Well then, let Drive Revolve remind you one thing: Brakes are your vehicle’s most critical safety feature. Among all the issues with this part, the most common one is uneven wear on brake pads.

So you just proudly own your first car? Or have you been on the road for several years and are familiar with many car models? Regardless, taking proper care of your baby is still an overwhelming task. There are too many systems to keep track of on your own, such as the body control module, steering wheel, and coolant. As we are caught between replacements and routine oil changes, we tend to overlook the brakes.

Here, we will dig deep into the issue, break down the causes, and show you how to handle this situation. But first off, remember that… 

Driving With Uneven Wear On Brake Pads Can Have Disastrous Outcomes

The term “brake” refers to a mechanical device that restricts motion by absorbing energy from a moving system. In a car, it works when the driver steps on the brake pedal, pushing the brake pads down onto the brake rotors (or “discs”). This creates friction that slows down and eventually stops the vehicle.

Okay, okay – you probably know this like the back of your hand! But did you know that, over time, the pads can be worn down unevenly? And there is more to the issue than meets the eye: Your vehicle’s braking system is complicated with many moving pieces. They cooperate to guarantee that you stop safely. Uneven wear on brake pads poses a risk to each and every one of those components. 

Rotors are the first things that get affected. Not just because of the steel-on-steel grinding but also because of the extreme heat produced by this process. Plus, they can harm the brake calipers, which squeeze the rotors and the pads together. 

brake failure
Uneven wear on brake pads will soon lead to brake failure – Source: YourMechanic

To make matters worse, your tires will also suffer from excessive tension. When you drive with worn out brake pads, you must apply greater pressure on the brakes to stop the car. This stresses the tires and wears them out, sometimes unevenly. 

All of this means you may be unable to slow down or stop your vehicle anytime. Sitting behind the wheel of a car with worn brake pads, you, your car, and other pedestrians are in grave danger.

Warning Signs You Have Uneven Wear On Brake Pads

For your own sake, it’s best to handle uneven wear on brake pads before it is too late. Fortunately, you won’t have to guess when to replace these components– the vehicle will give you some signals when it needs a new one: 

  • If you hear squeaky sounds when you press the brake pedal, the culprit is either a dusty or worn-out brake pad. Sometimes these squeaky noises are audible even when the brake is not applied. 
  • The brake no longer functions smoothly. For example, when you press the pedal, the vehicle doesn’t slow down or stop as quickly as it should. This might be a sign the brake pads are worn, or there may be some severe issues with the braking system. 
  • A pulsing or vibrating feeling when braking indicates uneven wear on brake pads. This sign often comes with rotors problems (more on that below). 
  • The pedal feels “spongier” than usual. This is always a warning sign. Either your brake pads or brake fluid is suffering. 
  • The vehicle slightly veers to one side while braking. If one side of the brake pads wears down faster, it won’t be able to maintain its peak performance. As a result, the car mildly swerves when braking. 
  • Newer car models literally tell you when there is a problem with the brake system. For example, you may notice a ring surrounded by dashes on the dashboard, or it may just say “brakes.” 

So What Causes Unevenly Worn On Brake Pads?  

In fact, it’s common for front and rear brake pads to wear differently. When the car moves, the front brakes often take the brunt of the forward momentum. As a result, they get worn out faster than the rear ones. 

However, when you notice that the brakes are wearing down more on one side of the car than the other (the passenger side and the driver’s side, for example), the situation is a bit trickier with various causes. 

Sticky Caliper Pistons

Sticky brake calipers happen when one of your pistons suffers from debris or corrosion. In that case, the piston won’t be able to glide properly, which results in constant contact between the brake pad and the associated rotor. Since that brake pad has to work much more than the other, it wears out much faster. 

Here is some good news: The solution for sticky caliper pistons is pretty straightforward. You can fix it just by lubricating the parking brake system. If the corrosion is too severe, though, the brake will become stuck again after a short time. In that case, replacing the brake caliper is required. 

How to lubricate the parking brake system?

Misalignment In The Brake Pads 

Sometimes, when the mechanic installs your brake pads, he may not align them evenly. A bent bracket can cause this on the pad’s rear. When the brake pads are not correctly aligned, they wear differently over time.

Misalignment In The Brake Pads
So you notice your brake pads worn out in 3 months? Misalignment might be the reason – Source:

Adjusting the pads’ alignment is simple but requires a bit of skill. You see, even a professional can make this mistake! I’d recommend taking the car to the auto repair shop and letting them do the job instead of trying to fix it at home. Don’t worry. The process is quick and won’t break the bank. 

Rotors’ Thickness Variation

What does “rotor thickness variation” mean? That’s when a car’s rotors have varying levels of thickness. They will have more flat spots that the brake pads make contact with, and as a result, the brake pads will wear out much faster on that corner of the vehicle. 

Disc thickness variation – an explanation

To deal with the problem, you will have to replace the rotor. Another way is to machine it with a light skim to remove any DTV flat spots. In case the vehicle is equipped with ceramic brake pads, the rotor should be machined as part of every brake job. 

Dirty Or Rusty Rotors 

Another problem with rotors is that they can become dirty or dusty over time. This also causes uneven wear on brake pads

Some people think only old rotors will face this problem, but new ones can also have dirt or grease on them after the installation process. You should clean the rotors with a formulated brake cleaner to eliminate any debris from them. 

Brake cleaner
For new rotors, brake cleaners can do the job – Source: Q20

When you purchase new rotors, they are often protected by a gray paint-like coating. You can remove it using brake cleaner, but it’s not necessary. This coating will be removed during regular braking operation when the pads make contact with the rotor. 

Warped Rotors

This is the worst issue with rotors. 

When one of the rotors is warped, the corresponding brake pads only make contact with the rotor’s higher spots, whereas the other pads make complete contact. Because of this, the pads wear out at different rates. The only way to fix it is to replace the rotor. 

Problems with rotor
Example of a warped rotor – Source: YourMechanic

This is why it’s not a good idea to clean your auto right after a spirited drive. The rotors should be given enough time to cool down. Otherwise, they can be warped if you spray water on them. To ensure, put your hand within a few inches of the rotor’s surface. If it is too hot, wait a while before spraying the water. 

Different Types Of Brake Pads

Finally, here is a culprit many often overlook. It’s crucial to stick with one type of brake pad because when you use pads from different brands, their materials might vary. They tend to degrade at different rates, and their lifespans are not the same. If you stay with one brand and model, they have more chance to wear evenly over time. 

Ceramic vs. Semi-Metallic vs. Organic: How to choose the best brake pads for your car

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Should You Drive When Your Brake Pads Are Worn? 

As I previously mentioned, driving with worn brake pads can have catastrophic consequences. Therefore, you should never do so. When you notice any sign of tear and wear on your brake pads, stop driving and get them replaced immediately.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace Brake Pads?

Replacing brake pads often costs around $150 per axle, or $300 total. But this is just a rough approximation. Depending on each model, the price of each axle might range anywhere from $100 to $300. 

When To Check Your Brake Pads? 

As a rule of thumb, after driving for 10,000 or 20,000 miles, you should get your brake pads replaced even if you sense no problem. This helps keep wear to a minimum. Power stop rotors’ lifespan is a bit longer: You can replace them between 50,000 to 70,000 miles to keep your brake in peak health. 

Precaution Is Better Than Cure! 

According to the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, brake failure is responsible for 22% of all accidents caused by technical problems rather than driver error. Hence, when you travel in a car, the last thing you want is uneven wear on brake pads. It means that, at any given moment, you can completely lose control of your vehicle. 

What’s the key takeaway, then? Keep an eye (and an ear) out for the earliest signs that your brakes are in trouble! It’s always essential to take proper preventive measures to avoid unwanted incidents – don’t forget that. 

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One reply on “Uneven Wear On Brake Pads: More Deadly Than You Think”

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    Julia Ortiz
    January 10, 2023 at 10:03 am

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