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Brake pad wear sensors, or brake wear indicators, provide a warning that brake pads should be checked or replaced. When the brake pads wear below a certain point, the sensor touches the brake rotor and triggers the brake warning light.
Most modern wear sensors have two circuits running in parallel. The first circuit primes the sensor when it contacts the surface of the brake rotor. Then a secondary circuit is tripped activating the sensor and switching on the brake warning light. This electrical sequence is referred to as a two-stage wear sensor process.
For more on brake wear sensors, this article provides more information.
The number of brake wear sensors you need depends on your vehicle's age and manufacturer.
Many cars use the original type of brake wear sensor. It includes a metal strip attached to the brake pad's backing plate. Once the brake pads wear down below two or three millimeters, the metal strip makes contact with the rotor. This contact makes a high pitched squealing noise.
Cars that use electronic brake wear sensors usually have one per axel. In most cases the sensors are located on the front left and right rear brakes. This article provides more information on the types of brake wear sensors and how they work.
The type of brake wear sensor you need depends on the make and model of the car, or the brand of your brakes. Many cars use a metal strip that creates a high-pitched squeal. Some cars use an electronic sensor that illuminates a warning light on the dashboard. In both cases, the brake wear sensor warning activates when the pads get below a minimum thickness.
A better question may be "What type and brand of brake pads are best for performance cars?" The best brand and type of brake pads depend on several factors. First, consider the type of driving you do, if it's mainly daily driving, track racing, or involves towing. Then decide if it makes sense to use OEM or aftermarket brake pads.
How to replace the brake pad sensor, depends on the make and model of your car as well as the style of brake sensor. Some brake sensors are built directly into the pads. Other brake sensors are a separate part that is changed when the brake pad is replaced.
Changing the sensors is a simple process. Typically the sensor wire plugs in to an electrical connector. The sensor is either clipped to the brake pad or, if the sensor is built into the brake pad, the sensor wire connects to the back of the brake pad.
For more information on brake wear sensors, see this article.
Brake pad sensors are not meant to be reused. By design the sensors are a part that wears out. As the brake pad wears out, it also wears away part of the sensor until it makes contact with the brake rotor. Once the sensor makes contact with the brake rotor, it triggers the brake warning light on your dashboard.
While it is possible to reuse a brake pad sensor that has not been triggered, it is recommended you change the sensors when you change your pads. If the brake pad sensor is partially worn, it could trigger the brake warning light prematurely, even if you have plenty of brake pad left.
See this article for more information on brake wear sensors.
Long pedal travel is not an indicator of brake wear sensor failure. It is an indication that there are problems with the brake system itself. If the behavior of your brake pedal changes, the brake system needs to be inspected. This includes if your brake pedal is soft, spongy, or drops to the floor when braking.
There are a number of causes for a soft brake pedal or one that travels almost to the floor before applying the brakes. The brake system should be checked for leaks. There could be a leak with the master cylinder, brake assembly, or the brake lines. It's also possible that air has gotten in to the brake booster system, or that the brake fluid needs to be changed, or the brakes bled.