My car just passed inspection, but I was told I will need new front pads and rotors soon. Do I need to worry about brake failure?
Yes, you should worry about brake failure.
Didn’t the technician give you an estimate of how soon you would need to replace the pads and rotors? If there is any question about how long you can wait for brake repair, you should err on the side of caution and have it done sooner, rather than later.
Brake failure happens more often with a hydraulic problem but even still you have manual(difficult) ability left.
When your pads are low enough they will get very loud letting you know typically. When they scrape/creak loud get them done ASAP, if not add pricey calipers to the list of new brake parts.
I agree with Andrew, that if your rotors are worn, the ridges on the rotors will start making annoying noises when they touch the brake pad backing plates, so you will get warning for a few days before you really start noticing excessive loss of braking ability.
However, since you are asking us rather than pulling off a wheel and looking for yourself, I gather that you are not comfortable with things mechanical, and that makes me want to err to the side of caution. I suggest that you check with friends or read reviews to find a good shop in your area, and schedule an appointment to have your front brakes checked/replaced.
Most brake systems have wear indicators. They are gaps in the pad that show up after significant and make the brakes pulsate. Another method is to have a metal spring that scrapes the rotor when the brakes are worn. This makes your brakes squeal. Your best be is to call the mechanic. He may have made notes and can tell you what the remaining thickness is, and what the replacement level is.
You have a long way to go from a “pass” on your brake system to where your pads are so worn out that you experience “brake failure”.
Thank you for the advice. My [06 Subaru is the newest car I have ever owned except for a 1980 Ford Mustang. I have had a number of used cars, been a bit hard on all of them, driven them until they would no longer pass inspection without considerable work (none of which was brake related), and have never experienced brake failure…but, there’s a first time for everything! Since I am planning a week-long trip soon, I will have the brakes repaired before hitting the road.