How to tell if your brake pads or discs need replacing

Signs there's a problem with your brake pads or discs

Worn brake pads are a common issue that most drivers will likely face at some point.

Many modern vehicles are fitted with brake pad sensors that can detect if your pads need replacing and alert you through the brake warning light on your dashboard. Cars without this feature will usually have wear indicators fitted to the brake pads that squeal when your pads need replacing.

Aside from worn brake pads, it’s important to look and listen out for signs that could indicate a problem with another part of your braking system.

Brakes are the most important safety feature on your car, so it’s vital to maintain them properly. If you notice any of these issues, it’s crucial to book your car in for a check as soon as possible.

Need to get your brakes checked? Book a vehicle check or service with Smart Care.

Book now


Screeching sounds

As already mentioned, you might hear a screeching noise from your brake pads. As the pads wear down, the indicator comes into contact with the rotor surface. It screeches to let you know it’s time for a new pair of brake pads.

Screeching from your brakes could also be a sign of other issues too, including a stone stuck in your brakes, or a problem with another part of your braking system.

Take your car to a garage to be checked as soon as possible if you hear any screeches.

Scraping sound

A grinding and/or scraping noise is usually a sign that the friction material on your brake pad has worn away completely. The scraping sound is the metal of the brake pads touching the metal of the brake disc.

Having completely worn brake pads seriously impacts braking function and could also cause expensive damage to the brake discs.

If you hear a scraping or grinding sound, a visit to the garage is even more urgent – don’t drive your car any further until the brakes have been checked.


Vibrations can be a sign that there’s an issue with a number of different parts of your car, including your braking system.

If you feel the steering wheel or brake pedal vibrating when you brake, this could mean there’s excessive wear or damage on the brake pads or discs, or a warped disc.

If this is the case, we recommend booking your car in to a garage for further investigation.


Pulling – especially to one side when you slow down or stop – can be a indication of a sticking brake calliper or collapsed brake hose.

However, it can also be caused by uneven tyre wear or wheel alignment too.

Pulling should be checked by a garage as soon as possible so the root cause can be identified.

Brake pedal problems

Having to brake harder

If it’s taking longer than usual to slow down when you apply the footbrake, this could be due to a seized brake calliper or a fault with the brake servo system.

This is a serious safety concern which needs immediate attention. Book in to a garage as soon as you notice an increase in the distance required to stop your car.

Spongy brake pedal

People often describe the feeling of having to press their brake pedal down further than usual as a ‘spongy’ or ‘soft’ brake pedal. Some also describe the sensation as the brake pedal 'just not feeling right' underneath their foot.

A spongy brake is usually caused by an issue with the hydraulic system (such as air in the line) a hose problem, or a leak.

If your brake pedal isn’t feeling quite right, get your car checked as soon as you can.


A brake fluid leak is rare – an engine oil or coolant leak is more common.

If you spot a puddle under your car, use a tissue to check if it’s oily or coloured. Clear water is likely to be harmless discharge from the air conditioning, but anything else needs to be checked by a garage.

A better indicator of a brake fluid leak is a fluid level drop, which should trigger a warning light or message on your car’s dashboard. It should also be spotted during an MOT test.

If your brake fluid warning light has come on or you suspect a leak, don’t drive. Without fluid, the brake system can't operate which is extremely dangerous. Contact your breakdown provider for help.

Time to get your brakes checked? Book a vehicle check or service with the AA

Do any of these brake issues sound familiar? Book a diagnostic check through Smart Care and let the garage know what you think might be wrong.

Booking in for an annual service is also a great way to prevent any problems with your brakes and spot any other issues with your car.

When you book a vehicle check or service with Smart Care, you’ll get:

  • Free vehicle collection and return, subject to availability.
  • AA approved garages.
  • Quick and easy online booking and payment.
  • Parts and labour guaranteed for 1 year or up to 12,000 miles
  • Fair, transparent pricing.

Every garage in our network is independent and trustworthy. We thoroughly inspect each garage to ensure they fully meet our quality, service and training standards and therefore become an AA approved garage. We then carry out full audits annually, as well as ad-hoc spot checks.

We even have next-day availability for vehicle checks in some locations.

AA approved MOTs, services and repairs at a local garage near you

Book with Smart Care and get fixed pricing with no hidden extras, plus parts and labour guaranteed for 1 year or up to 12,000 miles.