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How to Choose the Right Brake Pads

The modern automotive brake system has come a long way. From the older, mechanically-operated brake shoes and drum system to today’s computer-controlled ABS system, all brake components eventually wear out and require replacement. The parts that take the most abuse or wear and tear are the brake pads. While it is always best to stick with Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) braking system components, choosing the right brake pads is becoming increasingly difficult due to the multiple options, brands, and styles.

Brake pads should always be replaced before they wear out completely and as recommended by your vehicle manufacturer to maintain optimal stopping power. Doing so will reduce damage to other critical braking components like brake calipers and rotors. If your brake pads are wearing thin and you need to choose the right brake pads, ask yourself these 3 detailed questions:

1. When Should Brake Pads Be Replaced?

Most automotive manufacturers recommend replacing your brake pads every 30,000 to 40,000 miles — essentially each time you replace the tires on your car. Tires and brakes work in conjunction to help stop your vehicle, so it makes sense to replace brake pads and your car’s “shoes” at the same time. By replacing the brake pads before they wear out completely, you’ll avoid having to replace your brake rotor — the part brake pads touch to stop the wheel from spinning. Brake rotors should be replaced every two or three tire replacements or every 100,000 to 120,000 miles. There are a few common symptoms motorists can listen and feel for to alert them of brake pads in need of replacement sooner than later.

  • Brake squealing: If you press the brake pedal and you hear a loud squealing sound, it is caused by brake pads that have worn too thin. Specifically, a wear bar indicator will touch the brake rotor when the pads wear past the 80% mark. If the brake pads are not replaced soon after hearing this noise, the wear indicator will actually dig into the rotor, which will require replacement itself in most cases.

  • Brake pedal pulses: If you press the brake pedal and you feel it pulse, it’s another normal indicator of worn out brake pads. However, this could also be a sign of a warped brake rotor or problems with the ABS system, so an inspection from a professional mechanic is a good idea.

2. What Features Should I Look for in Brake Pads?

When searching for the new brake pads, you’ll want to consider 7 points to find the best brake pads for your car. The type of brake pad you’ll need depends on your driving style and conditions. For example, brake pads designed for commuting should rarely have to deal with high temperatures, while those for high-performance vehicles, on the other hand, will need to handle some hot bite.

  1. Weather Performance: Good brake pads should be able to perform in all climates, regardless of whether it’s dry, wet, muddy, warm, or cold.

  2. Cold Bite and Hot Bite: Your brake pad should perform as intended and provide ideal friction whether it is hot or cold.

  3. Maximum Operating Temperature (MOT): This is the highest temperature the brake pad can read before becoming unsafe through disintegration.

  4. Friction Response to Temperature: This is measured in a friction profile, noting how much force you need to apply to the pedal to receive the same response in emergency braking compared to regular braking.

  5. Pad and Rotor Lifetime: Both the brake pad and rotor are prone to wear. You need to consider how long the pads are designed to last as well as the rotor when engaging the brake pads.

  6. Noise and Vibration: You’ll want to consider how much noise, vibration, and even pedal feel pressing down on the brake pad will cause.

  7. Dust Levels: Brake pads may collect dust that then clings to your wheel.

3. What Are the Different Types of Brake Pads?

As we indicated above, the best advice for replacing brake pads is to always follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for replacement parts. In most instances, this means you’ll ask for OEM replacement brake pads. Depending on the type of vehicle you have, it’s likely your OEM brake pad is made from one of three unique materials. Listed below are the 3 most common types of brake pad materials:

1. Organic Brake Pads

Initially, brake pads were made from asbestos, a hard yet toxic material that has been linked to causing multiple respiratory diseases. When asbestos was banned, many brake pads became manufactured by a composite of multiple materials including carbon, glass, rubber, fibers, and more. Organic brake pads are typically quieter and softer-applying brake pads. The main drawback is they don’t last very long. You’ll typically find organic OEM brake pads for lighter-weight luxury vehicles.

2. Semi-Metallic Brake Pads

The majority of vehicles on roads today utilize semi-metallic pads. The semi-metallic brake pad is comprised of copper, iron, steel, and other metals combined with graphite lubricants and other materials to help to reduce the build-up of heat. These types of brake pads are often found as OEM solutions for heavy-duty vehicles due to their ability to last longer and to reduce friction — which helps heavier cars, trucks, and SUV’s stop more efficiently.

3. Ceramic Brake Pads

The newest brake pad on the market is the ceramic pad. Ceramic brake pads were introduced in the 1980s as a replacement for older asbestos pads. This type of brake pad is made from a hardened ceramic material combined with copper fibers. Due to their unique construction, they tend to last the longest among the big-three and apply quite softly. The drawback is two-fold. First, though they can withstand high temperatures, they don’t work very well in colder-weather climates, as the material is prone to cracking when introduced to extreme cold conditions. Also, they are the most expensive type of brake pad.

4. Are OEM Brake Pads the Only Ones I Can Use?

The simple answer to this question is no. There are some automotive manufacturers who require the use of OEM components in order to comply with warranties, so you should always check with your vehicle manufacturer first. However, several car companies have OEM-equivalent brake pad options made by aftermarket manufacturers. If you’re going to purchase aftermarket brake pads, follow 3 these basic rules:

1. Always buy a trusted name brand. Brake pads can save your life. You don’t want to compromise on replacement brake pads made by a cheap aftermarket manufacturer.

2. Check the Warranty. Many brake pad manufacturers (or retailers selling them) offer warranties on brake pads. While they are designed to wear out eventually, if they are backed by a mileage warranty, it’s a good indication of the quality of the aftermarket component.

3. Look for Certifications. There are two general brake pad certifications included on aftermarket components. The first is Differential Effectiveness Analysis (D3EA) and the second, Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedures (BEEP).

Regardless of what type of brake pad you choose, the important thing to remember is that proper installation is the most important attribute to follow. When you’re looking to choose the right brake pads, make sure you have a professional mechanic complete the service for you.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
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