What's to blame for worn out front brakes: front-wheel drive or my driving style?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

Please settle an argument I am having with my boyfriend. I own a 1991 Grand
Prix STE. This is the forth front-wheel-drive car I have owned. I travel in
stop-and-go traffic daily. At 56,000 miles, I have had to replace my front
brakes twice, but haven't had to replace my rear brakes at all. My
boyfriend says the reason is my driving. I say it's because of the front-
wheel drive and all the weight in the front; therefore, the front end is
doing most of the stopping. I might add that he drives an F250 4X4 diesel
that lasted 80,000 on the same brakes. We have been arguing about this for
four years. Who's right? -- Alicia

RAY: Well, we know from the fact that he drives a 4X4 diesel pickup truck
that he's a knuckle-scraping banana-eating simian (like my brother),
Alicia. But despite that, he happens to be partially correct.

TOM: Actually, the good news for the relationship is that you're both
right. You're right that front brakes DO do most of the stopping. It's true
for all cars, but it's even more true for front-wheel-drive cars that have
the weight of the engine and the transmission all crammed up front.

RAY: And on front-wheel-drive cars, it's not unusual to replace front
brakes two or three times before the rear brakes ever need replacing.

TOM: But your boyfriend, "Conan," is right about your driving. Stop-and-go
driving absolutely contributes to brake wear. Actually, it's the "stop"
part of "stop and go" that really does the damage.

RAY: So in city driving, you could easily need new front brakes in less
than 20,000 miles. Whereas if you drove the same car exclusively on the
highway (like "Hercules" does), you could go 80,000 miles with the same

TOM: My guess is that "Bluto" there also has a manual transmission, whereas
you have an automatic on your Grand Prix. And brakes are likely to wear
faster in automatic transmission cars because the car "freewheels" or
"coasts" when you take your foot off the gas and isn't slowed as much by
the natural braking effect of the engine.

RAY: So that's the ruling, Alicia. You're both right. Now maybe you and
"Lurch" can get married and start a new argument -- like whether he'll lose
the hair on his head and the hair on his knuckles at roughly the same rate.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter