Replacing Your Car’s Brakes: The Early Warning Signs

It’s often the things we rely on throughout our days that we take for granted. The sun rises, the birds sing and your favorite coffee shop is open, ready to caffeinate you for the day ahead. It’s only when they are missing that you notice how important they are.

This principle is never more true than when applied to vehicles. Every car is composed of thousands of parts, all playing a role in getting you safely to your destination. Some of those parts and the systems they construct are more important than others, and your brakes are a prime example.

You take your brakes for granted. When you step on the brake pedal, you expect the car to come to a safe stop. You do this innumerable times every day, and if everything goes according to plan, you’ll never experience an issue. The vehicle will simply stop moving.

But brakes, like all parts, experience wear and tear. Over time, they will become less effective and more prone to failure. Eventually, even the best brakes will need to be replaced. The key is identifying the early warning signs of brake wear before it becomes a problem and, suddenly, the thing you take for granted doesn’t respond how you anticipated.


● Brakes are vital components for vehicle safety, emphasizing the need to identify signs of wear early on.

● Understanding Brake Systems: Modern cars typically use hydraulic systems with disc brakes at the front and sometimes drum brakes at the rear.

● Recognizing Warning Signs: Signs of brake wear include unusual sounds, vibrations, changes in sensitivity, pulling when braking, and grinding noises.

● Mileage Considerations: Vehicle mileage serves as a general indicator for brake maintenance, with checks recommended between 25,000 and 65,000 miles.

● Audible Cues: Noisy brakes, such as squeaks or metallic sounds, often signal the need for maintenance or replacement.

● Vibrations and Sensitivity: Brake pedal vibrations or changes in sensitivity can indicate issues with brake rotors or the hydraulic system.

● Vehicle Behavior: Pulling to one side when braking may indicate uneven brake wear or other mechanical issues.

● Grinding Noises: Grinding sounds during braking indicate significant wear and potential damage, requiring immediate attention.

● Dashboard Alerts: Some vehicles feature dashboard warnings for brake service, activated by sensors detecting worn brake pads.

● Prompt Action for Safety: Timely addressing of brake issues is crucial for safety, with options like auto discount savings plans available for cost-effective maintenance.

Everything You Need to Know About Replacing Your Brakes

As a wear item that also happens to be integral to your safety when driving, brakes are something that will inevitably require replacement. While you don’t need to be an expert in how your brakes work or what goes into maintaining and replacing them, you should be able to recognize the signs that indicate it’s time to replace them.

It can be tempting to delay investing in new brakes, especially when car mechanic insurance doesn’t cover them, but they are one component of your vehicle that you simply can’t ignore.

All About Brakes

Everyone knows what brakes do, but what exactly are they? That’s a valid question, and while there’s no need to dive into an engineering lecture outlining precisely how different types of brakes and braking systems work, having a basic understanding of them is essential when discerning when it’s time to replace them.

The vast majority of modern cars have brakes at all four corners of the vehicle. These brakes are controlled by a hydraulic system, which essentially uses pressurized fluid to activate the brakes. When you push the brake pedal, the fluid exerts pressure in the mechanism at each wheel, and the brakes are applied.

A car’s front brakes are the primary stopping mechanism. When the brakes are applied, the momentum and weight of the vehicle cause more stress to be placed on the front wheels, meaning the front brakes do more work than the rear wheels.

There are two main types of brakes in modern vehicles–disc brakes and drum brakes. While these systems perform the same function, they do so in different ways.

● Disc brakes rely on friction discs and friction pads to slow your vehicle. As the wheel turns, so does the disc. A part called a caliper straddles this disc. When the brake pedal is pressed, pistons within the caliper force the friction pads to clamp the disc, thereby slowing the car. The friction pads tend to be the part of the system that wears out first.

● Drum brakes, which are less efficient than disc brakes, tend to be used at the rear of modern vehicles (if they are used at all). This design uses a drum that turns as the wheel on your vehicle turns. When the brake pedal is depressed, pieces called shoes are pushed outward by hydraulic pressure to apply friction to the interior of the drum, thereby slowing the vehicle.

Signs Your Brakes Need to be Replaced

Like most components in your vehicle, your brakes will eventually require maintenance and replacement. With other parts, it may be okay to put off these necessary tasks, but with brakes, it’s best not to delay. They play such a vital role in keeping you and your passengers safe that it is better to be preemptive than to experience the potential consequences of ignoring the warning signs.

So, what are the early warning signs that signal it’s time to replace your car’s brakes? There are several indicators, and your vehicles may display several at once or only one intermittently. Familiarizing yourself with the following subtle signs ensures you can detect any issues before they become worse. You may even want to invest in an auto discount savings plan to help with the financial aspect of routine maintenance and repairs associated with your car. It’s better to be preemptive and prepared when it comes to your safety.

Your Mileage is Adding Up

It may not be a sign in the sense that your car is acting differently or giving you a reason to worry, but your vehicle’s mileage can be an indication that it’s time to visit your mechanic for a brake checkup. While nothing may seem wrong–and it’s possible that your brakes are still in great condition–the mileage of your vehicle does correlate with the wear and tear on the components. The more miles, the more likely it is that your car needs to be serviced and maintained.

Many vehicle manufacturers provide guidelines for when your brakes should be checked. Typically, this service is recommended between 25,000 and 65,000 miles. Because it varies from car to car and is influenced by your driving habits and how you utilize your vehicle, there’s no harm in having your brakes checked by a certified mechanic sooner rather than later.

You Hear High-Pitched Screeching

Noisy brakes are often a sign that maintenance or replacement is needed. If you’ve ever stepped on the brake pedal in your car and heard a metallic sound, it is a strong indicator that your brakes need to be replaced. In fact, it’s probably a built-in wear sensor meant to alert you that your brakes need attention.

Other causes of squeaky brakes can be the buildup of rust–especially if your vehicle has been parked in a damp environment–or hardware within the brake system that is worn. If the noise persists, it’s best to take your vehicle in for an inspection to diagnose the exact source of the sound and correct it.

Your Brake Pedal is Vibrating

Have you ever stepped on your brake pedal and felt it pulse or vibrate beneath your foot? If so, it can be a little unnerving, but what does it mean?

Typically, this vibrating sensation is indicative of brake rotors that are worn in an irregular or uneven way. It can also mean that there is contamination or buildup on the rotor, causing the brake pads to make contact with a surface that is not level. Both of these causes manifest themselves as pulses or vibrations transferred all the way through your brake pedal.

In this scenario, your brakes need attention. At least one of them–the one that causes the vibration–needs to be replaced. It’s possible that a single brake is defective, and the others are still operational with plenty of life left, so you may end up replacing one brake or all four–it depends entirely on what your mechanic discovers upon inspection.

Your Brakes are Too Sensitive (or Not Sensitive Enough)

If you feel a change in the sensitivity of your brakes, it could be a sign that it’s time to replace them. People often describe brakes with low sensitivity as having a mushy feel, as if the pedal has to depress farther than normal to elicit the same stopping power. The opposite can also happen where your brakes are overly responsive and feel grabby when you step on the pedal.

Sometimes, brakes that are not responsive enough are a symptom of a larger issue within your vehicle’s braking system. It’s possible that there is a leak within your hydraulic system, causing the pressure to drop and your brakes to be less responsive. If you notice brake fluid on or under your car, this is a sure sign that you need to have your braking system addressed immediately.

Your Car Pulls to One Side When Stopping

When you brake, does your car pull noticeably to the left or right? In scenarios such as these, it’s likely that your brakes are wearing unevenly. This will most likely warrant a brake replacement, which will probably correct the issue and cause your vehicle to track properly when braking.

If the problem persists or is determined not to be related to uneven wear of the brakes, it could be caused by an issue with a brake caliper or a foreign substance in the brake fluid. Either of these issues will require diagnosis and repair by a mechanic to get your vehicle’s braking system back in top shape.

You Hear Grinding When You Brake

Much like the high-pitched squeal that can indicate brake wear and metal-on-metal contact, grinding is another sound that should alert you that something is amiss. Typically, this sound is caused by a similar source to its squeaking counterpart–it’s the built-in wear indicators on your brake pads.

While this knowledge may let you exhale a sigh of relief, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the sound or put off the inevitable brake replacement. The longer you drive your vehicle with that wear indicator making contact with your rotor, the more damage you can potentially cause. Eventually, your rotors could suffer the consequences, and other related components could require repair or replacement, as well. This all adds up to a pricey lesson learned, so be sure to visit your mechanic as soon as you hear grinding.

Your Dash Indicates Your Brakes Need Attention

Many modern vehicles make brake replacements easy by giving you a clear alert when it’s time to service your brakes. They achieve this by utilizing a sensor that detects when your brake pads are worn down. That sensor then triggers a light or warning message on your dash that informs you that it is time to have your brakes inspected and replaced.

Don’t Delay–Replace Your Brakes Today

Brakes are not something to be trifled with. If you notice any of the early warning signs, it’s important to act swiftly and have a professional diagnose the issue. Find alternatives to car repair insurance to prepare for this type of maintenance–unexpected and expected.

While replacing your brakes may be an unexpected (and unwelcomed) expense, an auto discount savings plan like Carefree Auto can help you stay safe on a budget and help keep your car running longer, especially when your car repair insurance doesn’t cover new brakes.

Already have insurance but need more assistance? Discount auto savings plans like those at Carefree Auto could help.

The Carefree Auto blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional advice. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed mechanic or auto professional before seeking services. The Carefree Auto card is not insurance, and Carefree Auto is not an insurance provider.