How can I tell if my brakes need replacing?

How to tell if brakes need replacing

Car brakes are essential to vehicle safety, as they allow you to control the speed of your car and bring it safely to a halt. As with any other system in your car, brakes need to be regularly maintained and inspected to ensure they’re working correctly and effectively for the safety of you and other road users.

Your annual MOT or service are both opportunities for a qualified technician to assess the condition of your brakes, however, you should always be on the lookout for warning signs that they’re not working as they should. Keep reading to discover when your brakes need replacing.

How often should I get my brakes checked?

You should try to have both your brake discs and brake pads checked every 10,000 miles to make sure that everything is fully functioning. Your brake discs will need to be replaced after 30,000 to 50,000 miles on average, and your brake pads after 20,000 to 40,000. However, these figures will depend on the quality of the parts, your driving habits, and the condition of other braking components such as the brake callipers.

What are the parts of the brake system?

Before we discuss any brake failures, it’s important to understand the anatomy of your brakes, so you can better figure out when components need replacing.

It’s important to note that different vehicle makes and models will use different components – for example some cars will use disc brakes on all four wheels, while others may use drum brakes on the rear.

  • Brake discs – Circular metal discs that turn with your wheels. When the brake pads are pushed against the discs by the callipers, your car will begin to slow down.
  • Brake pads – Pads on either side of the brake disc that push against the brake disc when you press the pedal to reduce the speed of the car.
  • Brake callipers – Callipers house the pistons that push the brake pad against the brake disc when you apply the brake pedal.
  • Brake fluid – A liquid used in hydraulic systems to transmit the pressure from your foot through the braking system in order to stop your car.
  • Brake lines – The lines that house your brake fluid and allow it to travel throughout the braking system.

Signs your car brakes aren’t working properly

If you’re not sure how to tell if brake discs need replacing, or when it’s time for new brakes, there are some key signs to be aware of that indicate it’s time to replace them.

Your brakes don’t work as well as they used to

One of the main warning signs that you may need to replace your brakes is a loss of performance. If you find that the brake pedal feels spongy when you press it, then it may be that your brake pads need to be replaced or your brake fluid is low.

Lower than normal brake fluid levels could be down to a fluid leak, so you’ll need to have this checked by an expert as soon as possible. Our Free Brake Check can make sure that there are no leaks or problems.

Book a free brake check

You can hear a grinding or squealing sound

If you can hear a grinding noise when you brake, it’s likely that the friction material of your brake pad has worn away significantly, and the harsh sound is caused by the remaining metal on metal contact between the pad backing and the brake disc.

As for a squealing noise, this can be caused by a build-up of rust on the brakes. If you’ve left your car standing in the rain for a prolonged period of time, then there may be some light rusting on the metal components. This usually isn’t anything to worry about and should quickly wear off with consistent driving. The noise could also be the pads sticking in the calliper carriers that they operate in. Any squealing or grinding sounds like these should be investigated at the earliest opportunity.

If it is time for new pads or discs, you can find the right ones for your make and model on Simply enter your VRN to be shown all the options available for your vehicle. Remember, if you’re replacing your brake discs, you must always change your pads at the same time.

Shop brake pads

Your car pulls to the side

Pushing the brake pedal shouldn’t affect your handling or direction, so if your car pulls to one side when you brake, this can be a serious problem in an emergency.

Pulling when you brake could also be related to your tyres or suspension but is likely a sign of uneven wear to your brakes, or a sticking calliper. Either way, it’s best to get them checked out immediately to ensure you can brake safely when you need to.

Unusual vibration when you’re braking

Warped brake discs can cause vibrations through your steering wheel or brake pedal as you slow down. If you feel this happening, then your discs will likely need to be replaced. You may also feel vibrations through your seat – this indicates that the rear brake discs or drums could be worn.

Shop brake discs

There are leaks on the inner wheels

Worn seals, split hoses, and loose connections in your braking system can all lead to fluid leakages, weakening your braking performance.

Any fluid on the inner wheels, or on the floor where you’ve stopped or parked, can indicate a leak. You can identify brake fluid by its typically clear colour and slight odour. In this instance, do not drive your car as it will be unsafe to do so. Arrange for a specialist to inspect it.

Your brake warning light is on

One sure-fire way to know if there’s a problem with your brakes is to check your dashboard. If your car’s brake warning light is on, then your brake fluid may be low – top it up as soon as possible with the brake fluidcorrect .

You should also fully drain and replace your brake fluid every 24 months or 24,000 miles. If you’d prefer, we can do it for you with our Brake Fluid Change service at your local Halfords garage.

If the light remains on once you’ve topped up, then it could also indicate that your brake pads have worn and need replacing. Many feature a wear indicator which illuminates a warning message to the driver that the pads are nearing their wear limit. However, this isn’t a feature on every car, which is why making regular checks are so important.

What should I do if my brakes aren't working properly?

If you have any issues with your brakes, or you’re concerned by the sound or feel of your car when braking, then have your car checked by a qualified technician straight away. Here at Halfords, our experts are on hand to carry out a full assessment of your braking system at no cost, with our Free Brake Check. We’ll assess 6 key areas of your braking system to identify any problems and advise you on the best course of action.

For lifetime care of your brakes, why not join our Brakes4Life scheme? This exclusive offer gives you free replacement brake pads or shoes for life – even when you change your car. All you have to do is buy your first pair then we’ll cover their replacement forever. When you get a new car, simply bring it in to register for the lifetime replacement, or you can transfer your cover to the new owner when you sell your car. You can find more details about the scheme, including the full terms and conditions on our dedicated Brakes4Life page.

Explore Brakes4life

Can I replace my own brake pads?

Yes, you can. If you’re comfortable with carrying out repair work on your own vehicle, then Halfords has the parts you need. You can find the right brake pads for your make and model on Just enter your vehicle registration number and we’ll filter all the options available for your vehicle. We can even deliver them for free the next working day or you can take advantage of our click and collect service, which is available within one hour in selected stores.

Find out more on how to do the job yourself by reading our guide on how to replace brake pads. If you’re unsure about anything, don’t hesitate to seek advice from a Halfords expert at your local garage – your brakes are safety critical parts, so it’s important that you take care with repairs and fixes.

Shop car brakes