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When to replace your brake pads, according to car experts

"The best way to get your car fixed cheaply is to get it done right the first time."

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Brake pads are parts of the brake system that maximize friction and allow you to stop your car safely. Over time, friction causes brake pads to wear down. This can result in it taking a longer time to stop your car, along with more dangerous consequences, says Jill Trotta, president of RepairPal Express.

"Brake pads have a lot to do with braking distance," Trotta says. "At speed, five feet could mean the difference between an accident and not an accident."

Here's how often you need to be changing your brake pads to ensure your safety.

How often should I replace my brake pads?

It depends on your car, says John Ibbotson, chief mechanic at Consumer Reports. Your brake pads could last anywhere from 15,000 miles to 60,000 miles, depending on factors such as how you drive and road conditions.

In places where you're braking a lot, such as a high-traffic city, your brake pads will wear down faster, he adds. The same goes for hilly cities, Trotta says.

"In San Francisco, we would see brake pads burn out at 25,000 or 30,000 miles because of the hills and the traffic," Trotta says. "If you put that same car in the Midwest or somewhere where there's not hills or where there's not a lot of traffic, brake pads will last longer."

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Your vehicle owner's manual will have brake-related recommendations, but that's just a guide, Ibbotson says. Instead, you can look out for signs of wear.

"The first sign of excessive brake-pad wear is a high-pitched squealing," he says.

If your braking distance is increasing, that is also a sign you need to change your brake pads, Trotta says. Regardless, you should get them checked at regular intervals, maybe once or twice a year when you take your car in for maintenance.

The first sign of excessive brake-pad wear is a high-pitched squealing.
John Ibbotson
chief mechanic at Consumer Reports

How much does it cost to replace brake pads?

There are three types of brake pads: organic, semimetallic, and ceramic. Organic are the most affordable, but also wear out the fastest. Semimetallic are the most commonly used brake pads, and ceramic brake pads are the premium option.

"You can get organic pads in the $20 to $40 range, whereas if you buy semimetallic pads, those are going to last longer, be better on the rotors, and be somewhere in the $50, $60, or $70 range," Trotta says. "Ceramic pads are going to be your $70 or $80 pads."

Going with more expensive brake pads, like semimetallic or ceramic, is worth it, Trotta says. They will last longer and keep you from having to continually buy new ones.

"The best way to get your car fixed cheaply is to get it done right the first time," she says. "That additional $30 or $40 to pay for better pads is a better investment."

Keep in mind that those prices are per brake pad. If you're getting all your car's brake pads replaced, it could cost $400 or more including installation, says Ronald Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.

But you can also just get one axel replaced, meaning the front brake pads or the back ones, as the front ones usually wear out faster. "On the average vehicle, you're probably looking at maybe $250 to get two changed out, and more if you need to do all four sides," Montoya says.

The best way to get your car fixed cheaply is to get it done right the first time.
Jill Trotta
President of RepairPal Express

Where should I buy new brake pads?

Dealerships will change your brake pads, but local mechanics are likely to be more affordable.

"If you want to save money on any car repairs, an independent shop is the way to go," says Ibbotson of Consumer Reports. "Our survey results show that consumers tend to have a more satisfying experience at independent shops, where they are also more likely to get a discount."

This is true especially if you have an older vehicle, Montoya says.

"If I had a car that was 15 years old, I would go to a local mechanic or tire shop that does brakes as well," he says. "But I tend to favor the dealerships if it's newer."

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