Replacing brake pads: how much does it cost and when to do it?

Replacing brake pads: how much does it cost and when to do it?

How important is brake pad replacement?

Brakes are one of the most important components of our car. We always focus on top speed or engine power, forgetting that all this power is useless without a good braking system.

Contrary to what many people think, the brake is not a single component, but a series of separate components that make up the braking system. Brake pads are the final part of this system, responsible for slowing or stopping the car.

Replacing brake pads always ensures safe driving for us and other road users.

What are brake pads for?

Brake pads are the component of the disc brake system that exerts friction on the wheel. Under normal driving conditions, the wheel is free to slide thanks to the thrust generated by the engine. The wheels themselves exert friction on the asphalt and this allows the car to move.

When we press the brake, a hydro-mechanical system causes the brake calipers to tighten, which in turn causes the disc pads to tighten. The pads are in fact composed of a metal base on which a layer of "friction material" is applied.

The composition of this material varies according to the needs of the brake in question. The brake pads of a sports car such as BWM, Alfa Romeo or supercar have a composition designed to improve braking efficiency. In contrast, brake pads dedicated to a small car such as a Smart or Fiat have a structure developed to maximise durability at the expense of performance.

Whichever car they are fitted to, braking can only be perfect and decisive in track and emergency conditions, as well as in normal road conditions.

Replacing the brake pads at standard intervals is the only way to ensure this type of braking and safe driving.

Therefore, brake pad replacement is crucial to our safety and the performance of the car.

What are brake calipers?

Brake calipers are, along with brake pads, the second key component of the disc brake system. They are brake pads made of steel or other material that exert pressure on the brake pads. This generates a very strong friction that slows and then brings the car to a complete stop.

On sportier and more luxurious cars, the brake calipers are painted in bright colors to distinguish them from standard cars. The first company to start this trend of painting brake calipers was the Italian company Brembo. Before that time, brake calipers were totally ignored and were not considered part of the car's styling. Today, luxury car models with "neutral" brake pads are rarely seen.

Generally, brake pad replacement should be done regularly as brake pads are, by definition, components subject to wear. On the other hand, shoes or calipers should be replaced only in case of very high mileage or in the presence of damage that penalizes their proper functioning. It is no coincidence that the replacement of brake pads costs much less than the replacement of brake calipers.

How do brake calipers work?

Brake calipers are not two brake shoes that squeeze and "squeeze" the brake disc, slowing it down and then locking its rotation. When we hit the car brake, the brake fluid pressure increases. This forces the brake calipers to squeeze and press the brake pads against the disc itself.

Because of this friction, the brake pads tend to wear down and become less and less effective.

Sportier cars tend to have discs with lots of notches and holes. This serves to dissipate the heat generated by friction more quickly. For the more curious on the web there are many videos of brake discs hot enough to be visibly red or orange.

To give you an idea, brake pads during a normal journey hardly ever exceed 200°C. However, for a sports car used on the track, temperatures easily exceed 1000°C.

When brake pad replacement is carried out, every good mechanic inspects the freshly removed brake pads and checks the level and type of wear. An unevenly worn brake pad is a symptom of a blocked or defective brake caliper. If the brake caliper is defective, it should also be replaced to prevent the new brake pads from wearing too quickly and causing braking problems.

What is the difference between disc brakes and drum brakes?

The main "practical" difference between disc brakes and drum brakes is that disc brakes provide much more efficient braking than drum brakes. The disc brake is, in fact, an evolutionof the drum brake which, thanks to its greater efficiency, has almost completely replaced it in modern cars.

The drum brake acts as if it were a piston placed perpendicular to the wheel. As the oil pressure increases, this cylinder is pushed towards the wheel on which it exerts the braking friction. Obviously the contact surface between the wheel and the drum brake is limited and this affects the braking capacity.

The drum brake has been replaced almost everywhere by the disc brake. It is only present as a rear brake on many small motorcycles and scooters, as for example in the 50's of the 14 years.

The disc brake, on the other hand, consists of brake pads attached to the body of the vehicle that act together with a disc attached to the wheel. The friction surface between the pads and the disc is much larger than that of a drum brake piston. In addition, the energy generated by the shoes is much greater. These two factors mean that the disc brake now reigns supreme in virtually all car segments, even the cheapest.

Given the differences between disc brakes and drum brakes, it's useful to consider the type of brakes your car has before asking how much it costs to change brake pads.

How much does it cost to change brake pads?

If you've got this far into the article you're probably wondering"how much does it cost to change brake pads?".

The cost of changing brake pads depends on the type of brake pad you want to use and the cost of the mechanic's labor.

The cost of brake pads is about 50-60 euros for front brake pads and 30-45 euros for rear brake pads. This cost refers to the pair of pads. Changing them individually would not only be useless but also very dangerous. Obviously if you choose to use higher quality pads or special models for sports cars the cost can easily double.

Remember then that the pads should always be changed for the two opposite wheels, both front and rear. It doesn't matter if the ones on the right front wheel are more worn than the ones on the left, both should always be changed.

If we only change them for one wheel, for example the left front wheel, we could risk losing control of the car when braking.

Also, don't think that changing them only on one side will save you money. In any case, you will have to go back to the mechanic as soon as the ones on the other side have worn out, costing you time and money for another visit to the mechanic.

The second component of the cost of replacing car brake pads is the hourly rate the mechanic will charge. This rate varies greatly from place to place depending on where the shop is located, whether it is independent or licensed, and your business options. In general, in Milan a good mechanic will cost you around 45 euros per hour.

To find out how much it costs to change brake pads, just add the price of the brake pads to the cost of labour. It is impossible to give an answer that is valid throughout Italy. In Milan, however, brake pad replacement should cost around 100 euros.

Our advice is not to save money by replacing brake pads because poor quality components could cause serious problems to the brake system and compromise the safety of the car.

What are friction linings?

Friction linings, brake pads or brakes are three different ways of referring to the same component.

As explained above, all three are components of the disc brake system. They consist of a metal plate to which a layer of material called "friction" is applied. This layer is what, when pressed against the disc, generates the friction that slows and then stops the car.

When braking, the friction paste is consumed until the metal plates of the brake pads are completely exposed. Obviously, the brake pads must be replaced before this point is reached, both to prevent damage to the calipers or brake discs and to ensure safe driving.

When do brake pads need to be replaced?

Brake pads should normally be replaced every 30,000 kilometres.

As with any car component that is subject to wear and tear, the exact life of brake pads depends on the model of car they are fitted to, the type of pads and the driver's driving style.

You don't have to be a Formula 1 driver to overuse brake pads. Anyone who lives in the hills or mountains will tend to wear their brake pads much more than an urban driver. This is because when braking downhill the brake and pads will also have to deal with the force of gravity which increases the load on the brakes. For this type of driver, brake pad replacement may be necessary even after only 15,000 kilometers of driving.

The best way to determine the exact life of the brake pads is to take a look at the Owner's Manual. Here you will, of course, find the intervals at which the brake pads must be replaced to ensure safe driving at all times.

When do brake discs need to be replaced?

Brake discs are also subject to wear due to the friction to which they are constantly subjected.

Compared to replacing brake pads, brake discs are replaced less regularly. Generally, a driver who regularly replaces his car's brake pads may have to replace the brake discs even after many tens of thousands of kilometres.

The minimum wear limit of the brake discs is indicated on their edges with an engraving.

Symptoms of worn brake pads?

We all regularly forget how long brake pads last and when to change them. That's why there are clear signs that we shouldn't ignore. Here are the symptoms that tell us to change our brake pads:

  • Brake wear indicator light on (the one on the rim surrounded by dashes).
  • Squealing whistle during braking
  • Braking less sensitive and need to press the brake pedal harder than usual.

Given the importance of good braking we have dedicated an entire article in our blog to the 7 unmistakable symptoms of worn brake pads. We suggest you take a look at them, if you notice even one of these symptoms it's probably time to visit the mechanic.

The cost of changing brake pads is very high: what to do?

Did you ask for a quote asking for the cost of brake pad replacement and almost fainted at the mechanic's response? Don't worry, you're not the only one?

It may seem strange, but a component as simple as brake pads can be very expensive. This doesn't necessarily depend on how luxurious the car is, but on how many manufacturers have the brake pads for that specific model on their price list. Logically, if a model is rare and only one or two manufacturers choose to produce brake pads, the price will go up due to the lack of competition in the market. Conversely, when a car model is very common, its brake pads tend to be produced by many manufacturers and this reduces the price.

The cost of brake pads should be seen more as an investment in your safety than as an unnecessary cost that you cannot escape. It is best to ask several mechanics or rely directly on a mechanic you trust. If the mechanic is honest, your price for brake pad replacement will be based primarily on the cost of replacement without having a jewelry markup.

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