In major metropolitan areas, like Phoenix, stop and go traffic is pretty much the norm. When you’re in the midst of rush hour driving along and suddenly traffic comes to a complete standstill, you hit the brakes so that your vehicle will stop. Sure, having a car that goes 0-60 in seconds is great but when you’re on the freeway and you need to go from 60-0, you rely on your brakes to stop the car.
Brakes are one of the most vital and crucial safety features on your vehicle. When brakes start making grinding, rumbling, or squeaking sounds, it may be time to replace them and you might have all kinds of questions.
Will you need to replace the brake pads? Or just the brake rotors? Or both pads and rotors? How long do rotors and brake pads last? We’ve got the answers to all your questions and tips to help you extend the life of your brakes, to help protect your safety and your wallet.
How Do Brake Pads and Rotors Work Together?
To understand how brake pads and rotors come together, you need to understand how the braking process works. It all begins when you apply the brake pedal. The pressure from the pedal is greatly increased with the aid of hydraulic fluid which creates friction at the wheels, causing the vehicle to stop. When the brake pedal is depressed, a lever system, a vacuum, or electronic assist will move a piston along the inside of the master cylinder. The movement of this piston forces the hydraulic brake fluid into the brake lines of your vehicle directed to the 4 wheels.
Many vehicles also have an Anti-Lock Braking system valve that controls the pressure created to prevent the brakes from locking up. Once pressure is created to the 4 wheels, the wheel cylinders or brake calipers, move the brake pads inward or shoes outward to press against the rotor or drum, creating more pressure and friction to slow and stop the vehicle.
How Long Do Brake Pads Last On a Car?
According to brake pad manufacturers, most last between 30,000 and 70,000 miles depending on the type and quality of pad you choose and driving conditions. Most vehicles today, however, utilize ceramic brake pads.
The longevity of brakes and rotors rely heavily on several varying factors including driving style and the quality of the pads and rotors currently on your vehicle. Daily stop and go traffic, steep inclines, vehicle weight and cargo, frequent aggressive braking, poor brake fluid condition, and a worn out suspension system can influence the life of the braking system.
How Long Do Ceramic Brake Pads Last?
Ceramic brake pads, though most costly, are made to last on the higher end of the spectrum. Also known as synthetic pads, ceramic brake pads are made of a non-metallic material, are stronger than other pads in comparison, and are more adaptable to braking conditions in hot or cold weather.
How Long Do Brake Rotors Last?
Standard brake rotors can last quite a bit longer than brake pads, yet, it depends greatly on brake maintenance and your driving habits. Rotors can also be resurfaced depending on wear, which contributes to their added lifespan.
If not warped or cracked, a technician can machine the rotor’s top layer down to a smooth and flat surface within manufacturer’s specification, giving it a new life. Many performance vehicles today can use rotors made of softer materials for assisting in stopping and can be grooved or slotted which does not allow for resurfacing.
When Can Rotors Be Resurfaced?
Many rotors have enough material that allow them to be resurfaced or machined between 1 and 3 times, however, some types of rotors are thinly engineered and cannot be machined. A qualified technician will be able to determine whether your vehicle’s rotors can or cannot be machined. Ideally, the best time to have your rotors machined is any time you have brake service performed such as replacing brake pads.
By doing so, you’ll save money versus having to replace them all together. Plus, you’re ensuring a smoother braking performance which helps preserve the integrity of the brake pads, extending their life. Keep in mind, machined rotors are a temporary “fix” and will eventually need to be replaced. By losing surface area from machining, this lessens the ability of heat to dissipate, which can cause overheating and temporary reduction in braking power, also known as brake fade.
What Can I Do to Extend the Life of Brake Pads and Rotors?
Functioning brakes are a must when it comes to driving. Replacing your brakes every couple of years due to poor driving habits can get expensive. By curbing some of your habits, you can help extend the life of both your brake pads and rotors:
- Follow Posted Speed Limits – Sure, driving fast can be fun but it doesn’t get you to your destination any faster, plus it adds wear and tear on your vehicle. While driving fast, you’re likely braking fast, too, which creates friction and heat increasing wear on brake pads and reducing their lifespan.
- Coast to Reduce Brake Wear – As you’re driving, if you see that a traffic light is about to turn red or you are approaching heavy traffic, remove your foot from the accelerator and let the vehicle slow by coasting. By doing this, the engine disengages and reduces the load on the brakes when you are finally able to apply the brakes.
- Avoid Downhill Braking – Heading down the mountain from Payson or Flagstaff? Don’t “ride the brakes.” Instead, downshift to a lower gear and let your engine and transmission slow the car. Before you reach the crest of the hill, shift and let your foot off the accelerator to let your car coast down.
- Reduce Cargo – Imagine carrying a 50 pound bag of flour on your back and walking a mile. You’d be pretty exhausted from carrying extra weight after even just a few minutes. The same principle applies to your car. The more load it bears, the harder your brakes must work to stop your vehicle. While sometimes it’s necessary to have a full load such as when you’re carpooling or moving, you should avoid using your vehicle as a storage unit or for collecting litter. Plus, by reducing the weight your vehicle carries, you may be able to improve your fuel economy, saving you money!
- Maintain and Repair Brake System as Necessary – No matter how well you adjust your driving, at some point your brakes will require maintenance or replacement. By replacing your brake pads when recommended, you may actually save money in the long run. Worn brake pads tend to burn hot and can warp rotors. When rotors become cracked or warped, they are unable to be resurfaced and can be quite costly to repair.