Changing the brake pads on your vehicle isn't as complicated as you may think.

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When choosing a new vehicle, lots of people make their decisions with airbags, crumple zones, and several other safety features in mind. But many take for granted one of the most important safety systems a vehicle can offer -- the brakes.

Few parts on your car will be as important to you (and your passengers) as the brakes, which are responsible for slowing the car down and bringing it to a stop. Having a healthy, well-maintained set of brakes could possibly mean that you'll never even need those airbags and crumple zones.

Let's quickly review how brakes work. Most modern cars have disc brakes on all four wheels, though some cars still have drum brakes in the back and disc brakes up front. On a disc-brake-equipped vehicle, a set of heat-resistant pads grip the spinning brake rotor when you push the brake pedal, using friction to slow the wheel down and ultimately bring the car to a stop. (For a more detailed description, see How Disc Brakes Work.)

­Over time, those pads get worn out, reducing their ability to slow the car down. That's why it's important to change brake pads whenever it becomes necessary; however, you don't always have to go to a mechanic for the purpose of fixing brakes. While brake repair is often something best left to the pros, this particular type of brake work is something you can do in your own garage.

In this article, we'll discuss how to change brake pads -- a rather simple do-it-yourself project that can save you a trip to the repair shop. Read the next page to learn how to determine when it's time to switch to new brake pads.