In theory, the brake pads need to be replaced every 50,000 kilometres (roughly 31,000 miles). However, in actual vehicles, the replacement time may vary based on use – including the driver’s handling of the vehicle and the terrain it’s driven on. When it’s time to replace the brake pads, there is often a “signal” to remind you – and some can be more subtle than others. The brake pads should be replaced as soon as possible to ensure the safety of the driver, any passengers, and other road users and avoid accidents.

Here are the four signals to look out for so you don’t get caught out:

Look out for the vehicle’s indicator lights

When the brake indicator symbol on the instrument panel lights up, this is the vehicle’s sensor reminding you it’s time to get your brakes checked. If you are consistently seeing the symbol light up on your instrument panel, it may indicate a fault. The symbol may light up intermittently or for prolonged periods of time, and neither should be ignored. Get your car to a service centre as soon as possible as the issue will likely not go away on its own and may cause further damage – resulting in a costly bill down the line!

Does the vehicle sound different than usual when you’re braking?

Under normal circumstances, you’ll know how your vehicle’s brakes sound and whether you can come to a halt smoothly with little noise, or perhaps your brakes have a distinct quiet sound that they make when you press the pedal. However, if you notice a difference in how your brakes feel or you hear an unusual or high-pitched noise when braking, it may indicate a fault or that the brake pads are worn and iron is rubbing directly on iron when you brake: at this stage, your brakes are at their limit! Both issues should be addressed urgently to avoid further damage to the vehicle, especially if you hear that metal friction noise as it’s possible the brake disc has become damaged already, meaning more components may need to be replaced.

Do your brakes feel different when braking?

As the vehicle’s mileage increases, the amount of braking you do will also, naturally, increase. When braking, you’ll be familiar with how much pressure you need to apply to your vehicle’s brake, so if you notice a change and the brakes feel spongy, soft, or too hard it’s time to visit your local maintenance and repair shop! This fault may be attributed to work brake pads, but it’s always good to check early to reduce further damage.

Judge the thickness of the brake pads by eye or take a photo to compare as time goes on

For some vehicle makes and models, the brake pads can be easily seen when standing close to the vehicle. Commonly, the thickness of the brake pad should be around 1.5cm (15mm), however, if you find your brake pads thinning down to 0.5cm (5mm) or less, it’s definitely time to get them replaced. If it helps, you can even take a photo of the brake pad so you can compare the progress over time so you get an idea of how long you wear down your vehicle’s brake pads as this may differ from the averages and general guidelines you find online.

While most people will tend to wait for the instrument lights and indicators to flash or the vehicle’s mileage to reach 50,000 kilometres (31,000 miles), it may be a good idea to get your brakes checked more regularly, especially if you drive daily, to avoid any surprises or extra bills!