hard to the left or right when you stop
- Clear brake fluid leaking from the wheels
It’s important to understand the expected lifespan of the components of your brake system so you can anticipate replacement and avoid potentially hazardous brake failure.
Whenever you notice symptoms of brake problems, including squealing, grinding noises, spongy brakes, or the car pulling sharply when you brake, get your car to a mechanic before the problem gets worse (and more expensive!).
Do you have any questions or advice to offer about brake replacement? Leave a comment below!