Thoughts and advice on the care and feeding of fine automobiles from Machine Aficionado and bestselling author John Elder Robison, owner of JE Robison Service in Springfield, Massachusetts

We are independent restoration, repair, sales and service for Audi, BMW, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Rolls-Royce automobiles.

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What do worn brakes look like?

I am often asked what worn brakes look like, when looking through the slots in the wheel. Can you tell from outside, or does the car need ot be put on a lift and have its wheels removed. Here is a rule of thumb. Look at my finger pointing to a brake pad in the photo below.


In that photo you see the shiny brake disc, the frame of the caliper, and the outer pad.  The pad consists of a metal plate with friction material laminated to the backing.  The rule is: the thickness of the friction material must be greater than the thickness of the backing plate.

The reason for that is heat insulation.  If the pads wear down to nothing there is no longer any insulation and the heat of braking will transfer from the rotor, to the backing plate and from there into the pistons and fluid.  If the fluid gets too hot it boils and you lose your brakes.

This photo shows the same pad and caliper seen from behind.  The thing in the center is the wear sensor, which as you see is in contact with the rotor.  That put the brake wear light on in this car.  IN some European cars the light has to be reset with a test tool even after the sensor has been changed.

Other cars - like BMW - also calculate how many miles the pads have run and they will light the warning based on mileage even if the pads are good (for example, if someone replaced them without a reset)

John Elder Robison

(c) 2016 John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, celebrating 30 years of independent BMW/MINI, Mercedes, Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Bentley restoration and repair in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the car clubs, and he’s owned and restored many fine British and German motorcars.  Find him online at or in the real world at 413-785-1665

Reading this article will make you smarter, especially when it comes to car stuff.  So it's good for you.  But don't take that too far - printing and eating it will probably make you sick.

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