How to Recognize Brake Pad Wear Patterns

A vehicle with disc brakes slows or stops by applying pressure via brake pads to a rotor attached to the wheel hub. Brake pads that show uneven wear generally are out of alignment, and depending on the wear pattern this type of wear could mean a variety of things. Understanding the wear pattern on your brake pads lets you easily find a solution to fix any existing problems.

Part 1 of 2: How brake pads work

To understand brake pad wear properly, you first need to understand how brake pads work. The process starts when you press the brake pedal and results in stoppage according to how hard you press the brake pedal.

brake caliper, pad, and rotor

Step 1: Understand brake lines. The brake lines hold the brake fluid, which is forced into a long, thin pipe when the brake pedal is pushed.

Brake fluid is actually hydraulic fluid that pushes down a piston at the end of the brake line, which in turn pushes the brake pad toward the rotor, slowing or stopping the vehicle depending on the force used.

The pressure transmitted via the hydraulic brake fluid is much greater than the force the person driving could apply alone. Hydraulic pressure is applied on each wheel evenly when the brake pedal is pressed down.

floating caliper

Step 2: Understand the brake calipers. The brake calipers hold the pads in place and squeeze them against the rotor, providing the friction to stop the vehicle.

When installing brake calipers on your vehicle, you can choose between floating and fixed calipers. Floating calipers move in and out relative to the rotor and come with one or two pistons on the inside caliper. The pistons of a floating caliper push the whole caliper when braking, creating friction from both calipers.

Fixed calipers have pistons on both the inside and outside caliper. Fixed brake calipers give better performance than floating and are preferred for this reason.

Step 3: Understand the brake pads. A brake pad is composed of a steel backing plate with one side covered in friction material.

The purpose of the brake pad is to grip the rotor when the brake pedal is pressed, slowing or stopping the vehicle they are installed on. When choosing brake pads, you can choose between a few different materials. The table below should help you to understand them more.

brake pad materials

Step 4: Understand brake rotors. The other part of the equation when stopping a vehicle, brake rotors give the brake pads something to grip and slow the axle when slowing or stopping a vehicle.

close up of damage on a rotor

Rotors are a very durable component lasting through many brake pad changes. Usually manufactured of cast iron, some other materials include composite materials, such as reinforced carbon or ceramics.

  • Warning: It is important that you change your brake pads when they wear out. Not changing them promptly can lead to scarring of the brake rotor surface and reduction in the performance of the rotor.

Part 2 of 2: Brake pad wear patterns

The wear pattern on a brake pad says a lot about your brake setup. In general, it indicates if the pads are installed incorrectly and need adjustment. You should have your brake pads inspected regularly to make sure that they do not need replacing. On average, you should replace your brake pads every 50,000 miles, though that can vary according to the brake pad durability, the environment you drive in, and your own personal driving habits.

Step 1: Look for even wear. You want even wear across both the inside and outside brake pads on each wheel.

Signs of even brake pad wear are indicated by equal amounts of material on both pads for each tire.

  • Tip: You should seek brake pads with wear indicators. Wear indicators let you know when it is time to change your brake pads either by sound, sensors, or by visually inspecting the indicator on the brake pad.

brake pad with wear patterns

Step 2: Be aware of outer pad wear. For this wear pattern, the outer brake pad has much less material than the inner pad.

This type of wear is caused when the outer brake pad continues to rest against the rotor, even when the caliper is released. This is a sign of malfunctioning guide pins, bushings, or slides. The easiest way to fix this problem is to replace the caliper and the brake pad.

Step 3: Be aware of inner pad wear. Signs of excessive wear on the inner brake pad are a strong indicator that the pad is resting against the rotor even after the caliper has released.

This type of wear pattern is a sure sign of a worn seal, damage to the caliper, or corrosion from exposure to wet conditions. As with the excessive wear to the outer brake pad, replacing the caliper and brake pad represents the easiest way to fix this kind of wear.

Step 4: Know the signs of tapered pad wear. A third type of wear pattern, tapered wear on a brake pad, is a strong indicator that the brake pad is installed incorrectly.

The pad will appear to slope from one portion of the pad to another. Wear of the guide pins and the sliding caliper seizing on one side of the pad is also a possible cause of such wear. To fix this problem, replace the offending caliper in addition to the brake pad.

top down view of a brake pad that is cracked and broken

Step 5: Look for cracked, glazing, and lifted edges. A glazed or cracked brake pad with lifted edges is the sign of a variety of problems.

Most common causes for such distress in a brake pad are overuse, a malfunctioning caliper, or a defective pad. In addition, a parking brake that is not fully retracted can cause such deformity of the pad.

The easiest way to fix this problem is to replace the pad and adjust the parking brake if needed.

  • Tip: It is also important that you break-in a brake pad properly. Bedding-in transfers a thin layer of transfer film to the rotor surface, which minimizes brake judder, and is accomplished through the gradual buildup of heat in the rotor surface and the brake pad material. The bed-in procedure can take hundreds of miles, during which time you should avoid heavy braking.

Step 6: Look for overlapping friction material. In this type of wear pattern, the top edge of the pad overlaps the top of the rotor.

Common causes include installing the wrong-sized brake pads or rotors on your vehicle or by excessive wear on the guide pins or caliper. To fix this problem, install the correct-sized brake pads or rotor on your vehicle.

Uneven wear on your brake pads is easy to fix. By making the necessary adjustments or by installing the correct size parts, you can get back on the road in no time. If you have any questions about your brake pads, rotors, or calipers, you can Ask a Mechanic for more information. You can also have one of our expert mechanics replace your brake pads for you if you do not feel confident in doing the job yourself.


Next Step

Schedule Brake Pad Replacement

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Brake Pad Replacement. YourMechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7-days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 2,000 cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

SEE PRICING & SCHEDULING

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Recent Brake Pad Replacement reviews

Excellent Rating

(14,598)

Rating Summary
13,977
387
81
41
112
13,977
387
81
41
112

Chuck

10 years of experience
347 reviews
Chuck
10 years of experience
Acura RDX V6-3.5L - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Plano, Texas
Very professional. Was running late from previous job and called ahead to let me know. Worked efficiently. So nice not to have to drive far and sit in a waiting room for hours to get the job done.
Toyota Highlander - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Rowlett, Texas
Chuck was great! We talked via phone to discuss the available options to repair my Highlander. He worked with me to schedule a time that was convenient for me, and he arrived early for the appointment. He walked me through some of the other issues that exist on my 2008 Highlander which has 223k miles. His feedback on my car was clear and easy to understand.

Pardeep

21 years of experience
1068 reviews
Pardeep
21 years of experience
Mini Cooper L4-1.6L - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Sunnyvale, California
Pardeep was prompt and communicated well during the whole process. He completed the service in record time.
Honda Civic - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - San Jose, California
Pardeep was on time for the appt, actually early, and finished quickly and efficiently. Thank you very much.

Refugio

21 years of experience
106 reviews
Refugio
21 years of experience
Toyota Sienna V6-3.5L - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - San Antonio, Texas
Refugio is our top choice mechanic! He works with you and came early since we were available. He is honest about the work that needs to be done and we have never had trouble with our vehicles after his repairs.
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - San Antonio, Texas
He was respectful, prompt, courteous, and professional. He is a no nonsense guy who did the job above my expectations and is the standard from which all other mechanics are judged by (in my book)

Raymond

27 years of experience
223 reviews
Raymond
27 years of experience
Mini Cooper L4-1.6L - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Victorville, California
Raymond was great! I didn't feel like his recommendations for other services are forced which I really appreciate. Will definitely use his services again!

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

Related articles

The Impact of the IIHS Automatic Braking Technology
In In March 2016, the automotive industry received exciting news concerning vehicle safety. While this announcement has actually been a feature available in the United States since 2006, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, also known as the NHTSA, and...
How to Replace an Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS) Fuse or Relay on Most Cars
Anti-lock brake systems have a fuse that fails if the ABS brake light is on or when the fuse is blown. The wheels may lock up if the ABS fuse is bad.
How Bad Driving Prematurely Wears Out Your Car
Bad drivers and bad driving habits can cause strain on car parts, especially the tires, brakes, body, and electrical and steering systems.

Related questions

Brakes spongy after booster and master cylinder replacement
Hello. You need to double check the installation since you may have put the brake booster rod on the brake pedal wrong causing binding of the brake switch and causing the system to not bleed correctly. Also make sure the...
Brake Booster potential leak.
Hi and thanks for contacting YourMechanic. If the brake pedal is easy to use when the engine is running and is stiff when the engine is off, then the brake booster is working fine. The oil is coming from the...
How far can I drive with my Battery Light (including my brake lamp) turning off a minute ago. I am aware my brake pads are gone
The usual cause for a battery light to come on is a fault in the charging system. If the alternator is not charging and providing electrical power, then the electrical system will resort to draining the battery for power. Since...

How can we help?

Our service team is available 7 days a week, Monday - Friday from 6 AM to 5 PM PST, Saturday - Sunday 7 AM - 4 PM PST.

1 (855) 347-2779 · hi@yourmechanic.com