How to Check Your Brake Pads

We’d be shamelessly lying if we told you that checking your brake pads was as easy a car repair as fitting a new brake light. It’s not an easy-peasy piece of car maintenance, but it’s not exactly quantum physics either. If you know what to do, and what to look for, then you’ll be fine.

I’ve written this quick guide so that you can check your brake pads and work out if they need replacing by a mechanic.  

How to check your brake pads

In a very strange paradox, you don't necessarily have to look at your brake pads to check them. You can generally find out what condition they could be in from paying attention to what sounds you can hear and how your car feels when you brake. Here are some of the best ways to check the condition of your brake pads.

Listen to how your brakes sound

Probably the biggest indication that you might have a problem with your brake pads is the sound they make when you use them. If you hear a squealing sound, a bit like an angry pig, whenever you brake, your brake pads could be worn and in need of replacement. Listen for that telltale metallic squeak.

Pay attention to how your brakes feel

Noticing how your brakes feel when you use them is useful when it comes to working out a rough idea of their current condition. If you need to stamp hard on the brake pedal before you notice any difference in speed, that’s a sure fire sign that your brakes and brake pads probably need some love.

Likewise, if your car pulls to one side whenever you hit the brake pedal, that suggests that a brake pad on one side might be more worn than a pad on the other side and needs to be replaced.

Notice how your steering wheel feels when you brake

When brake pads are coming to the end of their lives and are pretty worn, they’ll start to cause a vibration whenever you brake. You’ll usually be able to feel this through the brake pedal and steering wheel. If you feel a strange vibration through your steering wheel whenever you brake, that could indicate that you need new brake pads.

Do a quick visual check

It’s easy enough to do a quick check of how your brake pads look by peeking through the gaps in the wheel– you can often see the brake pad through the wheel on a lot of cars, so doing a visual check of the pads isn’t that difficult. Most brake pads have a handy indicator slot in the middle of them which gives you an idea of how worn they are. On some vehicles, you might have to take off the wheel to properly check the conditions of the pads.

What should you look for when checking your brake pads?

Basically, you want to be checking that the pads are the right thickness. The part of the pad that’s in contact with the rotor should be at least 6.3mm thick (¼ of an inch). If they’re less than this, they probably need replacing.

How often should you replace brake pads?

There’s no hard and fast rule for when you should actually replace brake pads. How quickly they wear is dependent on how much you drive, how harshly you brake and what environment you usually drive in.

If you find that there’s a problem with your brake pads or that they’re worn, I’d recommend getting a garage to change them. It’s not a massively complicated job in itself but it can be quite fiddly if you’re not used to the mechanics of cars. Getting a professional to replace them also reduces the risk that they’ll be fitted incorrectly and end up damaging you or your car.