If you've had to replace brake pads or rotors on modern vehicles, you know how expensive the parts and labor can be. Because extending your brake pad life puts real money back into your pocket, we offer some tips for those who are interested in doing just that. While it's a general rule that brake pads designed with aggressive grip levels and performance driving will result in faster wear, the following suggestions will help you extend your brake life significantly no matter what type of brakes you have on your vehicle.
First and foremost, nothing shortens brake life more than going heavy on the throttle in trafficked areas where the speed you reach cannot be sustained. Avoid creating more acceleration than you need to get to the next stop and you'll avoid creating excess work for your brakes. If you have a modern vehicle equipped with a fuel economy gauge, use it on a regular basis to maximize throttle efficiency. Master fuel economy and you'll create far less wasted acceleration that must be erased by slowing or stopping - at any speed.
Once you've come to a halt at a red light or stop sign, stay fully stopped for the duration you're there instead of coasting forward unnecessarily and dragging the brakes. While it may be hard to imagine much brake wear results from slow speed creep, consider the cumulative effect this has over time based on the number of traffic stops that you face. Getting into this simple habit will add up to more brake wear savings than you think.
In those areas where traffic is moving faster, a great deal of wasted gas and brake pad life can be saved by simply eyeing the speed of traffic three, four, five, or more cars ahead instead of just the person directly in front of you. You'll notice unexpected slowdowns and stops in time to ease off the gas sooner so your vehicle speed can drop naturally without braking. When a vehicle pulls into your lane in front of you and continues at a faster rate of speed than upcoming traffic will permit, it's sometimes a subliminal reaction to feel that traffic is now going faster and speed up. If you're in a hurry, it's easy to overlook the fact that the other driver will soon be braking hard - especially if it's a van or SUV that blocks visibility of anything in front of it. Avoiding false traffic flows will save a great deal of brake wear as well.
Because different vehicles have varying levels of brake boost, paying attention to how powerful and grabby your brakes are allows you to fine-tune your braking style. While consistent brakes may provide the enjoyable sensation of stopping on a dime regularly, those fast stops always come at the expense of shortened brake life.
If you've heated up your brakes during hard, aggressive driving or by sustained application on a long downhill grade, don't let them stay that way. Pulling into a parking spot right away and turning the car off with sizzling hot components is what causes brake rotors to warp the way old vinyl records can. Not only does this cause an extremely unpleasant shimmy when brakes are applied, it shortens pad life as well as the warped part of the rotor applies uneven pressure against them with each rotation of the wheel. It's best to keep the car moving at speeds of at least 25 mph for a few minutes so that air flows over the brakes and brings them back down to normal temperatures.
If you've just put on a new set of brake pads, follow the pad manufacturer's instructions about 'bedding' the brakes so they break in properly during the very beginning of their life cycle. This allows pad and rotor surfaces to mate properly and set the right wear pattern that will continue through the life of both components. Depending on the construction and intended use of the brake pads, getting the pads to reach certain temperatures allows material used in bonding pad particles together to fully cure, and it allows a top layer of coating on some pads to coat the rotor. For example, some performance brake pads may be designed to work a layer of carbon or other material into iron rotor surfaces for better grip.
Pads designed for normal driving conditions may simply specify going easy on the brakes without heavy application for the first few hundred miles. Other high-performance brake pads designed for aggressive use may direct you to follow a specific, guided series of light and heavy stops during break-in. Regardless of specific instructions, it's best to plan a less congested route ahead of time that will allow you to drive under the conditions required.