Without good brakes, a car is just a powerful death trap, flying at speed towards the various other vehicles and obstructions on the road. And yet, many car owners do not know much about brake maintenance and brake repairs. In this case, education is about more than keeping your car in good shape -- it's also about keeping yourself safe. The following are some frequently asked questions about brake maintenance and brake repairs, along with their answers.

What is the difference between pads and rotors?

You've probably heard a friend say they had to get their brake pads replaced and perhaps another friend say they had to get their pads and rotors replaced. As it turns out, there are two separate parts of your car's braking system. The rotors are pieces of metal, and the pads are made from a very firm rubber. When you apply the brakes, the rotor is pushed towards the spinning wheel, and the pad makes direct contact with the wheel. The friction of the pad against the wheel stops the wheel from spinning.

As you use your brakes again and again, the brake pads eventually get worn away. If you keep driving with bad brake pads, the rotors themselves will wear away, and they, too, will need to be replaced.

How often do you need new brake pads or rotors?

As a general rule, brake pads should last you about 30,000 miles. If you drive around town a lot and rarely get on the thruway, you may need brake pads more often as you are using your brakes in stop-and-go traffic a lot. If you have a long thruway commute and put miles on your car quickly, your brake pads may past 40,000 miles or more since you don't really use your brakes on the thruway.

If you are careful to replace your brake pads at the first sign of wear, your rotors should last you about 100,000 miles. The trouble is that many people drive around with bad brake pads for at least a week or two before realizing there is an issue, so the rotors have to endure a lot of friction and, as such, suffer damage and need to be repaired more often.

What are some signs your brakes need replacing?

By the time your brakes show signs of needing replacement, they've needed to be replaced for a while. The best approach is really to keep an eye on your car's mileage and have your auto service technician look over your brakes each time you take your car in for an oil change. They might tell you that "you'll need new brakes in another 5,000 miles" or "you should bring it in next month for brakes."

Nevertheless, it's helpful to know signs of ailing brakes yourself. These signs include:

  • Squealing when you apply the brakes.
  • A grinding noise when you apply the brakes or turn to one side.
  • A feeling of softness in the pedal -- you have to push down really hard to get your car to stop.

Even if your car still stops with what you think are bad brakes, driving around like this is not safe. You would not be able to come to a stop quickly in an emergency situation. If you were to get in an accident with bad brakes, you could be named liable since, as a car owner, you are expected to properly maintain your vehicle for safety.

If you think your car is having brake trouble or you want to know how much life your brakes have left in them, reach out to an auto service company in your area. You can click here for more information on brake repairs.