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There are a number of ways to tell: the first thing to check is the brake pad's surface and wear markers. If the pad is worn-out the pre-cut grooves in the pad's contact surface will have completely disappeared or the pads are worn down to the wear markers - if so you need to replace them immediately.
Other signs to look out for: significant fall-off in braking performance squeaking sound when brakes are applied a gritty scraping sound means the metal of the brake shoe is hitting the rim a sticky/juddering feeling when braking indicates uneven wear and is sticking to the rim - if any of these symptoms occur replace your brake pads immediately.
Why do I need to change my brake pads?
Braking efficiency decreases and stopping distances increase when pads wear to a dangerous level-magnified in wet conditions.
Worn brake pads also require more pressure to generate the friction needed to stop - resulting in quicker wear to the wheel rim. In extreme cases the rim will crack due to the thickness no longer able to support the tyre pressure.