When will I know it’s time to change my car’s brakes?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader who’s unsure whether or not to keep driving on the original brakes.

Honda is recalling nearly 450,000 vehicles. AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File

Q. I own a 2017 Honda Civic EX with 57,000 miles that runs great. My mechanic says there is still life on the original brakes. I feel like they should have been changed by now. The car is used for mostly city driving. How long have you seen brakes like this last?

A. Brakes are one of those items, like the clutch in your car, that the life is almost entirely based on the driver. I have seen brakes wear out in as little as 12,000 miles and last 100,000 miles (especially with manual transmission cars and hybrid or electric vehicles). Trust your repair shop and have them check for brake pad wear during tire rotations. 


Q. I wondered about the technology in key-fobs. I hear about people with cars being stolen while filling up or off of their driveways. My question is, how do the thieves get away and so far away without the fob? What safety precautions can owners take to prevent car theft? Can cars be driven far distances without the fob?

A. If you have the fob in your pocket while the engine is running and you leave the car, the horn will sound telling you that the engine is running. Is it possible to start the car and drive it without the fob, yes. As an example (this may or may not have happened to me), you start the car and the fob is in your coat pocket and you decide you don’t need a coat and go back in the house and hang up your coat, then drive off. At your destination you shut off the car and go inside. You then come back to the car and try to start it only to discover you didn’t take the key fob. In reality the car will continue to run until you shut it off or until it runs out of fuel. Just like any car, to prevent theft, take the key, lock the doors, and park in well-lit areas.


Q. I have a 2001 Infiniti with 127,000 miles. The engine light came on about a year ago. I had it checked, and the mechanic’s computer said it was ignition coils or spark plugs. Since the car was running smoothly, the mechanic said that I should just wait until the car starts shaking, then he will know that it is a coil. When that happens, he will replace it. Now it is just a tiny bit rough at times. Could it just be spark plugs? I can’t wait too long to fix it because a smog inspection is needed in March.

A. I certainly think it is time to replace the spark plugs and maybe your mechanic. I can understand that maybe your repair shop was trying to save you some money but waiting until the check engine light comes on and the engine starts running rough is like waiting to have a toothache instead of having a cavity filled.

Q. I was listening to your radio program and heard you talking about a road test of an electric folding bike. We actually met at an event, and I remember you as a pretty big guy. Does this bike really perform that well?


A. Yes, even at my height and weight the Fiido L3 folding compact bike does pretty well. Under full electric power it has a claimed range of 75 miles and 125 miles if you use pedal assist. I have been using it in full electric mode and it goes about 15 miles per hour, and I would put the range at 65 miles with me on it. To me it is a pretty useful commuter bike, or very handy if you have a boat or RV and need to get around. 

Q. I have a 2003 Dodge Ram 1500 with a 4.7 engine liter engine. The truck has just over 330,000 miles and has just two issues. I must add 1 quart of oil weekly and about a half-gallon of antifreeze monthly. There are no leaks on my garage floor. I assume the loss of oil could be coming from the wear on the rings, but on the antifreeze I’m stumped. Any suggestions?

A. If you have pressurized the cooling system and checked for leaks, I suspect the coolant is being consumed during combustion. This is probably due to a worn/leaking cylinder head gasket. This can be verified with a test kit that looks for traces of unburned fuel in the coolant. At 20 years old and 330,000 miles, you have two very different repairs to consider. Replace the engine if the rest of the truck is solid, or just add oil and coolant, as necessary. You could also try some additives. Lucas has an additive that may slow oil consumption, and there is a pour-in head gasket remedy, Blue Devil, which has a pretty good success rate.  


Q. The service station I’ve gone to for years put in synthetic oil which I did not request. They re-did the oil change for me. Will there be damage from any residue from the synthetic oil?

A. Synthetic oil started its life as conventional oil, and there will be no damage switching back and forth. Synthetic oil is more expensive, but to me it is worth the extra expense for the engine protection. 

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to [email protected]. Listen to the Car Doctor podcast at


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on