How Long Do Semi Truck Brakes Last? How to Maintain Your Semi-Truck’s Brakes

As a trucker, your profession is the lifeblood of the American economy. With 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the USA, trucking is the essential service that other essential services depend upon. 

 You don’t just need to be on time; you need to be safe, too. Not just for yourself and the family that’s depending on you, but for other motorists as well. 

One of your most important safety tools, beyond your awareness and expertise, is your brakes. Brake failure accounts for 27% of all large truck accidents, making it the leading cause of semi-truck collisions.

With this many lives on the line, you need to know – how long do your semi-truck brakes last? 

Ready to find out? Read on! 

How Long Do Semi Truck Brakes Last?

In cars and light trucks, brakes can last anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 miles. It probably won’t surprise you, but this doesn’t apply to semis. 

There is no industry-wide schedule guideline for a brake replacement because the life cycles of brake systems used in semis vary widely from one truck to the other.

Consider a local refuse truck, for instance, which may average 400 stops every day. All those stops can cause a significant thinning of the brake lining. With such heavy use and applications, the lining can wear out in as little as two months.

On the other hand, an interstate trucker may make only two major stops each day (depending on the traffic you’re up against). One stop would be to meet the legal requirement of taking a break after eight hours of non-stop driving. The other would be a full stop at the end of the shift.

As such, an interstate truck driver is more likely to have longer-lasting brakes.

The Many Other Variables That Contribute to Brake Life Cycles

The life of big rig brakes also depends on the route the truck travels, such as city, rural, or over the road. 

There’s also the average load of the vehicle to consider, like if it always moves heavy or light loads.

The terrain traveled (such as mountainous, hilly, or flat) also plays a role. A winding mountain road is going to call for more extensive braking and speed changes than a flat prairie highway. 

Don’t discount the driver, either. An inexperienced driver who tends to “ride the brake” is going to wear through pads and shoes much faster than a more experienced driver who knows his or her rig better. 

Then, there’s the type of brakes used: drum brakes or air brakes.

Some trucks still use drum brakes, such as fleets that see more local traffic, multiple stops, carry heavy loads, or tackle more rough-and-tumble conditions like poor roads or weather extremes. The chief advantage of drum brakes is their relatively low cost, compared to air brakes.  

Air brakes have become more common, and with good reason. They allow for much shorter stopping distances (17% – 33% shorter stopping distance, depending on speed), and their advanced design solves problems like torque variation and fading, common in drum brakes. While a bit more expensive, air brakes last 50% – 100% longer than drum brakes. That’s a huge difference, especially if you’re paying for your own brake maintenance. 

Regular Inspections: Key to Determining Brake System Condition

Professional inspections are the best way to determine the condition of your brakes. How often to conduct these “check-ups” would again depend on the demands you place on your rig. 

A good idea is to have a fleet mechanic inspect and tune-up your brake system whenever you get an oil change.

Routine inspections will also help you catch brake problems before they get worse. You can get them fixed on the spot so you can keep trucking safely – a tune-up is always better than a breakdown! 

Tricks To Maintain Your Semi-Truck Brake System

It’s also an excellent idea to get a brake wear gauge from your brake system’s manufacturer. It allows you to check the thickness of your brake pads and rotors without taking the wheel off the caliper. Some of these devices even let you track brake pad thickness with the brake pads still in place!

Aside from using this nifty tool, here are other crucial facets of brake maintenance.

Physical Inspections

All brake chambers should be straight, with all the air hoses tied correctly. Make it a daily habit to track the air pressure on all your tires, too, as low pressure can lead to early brake wear. 

If your Antilock Braking System light is on, take that as your cue to bring your truck in for service.

Don’t Delay Brake Part Replacement

Brake shoes come with built-in indicators that will tell you when you need to replace them. Don’t put off the replacement; get your brake pads replaced right away. Otherwise, you’ll start hearing high pitched squealing whenever you press your brake pedal.

The longer you delay necessary part replacement, the more worn out your brake pads will get. This puts your rotors at risk of grinding against the metal calipers. If this happens, the entire brake system is more likely to fail.

When you get replacement brake pads, have the brake springs, pins, and bushings changed too. It’s also a good idea to change the drums when you replace the brake shoes.

Master the Proper Way of Braking

If you’re new to using air brakes, know that these take a bit longer to work than hydraulic brakes. An air brake needs an extra half a second or more before it starts to slow down your truck. So you’ll need to press the pedal earlier and farther away.

All other braking systems in trucks do require greater stopping distances than cars. Trucks, after all, are about 20 to 30 times heavier than cars. You need a lot of braking force to stop that kind of weight, but you don’t want to enforce it all in one go.

Mastering stopping distances will help you use your brakes more efficiently. This, in turn, reduces the burden that your brake system has to shoulder. With proper braking habits, you can make your brakes last longer.

Keep Your Big Rig Safe With Fully Functional Brakes

There you have it, the crucial answer to the question, how long do semi-truck brakes last? It depends.

Since brake lifespan varies so widely, it’s a must to create a maintenance plan tailored to your truck operations. This way, you and your mechanic can avoid severe brake problems that can put you and others at risk.

If you need your brake system inspected or replaced, our team here at Kelly’s Truck can help out. Give us a call now, and we’ll be happy to bring your big rig back to excellent condition.

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