We’ve all heard the phrase, “you get what you pay for.” But does it apply to every situation? With something as sophisticated as your car’s brake system, is there a big difference between the different types of brake pads on the market?
To answer that question, let’s start with how the brake system works.
Understanding today’s modern brake system
Your vehicle is designed with four wheels, each with a brake attached to help slow it down. Car brakes may be disc or drum, depending on the way it was designed.
The front brakes provide you with more braking power. Think about the force for a moment, when you press down on the brake pedal to slow for a stoplight. The force of the vehicle moves forward, putting more pressure on the front of the car.
Disc brakes, in general, are better at stopping. You’ll find many cars today have disc brakes on the front, and drum brakes on the rear. All disc braking systems are found on some expensive or performance-driven cars, while all drum brakes may be found on older models, manufactured before disc brakes grew in popularity.
When you push down on the brake pedal, a piston moves inside the master cylinder. This allows fluid to move through pipes to slave cylinders located at each wheel. This transfer of fluid depresses pistons at each brake, forcing the brakes into action and the vehicle to slow.
This fluid is designed to distribute evenly throughout the system. This is what keeps your brake system working at optimal capacity.
You can also see the importance of having this process work correctly. An error or shutdown could have devastating impacts. Therefore, most modern cars have twin hydraulic circuits with two master cylinders, in case one of them no longer words. These twin systems can either each take a section – the front or back – or work in conjunction with each other to produce reliable force.
Why better brake pads can increase your safety
With a disc brake system, a disc turns the wheel. The disc is straddled by a brake caliper, which is controlled by pistons operating from the master cylinder. These pistons press against brake pads that case friction and stop the vehicle. These pads are shaped to cover a significant portion of the rotor, to ensure it properly stops the car.
This entire system is designed to apply pressure “just enough” to put the brakes into action. There aren’t springs to control it; instead, it all works via hydraulics, where pressure forces the pads against the rotor when the brake pedal is pressed, and released when it’s not. The two are close together by design, so only a small amount of movement is needed to put the brake system in action.
You can imagine the force needed to bring thousands of pounds of metal to a stop when it’s traveling down the road at 40, 50, or even 60 miles per hour. Brake pads endure a lot of force as you use the brakes again and again as you drive around.
When you purchase brake pads, rest assured no matter which you choose, they will get the job done. However, it’s also important to note that there are no federal safety standards for aftermarket brake pads.
Federal standards issued by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration set rules about new car standards, but do not establish regulations for aftermarket replacement brakes. The standards set for new vehicles ensure safe driving by requiring a car to stop within a certain distance, but the same rules don’t apply for replacement parts.
That’s why it’s important to know where your parts come from, and ensure you are using a trustworthy source for brake replacement.
In general, there are two types of brake pads on the market today: ceramic and semi-metallic brake pads.
Ceramic brake pads were first introduced back in the 1980s and have gained in popularity. Ceramic brake pads are composed of a material you’ll find in your ceramic cookware, only a much denser fabric. Copper fibers are weaved through to help conduct and disperse heat. Ceramic brake pads are designed to be a softer material that won’t wear against the rotor as fast as other materials. That means they have a longer service life, will have less noise, and create less brake dust than its counterparts.
Semi-metallic brake pads, on the other hand, offer better performance. That’s because their friction quality is controlled by a variety of metals, including iron, steel, and alloys, all bound together by a small amount of graphite lubricant. You’ll find budget semi-metallic brake pads with a composition that is roughly 30 percent metal, but the best will contain higher ratios, as much as 60 percent or more. These brakes have great stopping power, durability, and dissipate heat better than other types of pads. But there is a trade-off – they can be a bit noisy, and will create more brake dust than ceramic brakes.
What’s the difference? What makes one brake pad better than another?
Ultimately, it comes down to the braking power. The major difference between the different pad materials will be on the friction layer, or the part that connects with the rotor. This is the part that causes your car to slow and stop.
Both economy and premium brakes will get the job done. Safety requirements do require all brake pads sold on the market to meet certain regulations. However, premium brake pads will offer better performance, and will always outperform lower quality brands. Premium brake pads have an increased stopping power and decreased brake fade. That means brake performance will remain consistent no matter how much pressure they are put under. That can be a big deal if you drive up and down the mountains, especially with a big payload.
Premium brake pads also use higher quality materials, which typically will give you longer wear factors. They are designed for longer service life and will wear more evenly overall. Better materials also mean less chance for particles to wear off. Brake dust can cause uneven wear on your brake pads. It can also cause squealing as the brake dust wears away.
When was the last time you replaced your brake pads?