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Blog Car Care Advice To DIY or Not to DIY: Brake Pads

To DIY or Not to DIY: Brake Pads

December 20, 2019

Making sure your brakes are in good condition is crucial to your safety, and part of maintaining your brake system involves replacing brake pads as needed.

Is the sound of screeching brakes driving you crazy? This could indicate that you need a brake pad replacement. But even if you know how to change brakes, should you do it on your own?  We’ll weigh in on the pros and cons of changing your brake pads yourself and help you decide if it’s a job you can tackle, or whether you’re better off hiring a mechanic to do it.

What is a Brake Pad Replacement?

Brake pads, which are located inside the brake caliper, are part of your vehicle’s braking system. When you press down on your brakes, the caliper will apply pressure to the brake pads. The brake pads will then clamp down on the brake disc to slow down your tires

Brake pads become thinner and thinner every time you use your brakes. Eventually, they will need to be replaced in order to keep your braking system in good condition. A brake pad replacement involves removing the worn-down brake pads and replacing them with brand new pads.

When Should Brake Pads Be Replaced?

Many people wonder how often they will need a brake pad replacement. Car manufacturers recommend changing brake pads every 20,000 to 70,000 miles. Why will some brake pads need to be replaced after 20,000 miles whereas others will last up to 70,000?

The lifespan of your car brake pads will depend on several factors, including:

These are some of the many factors that could affect how often you need a brake job.

Do You Need to Replace All 4 Brake Pads?

There are brake pads on each of your vehicle’s wheels. Most mechanics recommend replacing brake pads in the front or brake pads in the rear at the same time. 

If one brake pad on the front axle is replaced, then all brake pads on the front axle should be replaced. 

This is because brake pads located on the same axle typically wear out at the same rate, so if one front brake pad needs to be replaced, the other one probably does, too. 

The front and the rear car brake pads will not always wear out at the same rate. In fact, the front pads wear out much faster than the rear pads, so you may need to change brake pads in the front more often.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace Brake Pads?

The cost of a brake pad replacement can vary depending on what type of vehicle you drive and the auto repair shop. In general, it costs between $150 to $300 per axle to replace car brake pads.

Sometimes, you may need to replace both the brake pads and rotors. Replacing both the brakes and rotors can cost between $400 to $500 per axle.

Can I Just Replace My Brake Pads?

Some car repair and maintenance services are easy enough to do on your own, whereas others are not. Should you try to change brake pads yourself? Here are the pros and cons of a DIY brake job:

DIY – You’ll Always Know When Your Brakes Need Changing

No doubt you’re already familiar with brake squeal – that torturous sound of metal grinding against metal when you step on the brakes. It often sounds like nails going down a chalkboard, and it’s a sign that your brake pads are worn and need to be replaced. This may be the most obvious sign that you need a brake pad replacement, but it’s not the only indicator.

You should also pay close attention to your vehicle’s stopping distance, which is the distance needed to bring your vehicle to a complete stop. If your car’s stopping distance is increasing, this could indicate that your brake pads are worn down and need to be replaced.

Feeling vibrations through the brake pedal could also signal that it’s time for a brake pad replacement. The brake pedal may even sit lower to the floor than usual when it’s time for a brake job, although this could be harder to detect.

A better way to check the longevity of your brake pads is by looking at them. Most professionals suggest replacing your brake pads when the friction material is less than 4mm thick. When the measurement is less than 3mm, your brakes should be replaced immediately to keep your car safe.

Also, examining your brake pads will tell you if they’re wearing unevenly, which is an indication that your brake calipers may be sticking or require replacement.

Don’t DIY – It Can Be Tricky

Many people assume that they can learn how to replace brake pads by watching a YouTube video or reading about it online. Although changing brake pads seems simple in theory, it can quickly turn into a complicated project. There are a myriad of things that can go wrong with your brake job, which may require additional tools or parts that you don’t have on hand.

Modern cars are becoming increasingly complex. For example, if your vehicle is fitted with an electronic parking brake, an OEM-level scan tool is often needed to retract the calipers if you’re servicing the rear brakes. And that’s typically not something a beginner or DIY mechanic would have in their toolbox. Also, cars equipped with automatic emergency braking typically require additional preparation before you can replace the brake pads.

All cars are different. So, be sure to consult the factory service information for your car before attempting to replace your brake pads. If you don’t, you could end up hurting both your car and yourself.

DIY – You Can Check for Other Problems

The good news is: If you do know what you’re looking for, you have an excellent opportunity to inspect other brake, suspension, and steering components while you’re changing your worn brake pads. For instance, you can check the brake calipers, brake fluid, and wheel bearings, and learn more about how the brake system works.

Don’t DIY – If You Make A Mistake, You’re Risking Your Own Safety

We aren’t trying to scare you – but if you botch your brake job, you could be compromising your own safety. Think about it: Your brakes are crucial to bringing your wheels to a halt. If you make a mistake during your brake job, it can have some serious consequences for your car and your own safety.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you could potentially be making a very dangerous mistake. For example, the fasteners that secure the brake caliper and the brake caliper mounting bracket (if your car is equipped) need to be torqued to the correct measurement 100% of the time.

Also, after the job is complete, and the wheels are back on the car, don’t forget to pump your brakes several times before driving the vehicle. First, pump the brakes with the engine off and then with the engine running. Pump the brake pedal until it feels firm. If you don’t perform this step, you’ll have little to no braking ability when you go to drive your car. And that can make for a really bad day.

DIY – Not A Difficult Job (On Some Cars)

If you’re replacing front brake pads, generally, the job is considered a straightforward, entry-level repair. Keep in mind, however, that you will need to buy some tools to get the job done. Plus, you’ll need a place where you can work safely, without getting distracted. If you don’t have these fundamentals, it’s probably worth paying to get your worn brake pads replaced.

Don’t DIY – Can Be Time Consuming

Usually, changing a set of brake pads takes approximately 30 minutes to an hour. If you have a professional complete the work, expect to pay for about an hour’s worth of labor. It’s worth pointing out that, as an amateur, it could take you upwards of 3 or 4 hours (maybe even longer) to replace your brake pads. But hey, everyone has to start somewhere, right?

DIY – Wider Range of Brake Pads to Choose From

Most people put a lot of effort into making their car go faster yet they forget about stopping ability. Different brake pads offer different characteristics. And if you’re changing your own pads, you can choose from different friction materials to find one that matches your driving style.

For instance, if you have a high-performance vehicle, you may prefer the additional stopping ability of a semi-metallic brake pad. On the other hand, if you drive your car mostly to and from work in heavy traffic, a ceramic brake pad will minimize wear and brake dust. Finally, if you don’t drive your car much at all, you can probably get away with an inexpensive, organic brake pad and save yourself some money.

Changing Brake Pads: DIY or Not?

The bottom line is: it’s not wise to attempt a brake pad change on your own unless you are experienced. If your brakes are screeching or grinding, it’s safer to contact a professional to handle your brake pad replacement.