It applies to brake pads in both the disc brakes and drum brakes that a layer of brake lining is mounted on the pads. The surface of the lining is then exposed to friction when braking.
When brake pads are subjected to friction over an extended period of time, the lining becomes thinner. When it’s time to change brake pads depends on several things. First, your driving style is crucial to the life of your brake pads. If you drive a lot in the city - and brake a lot - or drive a little aggressively where you brake hard at high speed, the brake lining on the pads will wear down faster. Conversely, if you drive longer trips on the highway, they last longer.
The brake pads’ life ranges from 37.000 and 62.000 miles driven.
The brake shoes in drum brakes, however, last much longer than the pads. This is because the brake shoes sit inside the drum brakes, which are only on the rear of the car. And these only make up around 30% of the braking force compared to the front disc brakes, which deliver 70% of the braking power. Therefore, the life of the brake lining on the brake shoes ranges between 93.000 and 125.000 miles driven.
In some cars you will find a so called wear indicator for the brake lining. This indicates when it is time for a change of the brake pads, and a signal in the dashboard will light up. There is a sensor sitting by the brake pads in the car which will let you know when the brake pad lining is worn down sufficiently.
The price for a new set of brake pads is not high, it is around £40 and upwards. If you need the brake pads fitted cost, including an hour's mechanic labour, the total cost for the work will be about £150 on average per axle.
However, you should be aware that it is not often that you only need to change the brake pads. This would only be the case if you plan to sell the car or if the brake discs are still in good condition, but the brake lining on the pads is worn down completely. Otherwise, changing the brake pads is often a task that is a complete replacement of brake pads and discs altogether.
If you need a brake shoe replacement, the price for the spare part itself is even cheaper than the pads, and lies around £30, so you have to pay about £140 per axle, incl. labour hours.
Read more on our page for brake discs and pads, if you are looking for the cost of replacing brake pads and discs at the same time.
In disc brakes, the brake pads are located on the inside of the brake caliper, which is mounted on one side of the disc itself. When you brake, the brake fluid is pressed through the brake hoses, creating a hydraulic pressure that presses the brake pads against the disc so that the car brakes. It is in this process that the brake lining on the pads wear down.
Most cars have disc brakes both in the front and rear of the car. However, some smaller cars have a set of drum brakes in the rear, and this is due to several things. In drum brakes, a cylinder ensures that two brake shoes are pressed outwards against the drum, which is fixed to the inside of the wheel. The system is thus the same as with disc brakes - in both cases, the lining of the pads/shoes is worn down when subjected to friction. But drum brakes are more often found in smaller cars because they are not as strong as disc brakes, and they do not have to deliver as much braking force for the smaller vehicles.
In addition, they generally require less maintenance because they only provide 30% of the total braking capacity and for that reason wear less. They are also cheaper, so the more expensive disc brakes are not needed in small cars at all.
In this regard, our mechanics report that disc brakes on the back of small cars sometimes have to be replaced due to rust - they are not worn down, but are used so little that the metal on the brake disc is attacked by rust. The frictional heat that occurs when braking has been too low to keep the rust away from the steel.
If you are thinking about doing the job yourself, read more in our guide on how to change brake pads.
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