How to Diagnose Failing Brake Pads In Your Volkswagen

Without a good set of brake pads, your Volkswagen will have a hard time stopping on a dime when you apply the brakes. That's why it's important to be able to determine when the brake pads in your car need to be replaced.

You can either replace your brake pads at regular intervals (such as every 40,000 miles) or as soon as you start noticing symptoms of worn brake pads. Either way, this guide will help you access the brake pads and adequately inspect each one.

Signs That You Need New Brake Pads

Examine pads

Image Credit: Modern Engineer

When your brake pads are running low on pad life, your car’s stopping power is drastically reduced. You’ll also experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Vibration in the brake pedal when pressed
  • Brake light lighting up in the dash
  • Soft and spongy feel in the brake pedal
  • Squeaking or squealing noise coming from the brakes (modern brake pads come with a wear indicator that makes a squealing sound when there isn’t enough friction material left)
  • Loud metal-on-metal grinding sound coming from the brakes
  • Increased stopping distances

How to Access Your Brake Pads

Image Credit: golf Wagen

The brake pads are located inside the calipers wrapped around the rotors, which are behind the wheels. You will have to remove the wheels to see the brake pads. However, sometimes you can see the brake pads through the wheel spokes or from behind the wheel without having to remove the wheel. To see if you can view the brake pads without removing the wheels, turn the wheels completely to one side.

If your brake pads look low, we recommend removing the brake pads anyway to measure the friction material left. You won't get accurate measurements just by eyeballing it. Luckily, removing your wheels is pretty easy. Here's how you can access the brake pads:

  1. Loosen the lug nuts on the wheels you're going to remove by about a quarter of a turn.
  2. Lift your car. You can either lift one wheel, one end or lift the whole car.
  3. On one of the wheels, remove the lug nuts and then pull off the wheel.
  4. Find the caliper (which is wrapped around the rotor on the upper side) and then look at the brake pads inside the caliper. Most calipers come with a small window that gives you a better view of the brake pads.

You can either measure the brake pad friction material when the pads are still inside the caliper or remove the caliper and take a better look at the pads inside. The latter option requires more time and work, but you'll get a better overview of the state of the brake pads. For example, you'll get to see if there's any uneven wear, which is a sign of warped rotors or malfunctioning pistons.

How to Measure the Friction Material Left on the Brake Pads

A brake pad has two parts:

  1. Metal backing
  2. Friction material

What you want to measure is the friction material, which wears down over time. You can use a brake lining thickness gauge or the centimeter side of a ruler to measure the thickness of the friction material. The thickness is measured in millimeters.

So how much brake pad material is too little? Often times, the general rule of thumb is to replace your brake pads when the friction material is down to about 3 or 4 millimeters. Most brake pads start with 12mm of friction material, so if your brake pads have over 8mm of friction material, then they still have a lot of life left. If your brake pads are measuring between 5mm and 8mm, then they're still good but they will need to be replaced soon.

Some brake pads come with a wear indicator. If the indicator exceeds the friction material, then the brake pad is no longer good and you need to replace it as soon as possible.

What if Your Brake Pads are Too Worn?

If you find that your brake pads have less than 4mm of friction material left, replace them as soon as possible. If you were able to check the brake pads on your own, you can replace them too without needing to bring your Volkswagen to a shop. You can find genuine OEM Volkswagen brake pads online at great prices.

Tip: even if your brake pads aren’t worn out yet, it’s still a good idea to have an extra set of brake pads on hand for when you’re ready to replace your pads.

We encourage you to contact us if you have any questions about checking your brake pads.