The braking system is one of the most complex controls of a vehicle. It's made up of lots of different components, but some parts – like brake pads, discs and callipers – are much more likely to cause problems.
As a car's braking system is so important, it's checked during an MOT test and a service. The latter will involve a much more thorough check and help you spot any problems with your braking system early on.
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How often do I need to get my brakes checked?
Many modern vehicles are fitted with brake pad wear sensors. These detect when the brake pads' thickness is getting critically low and then notify you via a dashboard warning light. Some cars will instead have wear indicators fitted to the brakes which screech when it's time to get your brake pads changed.
A brake pad wear sensor cannot detect issues with other parts of your brake system (like disc wear, low fluid levels and rusty brakes) and will only alert you when pad thickness is getting low. We recommend getting an annual service where a proper brake inspection and clean can be carried out, as a service would uncover any such issues.
Your brakes will be checked as part of your MOT but a garage will only test their basic performance and check the brake pad thickness is at least 1.5mm.
There are also important signs that could indicate a problem with your brakes. If you notice any of these, we recommend booking your car in for a vehicle check as soon as possible instead of waiting for your next service or MOT.
Your brakes allow you to control the speed of your vehicle, bring it safely to a halt and stop in an emergency, so it's vital they're working properly.
How long will my brakes last?
The length of time your brake pads last depends on your driving style, vehicle weight, brake pad material and your driving routine.
Frequent, short journeys and city driving will wear brakes faster than motorway driving, simply because of use.
Front brake pads usually wear out faster than rear pads, as the front handles more of the braking load.
The lifespan of your brake discs also varies depending on the factors listed above, but discs tend to last longer than pads.
Brake fluid should be replaced at least once every 2 years.
When do my brakes need replacing?
The MOT requirement for brake pad thickness is 1.5mm. Your pads should be replaced before they get to this level.
At your MOT, the garage will assess the condition of your brakes and offer advice on when other parts of your braking system will likely need replacing.
How to make brake pads last longer
It may sound obvious, but driving responsibly at slower speeds is the best way to make brake pads last longer.
Reading the road ahead, anticipating traffic and decelerating helps you to slow down steadily and gradually, which puts less stress on the brakes. High-speed driving and sudden braking will wear the brake pads considerably faster.
A heavier load can also cause your brakes to wear down quicker, so try removing any unnecessary weight.
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Author: The AA