fbpx
brake pads. how to choose
Remmen

Remmen

How to Choose The Right Brake Pads

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on whatsapp
Share on print
Share on email

Trying to sort out what brake pads work best for you can be frustrating and time consuming given the choices out there. A search for “best brake pads” on Google will provide you with thousands of links to articles, sites, top-10 rankings, and sponsored brands, all of which may be useless to you.

So, how do you really know what brake pads to buy? We’ve summarized the answer to that question in this article by giving a brief summary of what you should be looking for to narrow down the choices you face when selecting the right brake pad for your vehicle. Keep reading below to find information that will help you make the right decision. If you don’t feel like reading the article, skip to the end for a table that summarizes everything.

Let’s start off with one overlying statement: there is no such thing as a “one-size fits all” brake pad. This being the case, you’ll need to first understand what you’ll need from your brake pads in order to choose the right pad for the right application.

A Quick Statement About Stock Brake Pads

Before we jump into the characteristics you’ll need, we need to make a quick statement about the brakes that your brand-new vehicle comes with from the dealership.

About 75% to 80% of working North Americans used their cars to commute to and from work (based on Census results of 2012 and 2013). Now consider that as of 2016, there were over 300 million registered vehicles. That’s a lot of people using their cars for commuting to and from work!

Because of this, almost all vehicle manufacturers install brake pads that meet safety standards for commuting and that are economic (i.e. lower in cost). This means their focus is on reducing noise, vibrations, and harshness and dust levels. This is what any commuter really needs from the brake pads with the addition of reduced dust. So, if you’re thinking of commuting a lot then these pads are great. However, if you’re thinking of autocross, or driving through canyons and consistent turns, you’ll need better pads.

Defining the Criteria

Now let’s consider what you will be looking for in the brake pads. To keep things simple we’ve reduced the criteria to a few main items that help define how a brake pad will operate. They are:

  • Noise, Vibration, Harshness (NVH) Levels: A measure of how much noise and vibrations the brake pad exerts once brake pressure is applied. Harshness is how rough or unpleasing the brake application and pedal feel is.
  • Dust Levels: How much of the brake pad’s dust clings to your wheel making it look a few shades darker than normal.
  • All Weather Performance: How the brake pad performs in dry, wet, muddy, hot, or cold environments. Basically, anything mother nature throws at it.
  • Friction Profile: How the brake pad friction exerted changes with respect to temperature. It’s also a measure of how much force you need to exert on the pedal to maintain the same level of friction during high energy braking conditions.
  • Cold Bite: How good the friction level is when the brake pad is cold
  • Hot Bite: How good the friction level is when the brake pad is hot
  • Maximum Operating Temperature (MOT): How high of a temperature can the brake pad operate at before degrading and becoming unsafe to use.
  • Pad Lifetime: How long the pad lasts before you’ll need to change it
  • Rotor Lifetime: How long the rotor lasts when using the brake pad.

 

What Your Driving Style Really Needs

You can’t have the best of everything in one pad. Technology and material science gets us close to it but for the most part, trade-offs are present. For example, if you want a pad that offers minimum dust then it may have a very high operating temperature. If you want a pad with great bite at hot temperatures, it may have high NVH levels at low temperatures.

This being the case, we’ll need to understand what characteristics you should be looking for your type of driving.

Daily Driving/Commuting: If you’re a commuter, you’ll want to get to and from work safely, comfortably and in pretty much any weather that Mother Nature throws at you. You’ll probably want to make sure that your rims are clean for as long as possible so pads that don’t emit much dust would be great. Also, given the amount of driving you’ll be doing, odds are you’ll want the system to last long so pad and rotor lifetimes should be fairly good. Although pad lifetimes may be sacrificed for price, depending on preferences.

  • NVH Levels: low so you can drive in peace!
  • Dust Levels: low to medium. The less dust on your rims the better
  • All Weather Performance: Very good for those sunny and rainy days
  • Friction Profile: not applicable. Because brakes in commuting situations will not be used at consistently high temperatures, friction profiles aren’t as important as during other situations.
  • Cold Bite: Good so you can jump in and drive off confidently and not worry about your brakes on a cold winter morning.
  • Hot Bite: not applicable since you’ll rarely get to high temperatures
  • MOT: not applicable since you’ll rarely get to high temperatures
  • Pad Lifetime: Medium to high. Under easy braking conditions, the pads should last long enough so you don’t have to keep changing your pads.
  • Rotor Lifetime: High. For commuting, the pads available are generally easy on the rotors so you can expect long rotor lifetimes.

Street Performance: If you have a high-powered vehicle or if you frequent winding roads on the way home from work and are heavy on the brakes then you’ll need a brake system that can deliver adequate stopping power consistently and predictably. Detours through canyons and winding roads can heat up your pads rather quickly and the faster the vehicle gets the easier the heat builds up while braking. Because you’ll be using your car for commuting as well, most of the characteristics of the commuting pad would also be desirable.First and foremost, the brake pad should offer good bite from cold and a higher operating temperature. NVH levels should be minimized and dust output should be low but a little more dust can be expected.

  • Noise Levels: low to medium based on preferences. You may be willing to trade some noise for performance
  • Dust Levels: low to medium based on preferences. You may be willing to trade some dust for performance
  • All Weather Performance: Very good
  • Friction Profile: Predictable. You’d want a brake pad that provides a profile that you know to expect after each continuous use, session after session.
  • Cold Bite: Good
  • Hot Bite: Fair. You’ll be driving mostly for fun and odds are you won’t be running around for hours on end so a fair hot bite where a little more pressure on the pedal is needed is acceptable.
  • MOT: Medium to high.
  • Pad Lifetime: High
  • Rotor Lifetime: High

Autocross: Autocross events are generally very short courses with a high number of turns that places an emphasis on driver skill and car handling rather than speed and power. This being the case, the cars will never see high speeds and the brakes will rarely get a chance to heat up. The best brake pads for such driving will have great cold bite and bite at medium heat levels. However, given that you’ll most likely also use your car on the street, the qualities such as those in a commuting pad are also desirable.

  • NVH Levels: low to medium
  • Dust Levels: low to medium
  • All Weather Performance: Good
  • Friction Profile: High initial bite. Look for pads with a high level of bite at cold and a predictable response once heat starts building up.
  • Cold Bite: Good so you can jump in and attack the turns right away
  • Hot Bite: not applicable since you’ll rarely get to high temperatures
  • MOT: not applicable since you’ll rarely get to high temperatures
  • Pad Lifetime: Medium to high. Under easy braking conditions, the pads should last long enough so you don’t have to keep changing your pads every 10k miles or so
  • Rotor Lifetime: High. For commuting, the pads available are generally easy on the rotors so you can expect long rotor lifetimes.

Towing: When we consider towing applications, you’re considering using your truck to tow trailers loaded up with toys, goods, or work material or using your truck bed to ferry stuff between one place and another. Either way, you’re increasing the weight of your truck.

When you tow trailers or drive heavier vehicles, energy build up is a factor that needs to be accounted for. You’ll be seeing much higher temperature build up during stops so you’ll need to make sure that your brake pads can handle operating at high temperatures. The thing is, when towing or driving heavy vehicles, you won’t necessarily be driving around corners at high speeds. Instead, you’ll be driving on highways or rolling hills, or mountain passes but you’ll be using your brakes intermittently. This being the case, the brake pads will need to work well from cold to hot temperatures and the friction you get should be predictable.

  • Noise Levels: Low to medium. Let’s face it. You’ll be towing a trailer so there will be noise. This being the case, you should be comfortable sacrificing some brake noise for better performance.
  • Dust Levels: medium. Similar to noise levels, dust levels can be an acceptable trade-off for greater performance when the combined weight of the vehicle has been doubled.
  • All Weather Performance: Good
  • Friction Profile: Predictable. You’d want a brake pad that provides a stable profile for hill descents and high speed braking. A consistent feel is what you’ll be looking for.
  • Cold Bite: Good.
  • Hot Bite: Good.
  • MOT: High.
  • Pad Lifetime: Medium.
  • Rotor Lifetime: Medium.

Track and HPDE: During performance events with high intensity braking requirements, you’ll need a brake pad that can handle the heat that builds up turn after turn. And when the event is over, you’d like to drive home in comfort relishing the bragging rights you just earned. As we mentioned earlier, there isn’t yet a brake pad that “does it all” so you can expect some trade offs in the characteristics you’ll be looking for. Expect slightly higher levels of noise, dust, and vibrations in order to get more performance at higher temperatures and a better friction profile across a wide range of temperatures.

  • Noise Levels: medium. Most people who track their cars are ok with a little bit of noise as long as it’s not too squeaky
  • Dust Levels: medium. Similar to noise levels, dust levels can be an acceptable trade-off for greater performance on the track and on the street
  • All Weather Performance: Good
  • Friction Profile: Predictable. You’d want a brake pad that provides a stable profile on the street and a predictable profile on the track when heat builds up.
  • Cold Bite: Good for street driving.
  • Hot Bite: Good for track/HPDE driving
  • MOT: High.
  • Pad Lifetime: Medium. Not as important here since performance takes precedence over lifetime.
  • Rotor Lifetime: Medium. Not as important here since performance takes precedence over lifetime

Racing /Time Attack/Rally: For vehicles used solely for racing events, characteristics like noise, dust, and lifetime are seldom looked at. Performance is king and a pad is selected based on the type of circuit or track the vehicle will compete in. Generally speaking the pads should have high levels of friction and should operate at high temperatures. Noise, Dust, Pad Lifetime and Rotor Lifetime are not applicable to the choices here.

  • Noise Levels: Not important
  • Dust Levels: Not important
  • All Weather Performance: Dependent on track conditions. Racers can get very specific here. If the conditions call for dry tracks then a pad that works well in dry conditions will take precedence over one that works well in all conditions.
  • Friction Profile: Personal preference. At this level of driving, the driver will have a preferred friction profile for braking. Some drivers may prefer to vary the force on the pedal as heat builds up, others may prefer to keep the force levels the same.
  • Cold Bite: Dependent. In general, cold bite requirements will vary depending on a lot of variables such as the weather, course conditions, the number of turns, and the speed and acceleration expected.
  • Hot Bite: Very Good.
  • MOT: High.
  • Pad Lifetime: Not important here since performance takes precedence over lifetime.
  • Rotor Lifetime: Not important here since performance takes precedence over lifetime.

 

Drag: Drag racers are focused on completing straight runs in as short a time as possible. This means full throttle followed by full brakes in one hard application. The brakes are only used that one time and the deceleration stretches the capabilities of the tires and brake system to the maximum level possible. The brakes are applied from cold and don’t get a chance to heat up prior to being applied so cold bite is essential in a drag racer’s brake pad. We assume here that the car is a dedicated drag racing car so noise levels, dust levels, pad lifetime and rotor lifetime are not important.

  • Noise Levels: Not important
  • Dust Levels: Not important
  • All Weather Performance: Not important. Most drag races occur when the weather is dry otherwise traction on the track is compromised and as a consequence safety is as well.
  • Friction Profile: Personal preference.
  • Cold Bite: Very Good. Must have as much friction as possible when cold
  • Hot Bite: Fair. By the time the brakes heat up, the vehicle has already slowed down and can be expected to rest prior to the next brake application. Therefore, hot bite isn’t as important here.
  • MOT: Medium to high. Depending on the mass and speed of the vehicle, enough heat may build up in the brake system so a higher operating temperature may be beneficial.
  • Pad Lifetime: Not important here since performance takes precedence over lifetime.
  • Rotor Lifetime: Not important here since performance takes precedence over lifetime.

Summing it all up in Table 1:

Brake Pad Characteristics by Material

Now that you know what to look for based on your driving requirements, you’ll need to understand what type of material is used for brake pads.

Over the years, there has been significant improvements in material technology which allows us to choose from many different materials for brake pads. The most common types of brake pad materials out there are summarized below.

  • Non-Asbestos Organics (NAO): These pads are typically softer pads and are therefore quieter than most other pads and are easier on the brake rotors. However, they do emit some dust and they won’t last as long as other pads.
  • Semi-metallic:  These pads have a higher operating temperature than NAO pads and are more resistant to wear but are harsher on brake rotors and produce more noise. Because of the ingredients, these pads generally work better at higher temperatures and they do emit more dust than NAOs.
  • Metallic: Also known as ‘sintered’ pads, these pads generally have good bite from cold to hot temperatures due to the metallic structure of the pad. You can expect a fairly consistent friction profile through the temperature range. Being made of metal, the rate of heat transfer is high which also means that a lot of heat would transfer into the caliper. This won’t be too much of a problem at lower intensities but at higher intensity braking, caution must be taken to make sure the caliper can handle the heat and the brake fluid doesn’t boil over.
  • Ceramic: These pads emit close to no dust and are very easy on brake rotors. They’re stable through a wide range of temperatures but don’t work well from cold. Ceramic pads tend to last longer than other materials. 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. This could damage rotors and, therefore, these pads are more suited to the commuter who would prefer clean and quiet brake operations.

Summing up Material Characteristics in Table 2:

Putting it All Together (READ THIS IF YOU SKIPPED!)

Now that you know what you need and you know what the different materials offer, it’s time to sort out what your best bet for brake pads will be.

  • Commuting: When commuting, comfort is king. So, you should look for a pad that offers low noise and works well at low temperatures. The NAO material offers just that.
  • Street Performance: When you drive on the streets but you’re looking for a pad to give you a bit more control, you’re looking for something with good cold and hot bite. Something with great feel and a good MOT. Semi-metallic would work best in this case.
  • Autocross: Maneuvering around pylons that are closely nit takes a lot of control and effort. Since speeds won’t be too fast and energy remains relatively low, you’ll be looking for something that offers great bite at low temperatures. If you’re using the car for commuting as well as Autocross then you’ll require something that’s comfortable enough as well. You may be able to get away with a NAO compound but most Semi-Metallic compounds will offer just what you need.
  • Towing: Heavy loads increase the energy you’ll need to keep under control when driving at high speeds. Semi-Metallic compounds offer the greatest variety of performance, feel, and reliability. Look for this material when towing.
  • Track & HPDE: High energy and high brake usage will demand a high level of brake performance. You’ll be looking at the higher-end of the Semi-Metallic range and possibly into the Metallic range (depending on your preference on comfort levels).
  • Racing: Dedicated race cars need dedicated brake systems. Energy build up will be severe and the system will need to dissipate as much of it as possible in order to remain functional. Notwithstanding upgrading the entire system, the pads will generally be Metallic.
  • Drag Racing: At the end of that 10 second run, you’ll want a brake pad that can bite down right away without the need to warm up first. When it does bite down, temperatures will rise really quickly. Semi-Metallic pads will work for this application.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on whatsapp
Share on print
Share on email
Scroll to Top

Want 10% off?

answer two quick questions for 10% off your order!

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse on this website, you accept the use of cookies for those purposes listed in our Privacy Policy.