We don’t need to tell you this, but just in case it’s not obvious: Your brakes are pretty important. After all, if they’re not working right, your car or truck isn’t stopping. And that can be detrimental to your health.
But when you’re running disc brakes, how do you know if you need new pads or the discs themselves? Well it turns out there are a few simple ways to figure it out, so let’s dive in and talk it through.
A little bit about brakes.
Let’s talk about the braking system itself, just so that we’re all on the same page. A disc brake system has a round disc named the rotor that sits on a bearing in the middle of your suspension. As your wheels turn, so does the rotor. The brake caliper surrounds one end of the rotor, and when you press the brake pedal, it clamps the brake pads down onto the rotor on both sides, which slows down your forward momentum. As time goes on, your brake pads wear down and eventually need to be replaced. After all, they’re designed to be a consumable. But what about the rotor?
The friction created between the brake pad and rotor is built such that the pad is going to take the brunt of that force. But the rotor is made of metal, and constant heating and cooling cycles, combined with the natural wear from friction, will cause it to wear down. Sometimes that will come in the form of grooves in the rotor itself. In other situations, the rotor can wear down so much that it can warp, which makes it so the pads aren’t as effective since they can’t clamp onto as wide of a surface.
So that’s how things work. But how do you tell if your brake discs need replacing? Let’s get into that.
Look, listen and feel for signs of wear.
The obvious signs are usually the ones you should check first.
Take a look at your rotors. What color are they? The simple answer is that they should be the same color they always are, which is raw metal. If they’re blue or any other shade, then that’s a problem. It means your rotors are seeing too much heat, and have either distorted or are going to distort from the process. You definitely need new rotors and pads.
What about noises? If your brakes squeal, that could be the pads, or it could be the pads and rotors. The combination of one against the other could cause the metal-on-metal sound that you’re hearing, and that too can be a sign of bad discs.
Then there’s feel. Your steering is connected to your suspension, and therefore your braking system. If you notice that your steering wheel is vibrating, that’s a good sign that there’s a problem. If it vibrates more when you’re braking, then you definitely have a problem with the rotors. Same applies if your car pulls to one side or the other.
If you’re handy with tools, jack up the vehicle, take off the wheels and visually inspect the rotors. Are there any deep grooves? Is there an obvious shape problem with the rotor itself? Might be time to check those out.
And if you’ve got a modern car with brake light sensors, check to see if there’s a warning light that’s going off. That’s a good sign that something with your brakes needs to be sorted out.
If you think you have brake problems, and you need new rotors, you’ve got a few choices.
First, you can take it to your favorite mechanic and have them work it up. They can give you a quote on servicing your vehicle and getting everything back to tip-top shape.
But if you’re a custom guy or girl, then maybe you want to upgrade. And if that’s the case, then we’ve got a lot of options for you. From slotted and cross-drilled rotors to big-brake systems, we’ve got a lot to choose from. In fact, upgrading your brakes might be a good way to go anyways, because there’s never a bad time to stop too soon.
Whatever you do, make sure to fix the problem ASAP. Being safe on the road is important for you and everybody around you, so do your due diligence and get sort it out soon. Then you won’t have to worry about it any more.