A microelectromechanical (MEM) friction test apparatus is disclosed for determining static or dynamic friction in MEM devices. The friction test apparatus, formed by surface micromachining, is based on a friction pad supported at one end of a cantilevered beam, with the friction pad overlying a contact pad formed on the substrate. A first electrostatic actuator can be used to bring a lower surface of the friction pad into contact with an upper surface of the contact pad with a controlled and adjustable force of contact. A second electrostatic actuator can then be used to bend the cantilevered beam, thereby shortening its length and generating a relative motion between the two contacting surfaces. The displacement of the cantilevered beam can be measured optically and used to determine the static or dynamic friction, including frictional losses and the coefficient of friction between the surfaces. The test apparatus can also be used to assess the reliability of rubbing surfaces in MEM devices by producing and measuring wear of those surfaces. Finally, the friction test apparatus, which is small in size, can be used as an in situ process quality tool for improving the fabrication of MEM devices.