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How often do you need to change brake pads or rotors on a car?

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Brake Pads: Depends on the warranted life of the pads already on your car. If you have 10,000-mile brake pads, you need to replace them every 10,000 miles. However, if you hear a grinding noise coming from your wheels, regardless of the mileage on your pads, you probably need to replace the pads. If you haven't put that many miles on your pads, you can probably get free replacements pads from the store that sold you the pads or the garage that installed them. (Be aware that "lifetime" brake pads don't really last forever. Auto parts manufacturers only call them that because 1) they DO last a very long time, 2) most car owners will sell or junk their cars long before the pads need to be changed and the warrantee does not effectively transfer to the new owner, and 3) the price of the original lifetime pads is high enough that, in the few cases where customers try to make a claim on the warrantee, the auto parts store is still coming out ahead. So, even if you have lifetime brake pads, you need to check them if you start hearing that grinding noise.) Rotors: The only time you should have to replace your rotors is if you damage them because of driving for an extended period with completely worn-down brake pads. The "grinding noise" I mentioned before is the sound of the screws in the base of brake pads (which are completely worn down) grinding a groove in your rotors. Ideally, you should replace your brake pads before you hear this noise. But sometimes this is not feasible. However, once you hear the noise, the sooner you can get the pads replaced, the less likely it is that you will have to replace the rotors. But, even if you drive, say, 1,000 miles like that, there is a chance that the rotors can be "turned". This means that the garage will grind down the entire surface of the rotors until it is even with the bottom of the groove. However, this is nearly as expensive as installing new rotors. This is what I would do. If you bought your car new, it probably came with 30-40,000-mile brake pads. If you bought it used, you don't have a clue what the warranty on the pads is, nor how much of that has been used up. Either way, just be on the lookout for that grinding noise. You'll know it when you hear it. When you hear it, you don't have to cancel your plans for that day and go straight to the garage or auto parts store (unless maybe your plans for that day involve driving 500 miles or more). But you'll want to replace them within a week or so. Since we're talking about what I would do, you can save a whole bunch of money replacing the pads yourself. The best "lifetime" brake pads you can buy are less than $50 ($100 for both front wheels), while most garages will charge you $300 for changing both front brake pads, and stick you with the cheap 10,000-mile pads. And it isn't really that hard to do. You need a few tools that might not already be in your toolbox, and that will cost you a few more bucks, but you only have to buy those tools once. But even if you had to buy them every time you changed your own brake pads, it's still a lot cheaper than paying a garage to do it for you. Another advantage to changing your own pads is that some garages will tell you that you need to replace the rotors, when you really don't. Even if you ground a deep groove in your rotors, it is only a narrow (1/4 inch wide groove, and the vast majority of the surface of your rotors is still good (though it probably won't pass a safety inspection). The garage will quote some "state law" that "forbids" them replacing the brake pads unless they also replace the rotors, which will run you another $400 on top of the $300 for replacing the pads. And if you say no, they're still going to charge you $100-200 just for taking the time to look at it, and you got nothing for your money. But if you replace the pads yourself, you can make your own call about the rotors. And if you decide the rotors do need to be replaced, you can do that yourself too, for about $200 for both front wheels. The thing is, whether you're doing it yourself or paying a garage to do it, don't try to anticipate when the pads are almost worn out. Just wait for the grinding sound, and when you hear it, change them, or get them changed, soon. Sure, if you do this enough, you're going to have to replace your rotors eventually. But if you get high-mileage pads, this will only happen every 30,000 miles or so, and over the life of your car, you will have much less damage to your rotors. But keep an eye on your calipers, especially as your vehicle gets older. Calipers are the brackets that hold the brake pads and push them against the rotor when you hit the brakes. Calipers use hydraulic piston to push the pads toward the rotors. Over time, these pistons can become "sticky", so that they don't pull back when you let off the brake. If this happens, while driving you will feel a slight pull to the side where the calipers are stuck, and may hear a constant brake rubbing noise, but not a grinding noise, at least not until the pads are completely worn down. But that's the thing. If your calipers are sticky, you will go through a pair of pads very quickly. And if you replace the pads on one side, you MUST replace the pads on the other side at the same time, even if they are not nearly as worn as the others. So, if your calipers are sticking, get them fixed pronto. Unfortunately, replacing calipers is not quite as easy as replacing brake pads and rotors. When you replace the calipers, you have to break the pressure seal on your brake fluid, which means, first, you're going to have brake fluid all over the place, and second, you're going to have to re-fill your brake fluid reservoir. It also means that the connections you are loosening will be very, very tight, and may require special tools to loosen. Likewise, when you reconnect everything, you're going to have to get the connections very, very tight again, to prevent leaks. But, even with all the special tools and replacement brake fluid you're going to have to buy, it's still cheaper than letting a garage do it for you ($300 doing it yourself, $200-250 if you use "rebuilt" calipers vs $600-700 at the garage), so think about it. If you insist on getting your brake work done by a garage, I want to warn you of one scam in particular. Some places might try to sell you a "lifetime brake job", meaning that, if you let them replace EVERY component of your brake system, for the standard cost, then pay an additional fee on top of that, they will warrantee the whole system for as long as you own the car. That's free diagnostics, free pads, free calipers, free rotors, free brake lines, free brake fluid, even free labor, for as long as you own the car. Sounds like a great deal, even at $1000. But it's a scam! Firestone had a "lifetime alignment" deal, and my wife signed up for it. But every time she brought the car in for service on that '"lifetime alignment" deal, they managed to find something else wrong that was not covered by the deal, but was intimately related to the alignment system so that (and here's where the "state law" comes in again) they couldn't do anything to the alignment unless they fixed this other thing first. If anyone offers you a "lifetime brake job", you can bet they will pull the same stunt every time you bring your car in for service.
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