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When it comes to driving a car, being able to stop quickly is as important as starting. But how do you stop a two-ton vehicle barreling down the highway at eighty miles per hour? The only answer is brakes.

Brakes operate by using friction to convert the kinetic energy of the moving car into heat, which then brings the car to a stop. It is a crucial part of any vehicle that needs to be well-maintained to ensure the safety of both the driver and passengers.

But how will you get to know when your brakes need to be serviced or replaced? The brake system comprises many different parts, and each component has a specific lifespan. So if you don't maintain your brakes, they will need to be replaced, which could be costly.

Don't fret; we're here to help! This article will introduce you to the essential parts of brakes, their specific functions, and when to get them repaired or replaced by an auto repair shop.

Brake System: Different Functions and Components


  • What they are

The brake rotor, also called the brake disc, is a metal disc mounted on the wheel. The caliper holds the pads, and when you push the brake pedal, the caliper clamps down on the rotor, slows the wheel down, and stops the car. It is made from cast iron or steel. But today, most brake rotors are made from steel as it dissipates heat better and is less likely to warp under high temperatures.

  • How long they last

The lifespan of a brake rotor depends on many factors, such as driving habits, terrain, and weather conditions. However, they tend to last anywhere between 30,000 to 70,000 miles. You can even extend the life of your brake rotors with brake resurfacing or by replacing them with slotted or drilled rotors.

  • When to replace

When you feel a vibrating sensation while braking or if the rotors are warped, it's time to change your brake rotors. Warped rotors can happen when the brake pads wear down and no longer make contact with the entire surface of the rotor.

It causes the rotors to overheat and warp. If you let it go for too long, the rotors can crack and need to be replaced. It is generally recommended to replace the brake rotors/discs in pairs.


  • What they are

Brake pads are the part of the brake system that presses the brake rotor to slow down or stop the car. They are made from a combination of metal and ceramic. The metal backing plate gives the pad its shape and rigidity, while the ceramic material dissipates heat better and is less likely to wear down the brake rotor.

  • How long they last

Brake pads can last anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 miles. But this number can vary depending on its quality. The better the quality of the brake pad, the longer it will last. But even the best quality brake pads will eventually need to be replaced. They will last until the padding wears down to the metal part of the brake pad.

  • When to replace

A squealing noise happens when a small metal tab wears down and makes contact with the rotor. This is a wear indicator that will make noise when the pads are getting low.

If you ignore the squealing noise, the metal backing plate will eventually contact the rotor and damage it. So it's essential to get your brake pad repaired or replaced as soon as you hear the noise.


  • What they are

Calipers are the part of the brake system that holds the brake pads and presses them against the rotor when you hit the brake pedal. Think of them as the clamp that squeezes the brake pads against the rotor. Calipers are essential for creating friction that allows the pads to contact the rotor and slow down the car.

  • How long they last

A brake caliper's lifespan greatly depends on the quality and how actively you utilize your car. If it's idle for a long time, the caliper breaks down more quickly, as it collects rust easily. But, generally, they last longer if well maintained.

  • When to replace

The typical problem with brake calipers is their seals, which can wear down due to the heat in the braking system. Due to the metal-on-metal contact, there can be grinding, or the caliper may leak brake fluid.

If you ignore this, eventually, the caliper will seize up and will not be able to clamp down on the rotor. This will cause your car to not be able to stop.


  • What they are

Brake pistons are located inside the caliper and push the brake pads out against the rotor when you push the brake pedal. They are essential because they create the pressure necessary to make the pads contact the rotor.

  • How long they last

Brake pistons can erode over time from the brake fluid and will need to be replaced. 

The lifespan of a brake piston depends on the quality and how frequently you use your car.

  • When to replace

Does your brake stick when you push the pedal? It could signify that your brake piston is seized and needs to be replaced. More often than not, you will need to replace the entire caliper when the piston is seized.


  • What they are

Brake drums are located on the back wheels of your car and work with the brake shoes. When you hit the brake pedal, the shoes expand and contact the drum. It creates friction and reduces its effectiveness. Drums are hollow and have a finned surface to dissipate heat.

  • How long they last:

Brake drums are created with longevity in mind and can last the lifetime of your car. But they can still wear down over time from the brake shoes making contact with them. If they become too worn, they can cause the shoes not to make contact and will reduce your braking power.

  • When to replace

Drums are more prone to wear and tear than other brake parts, so they should be inspected regularly by local auto repair shops. You will know it's time to replace your brake drums when you hear a scraping noise coming from the back of your car.


  • What it is

Brake fluid is a hydraulic fluid that transmits the pressure from your brake pedal to the brakes. It's essential because your brakes would not be able to function without them.

  • How long does it last

Brake fluid can last for years, but it can become contaminated. As a result, it can cause your brake system not to work as efficiently. Aside from regular flush and replacement, you can extend the life of your brake fluid by using a higher quality fluid.

  • When to replace

Brake fluid should be replaced at least every 2 years or 24,000 miles. But if you notice that your brake pedal is not as responsive as it used to be, you may need to replace it sooner.


  • What they are

Brake lines are the tubes that carry brake fluid from the master cylinder to the brakes. They are essential because the fluid would not be able to reach the brakes without them. They are made from either steel or rubber.

  • How long they last

Brake lines can last for the lifetime of your car, but the issues can unexpectedly pop up. Small components are made of rubber and can degrade over time, which can cause leaks. If you live in an area with salt on the roads, this can also speed up the degradation process.

  • When to replace

Brake lines need to be inspected regularly for leaks or damage. If you notice a brake line leak, it's essential to get it fixed as soon as possible from an auto repair shop. Ignoring a brake line leak can cause your brakes to fail.


Your car brakes are one of the essential safety features, so keeping them in good working order is necessary. By regularly inspecting and replacing your brake parts, you can ensure that your car will stop when you need it to. In addition, make sure that your brake system gives you the highest level of safety by trusting only qualified brake repair professionals to work on it.

If you are local to Elizabeth City, NC, and need brake repair, contact Colony Tire & Service! They are your trusted source for all your brake repair and replacement needs.



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