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2015 Fit needs new brakes at only 19,000 miles?

Dear Car Talk:
My wife bought a brand new 2015 Honda Fit three years ago and and at her most recent service was told that it needed new front brakes…at 19,000 miles! I’ve been around cars for a while and have known brakes to last anywhere between 30,000 and 60,000 miles. The dealership claims that some drivers can be particularly hard on brakes. My wife uses the car for driving to her teaching job and does indeed travel in commute traffic. But only 19,000 miles on a set of brakes? The Honda folks were very understanding and offered partial compensation, but are you aware of any inherent issues with the Fit’s brakes? Thank you.
– Bill

What was her history of brake usage prior to the Honda?

The first front brake pad replacement on my 2012 Corolla was at 28k miles…mostly stop and go driving. This is not unusual if she does this type of driving or she rides the brakes all the time.

While 19k does seem like short brake pad life, the unknown part of this situation is how she drives. Yes, commuter traffic does tend to take a high toll on brake pads, but some people can exacerbate the situation even more by the way that they use/over-use the brakes.

Some years back, I recall driving to work in back of a co-worker who was driving her brand-new Volvo wagon. When we got to the parking lot at work, I immediately advised her to have the dealership check her brake light switch, because her brake lights kept lighting-up intermittently–even on uphill grades and on straightaways with no hazards. She thanked me, and promised to discuss this with her husband.

Well… fast forward about one week… She told me that her husband decided to do a ride-along with her, and he discovered that she was needlessly braking–even on upgrades and on straight stretches of roadways with no hazards! If he and I hadn’t noticed her unconscious braking behavior, she probably would have worn-out her brakes very prematurely. She had absolutely no idea that she was doing a constant two-step between her accelerator pedal and her brake pedal until it was brought to her attention.

However, it is worth noting that some automotive designs from the past had such under-sized brakes that they typically wore-out in ~15k miles. The ones that come to mind are GM’s H-body subcompacts of the '70s & '80s. Owners of the mechanically-identical Chevy Monza, Buick Skyhawk, Pontiac Sunbird, and Oldsmobile Starfire were rarely able to go more than 15-17k miles before they had to have their brakes relined.

It also took her 3 years to wear out her brakes. If you live in a snowy or rainy climate, time is a factor due mostly to rotor rust if salt is used, caliper rust.

19,000 seems a bit low to “need” new brake pads, especially in the rear, but perhaps the dealer’s mechanic is eyeballing the pads and they looked a little thin. Under those circumstances they will tell you the brakes need redoing, when in fact they aren’t quite there yet. At this point you may as well say yes to new pads, but it should not need anything done to the rotors or calipers. For that it is VERY early.

Just about average, Bill, but after hearing from several of your colleagues, I’m beginning to think that here driving style may be the main cause. Thank you for your response.

– Bill

Thanks for your thoughts, Jappy. After responses from several of your colleagues, I’m pretty sure that my wife’s driving style is the main cause. Thanks.

– Bill

Thanks for your input. After responses from several of your colleagues, I’m pretty sure that my wife’s driving style is the main cause. Best wishes.

– Bill

I appreciate your thoughts, Old Timer (hey! That’s what they call me!). The consensus is that my wife’s driving style is the main cause of the premature brake wear. Guess I’ll just have to live with it! Thanks.

– Bill

It was only the fronts that needed replacing, Wentwest, but after reading responses from several other people, it appears that my wife’s driving style is the main culprit. I appreciate your input.

How thick were the pads when they were replaced? It might be listed on your receipt. If the thickness was 3/16" thick or less, then it was time for a replacement.

Yup, just about that thickness. Thanks to you and several others, it appears that my wife’s driving style is probably the main cause. I appreciate your comments. Thanks.

Partial compensation is pretty cool. That would be something I would appreciate from a dealer in this situation.

I got it from the Honda customer service folks, not the local dealer. Just the same, I thought it was a very nice gesture on their part. Very happy with Honda in general.

That’s a bit early for a Honda. Just replaced the front brakes on our 2007 Corolla with 60,000 miles on it. The rear brakes are still OK. This car is mostly used for urban driving.

If your wife "rides’ the brake pedal, it might cause early wear.

Here’s a guess - does it have a CVT (continuously variable transmission)? They sometimes don’t have much ‘engine braking’ when you let off the gas, leading to (maybe) more brake use.

Seems engine braking has been in decline starting back in the 1960s or 70s with a throttle hold-open device that kept it from closing all the way when coasting with foot off the gas pedal. That was a simple thing that prevented a lot of emissions.

Changing front brake pads is a pretty easy DIY job on most cars - maybe CVTs are going to inspire more people to get into doing it themselves.

Thanks, Shanonia. Yeah, I long for the good old days when you could actually fit your hands into an engine and work on it.

Based on the responses I’ve received, I’m pretty sure my wife’s driving style played a bit part in her brake issues. Thanks for chipping in.