Choosing the right brake pads for your vehicle should take into account your driving style and the purpose of your vehicle. Using the wrong type of brake pad for your driving style (or application) can often lead to wondering why there is so much dust, or noise, or brake fade, or why there isn’t enough bite!
Like many things in the automotive world, brake pads are designed for a purpose; be it commuting, racing, or simply some spirited driving in a high powered vehicle. You can check out THIS article where we explained what you need to keep in mind to choose the right brake pads for you.
Ceramic-based (or Ceramic) brake pads were touched upon in the article but we didn’t go into the details of why you should, or shouldn’t, be using Ceramic pads. This article will dive a little more into the application of these brake pads and when it may be great to use such pads.
A quick history
Ceramic based brake pads have been around in the industry and used on production cars as early as the 1980’s. These pads are composed of clay and porcelain and are typically bonded to copper flakes and filaments. They were initially introduced to combat customer complaints of noise, dust, and excessive wear at the time and ended up being widely successful.
It is important to note that while Ceramic brake pads are not meant to be used as the “premium” upgrade that does everything. The compound is a great choice for vehicles with low energy (such as, a compact car used for commuting), however, they are a less than ideal choice for vehicles with high energy (such as, a truck towing or hauling a large load).
Why ceramics are not ideal for high energy applications?
Ceramic material is a great insulator. It doesn’t absorb as much heat as other materials and it doesn’t transfer heat as fast as other materials. While this may seem like a good thing, you must keep in mind that the brake system is designed to convert kinetic energy into heat and then dissipate that heat to the surrounding environment… A great insulator reduces a brake system’s ability to dissipate the heat converted from kinetic energy into the environment. Consider the diagram below, illustrating how heat is created and transferred in a brake system.
In a brake system that uses Non-Asbestos Organic (NAO), Semi-Metallic, or Metallic compounds in its brake pads, some of the heat generated at the interface between the rotor and the pad, through friction, is able to escape through the pads as well as the rotors. For Ceramic pads, that heat is not able to transit through the ceramic compound as efficiently due to the insulating properties of the ceramic material.
Since less heat is able to be absorbed into the pads, the remaining heat generated will be forced to dissipate through other media (i.e. the rotor and surrounding air). The brake system can easily handle dissipation of the heat through only these means under normal driving conditions. However, under high-energy driving conditions, the rotors would not be able to dissipate the heat fast enough and this would lead to a buildup of thermal energy. When the rotors and the brake pads get too hot, you can expect a significant decrease in the performance of the brake system. Not to mention, the likelihood of glazing, uneven pad deposits on the rotor (leading to excessive vibrations), brake fade, and damage to the rotor.
The best applications for Ceramic brake pads
Does this mean Ceramic brake pads are bad? Not at all. Ceramic brake pads are actually a great choice for those of us with an easy to moderate driving style. If you’re not into spirited driving, track days, or towing/hauling, ceramic pads will help extend the life of your rotors and provide you with minimal dust and vibrations.
You can expect the following to be characteristics of Ceramic pads:
- Minimal/Undetectable dust. Ceramic pads do emit dust but the dust is of a very light colour and does not stick to the rim of your wheel.
- Easy on Rotors. The material composition of ceramic pads allows the pads to be less harsh on rotor discs when compared to semi-metallic or metallic pads on brake rotors.
- Temperatures: Most Ceramic pads today are stable through a wide range of temperatures.
- Durability: Ceramic pads tend to last longer than other materials and can more heat than most other pads
- Noise: When engaged, Ceramic pads emit such a high frequency of sound that it surpasses what the human ear can register. For this reason, they appear to make no sound at all.
- Heat Management: They are not able to absorb heat as well as the other pad compounds and therefore heat levels in brake systems can rise fairly fast under heavy duty use (such as towing, hauling, racing, track meets, etc.).