3 Signs That Your Brake Pads are Worn Out

Squealing or screeching, metallic grinding, and warning lights are key signs of how to tell if your brake pads and shoes are worn out. Get your car to the shop!
Written by Michelle Ballestrasse
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
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Squealing or screeching, metallic grinding, and warning lights are all indicators that your brake pads and shoes might be worn out.
If you’re on the road and hear that telltale sound, get your car off the road quickly. Brake failures can cause major accidents and injury, and your ability to stop your car safely is significantly reduced once your brakes have worn down.
Brake pad or shoe replacement isn’t covered by your
car insurance
, since it falls under the "wear and tear" category.
But it’s always good to have a contingency plan in place in case the unexpected happens. And if it does? Have no fear—if you're looking for
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Although, when it comes to your car’s braking system, peace of mind is priceless. Here’s how to tell if you have worn down brake pads.
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What are brake pads and shoes?

Brake pads and shoes help slow the tire and bring the car to a stop — so they’re a pretty important component in your vehicle.
Both brake pads and shoes work the same way, creating friction with another part of the braking system to stop the car. The main differences between them are in their configuration and shape, but they’re functionally similar.
Brake pads are found in disk brakes. They’re pads of friction material, such as metal shavings bound in resin, shaped like slightly curved rectangles. The two pads are locked into place with a brake caliper to sandwich the rotor and press directly against it to create stopping friction.
Brake shoes are found in drum brakes. They also use friction material but are shaped like half-circle "shoes," with the friction material on the outer edge.
They’re fixed against the inner edge of a round drum and press against the edge of the drum when the brakes are engaged to create friction that slows the car.
Key Takeaway While some cars use brake pads and some use brake shoes, their function is largely the same.

What happens when brake pads or shoes wear out?

When brake pads or shoes wear out, there’s nothing to protect the rotor from damage when you brake.
Brake pads and shoes are meant to eventually wear out. Because friction is the key force in braking, pads and shoes are designed to take the wear that occurs every time the brakes are engaged rather than the more expensive rotors and drums.
As more of the friction material wears away, there’s less to protect the rotor from damage when the brakes are applied. Rotors can be resurfaced if they incur any metal friction damage — but only once in their serviceable lifetime.

How to tell if brake pads are worn

Squealing or screeching

This is a major indicator that brake pads/shoes are worn, and the first sign you’ll probably encounter. Constant squealing every time you brake can mean that the pads are worn down to the plates.
Several brands of brake pads and shoes have wear indicators that will make noise when the friction material is worn low.
So if the brakes start to squeal, don’t stress about your rotors just yet. There is most likely still some friction material on your pads or shoes, and they’re not worn down to the point of damage.
It’s also important to remember that if you’re driving in wet conditions, squealing may only be an indicator of moisture on the pads/shoes. The squealing should let up when the brakes have a chance to dry.
Key Takeaway Squealing and screeching is the most common sign that your brakes are wearing down and you should get them checked out.

Warning lights

More modern cars and brake systems are equipped with sensors that will warn you when brake pads or shoes are low. These sensors send an electrical signal to the dashboard when they make contact with the rotor, letting you know that the
pads or shoes need to be replaced
It’s also worth noting that regardless of which type of sensor you opt for — the ones built into the pads or added on as an extra — they will need to be replaced along with the pads or shoes.
If your car predates this technology, you’ll have to rely on the traditional wear indicator: noise.

Metallic grinding

This is a sign that all or almost all of the friction material on your brakes has gone. Wear indicators don’t typically result in any grinding sensation.
If you hear and feel grinding when you apply your brakes, that means the backing plates are making metal-on-metal contact with your drum or rotors, which can cause costly damage.
But if you do start feeling the grind when you’re braking,
roadside assistance
can help.
It’s much safer to have a tow truck bring your car to a repair shop than it is to drive there with worn-down brake pads. It can also be cheaper since rotors are expensive to replace or resurface.

Get coverage for when it really matters

Replacing your brake pads or shoes isn’t covered by your car insurance as it’s considered standard
wear and tear
—but you can add roadside assistance to your policy.
, finding the right
car insurance
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Can you drive with worn brake pads?

You can drive with worn brake pads, but it’s not a good idea. Worn brake pads make braking more difficult and can also damage your rotors, which are expensive to replace.

How long do brake pads usually last?

Brake pads and shoes are designed to wear so your rotors don’t get damaged. And while good brake pads or shoes will typically last anywhere between 30,000 and 80,000 miles, this can depend on where you live and drive.
If you usually drive on highways with light traffic where you don’t brake often, they’ll last longer. On the other hand, areas with heavier traffic and lots of stops will accelerate brake pad wear.
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