Written by Randy Gerdin on February 1, 2016
One of the most commonly performed services on any vehicle is a brake service. At our shop, we do brake work almost daily. Of course, no one gets really excited about having to put new brakes on their car. Brake problems are never convenient and they can cost a good deal of money. The fortunate part is that you can stay ahead of any problems by having the brakes inspected somewhat regularly. That way, you can plan for the work both in terms of time and cost. What I really want to spend time talking about is brake material quality. It really can be very confusing.
There are so many different brands of brake parts and so many different kinds of brake materials within each brand. Each brand usually has three to four different lines or qualities of brake pads. They are all made from different materials, each made for a specific purpose. There are brake products for severe duty, like for police cars or taxicabs. There are also parts designed for extreme heat and reduced stopping distances. In some cases, these parts need to be warmed up to achieve the minimum stopping distances. When using these types of pads, it is always best to use severe duty brake rotors as well. The purpose of these rotors is to dissipate the heat in order to minimize brake fading and rotor warping. If you happen to look at the brakes on a high-end sports car you will find very large braking systems with special “slotted” rotor. These vehicles can go fast quickly and need to stop quickly at high speeds. There are also severe duty brakes available for work trucks that carry heavy loads. Most passenger cars and light trucks do not require using such brake material. However, there are vast differences in brake part qualities on the market. Of course, you get what you pay for.
The parts companies are all in business to make sales, and price can be the most important consideration to some people when they purchase brakes. Of course, when one chooses a cheaper brake product, they are giving up some important features. The most important feature being stopping distances. I have seen information reporting that certain brake pad and rotor combinations can add 5-15 feet of stopping distance in a panic stop. That may be the difference between being involved in a crash and being able to stop in time. Also, cheaper brakes tend not to last as long and usually are noisier.
To some people, “dusting” is important. Some brake materials, as they wear, will leave behind black dust that will adhere to their pretty alloy wheels. This dust does not hurt anything, but some folks are very conscious of how this may look on their wheels. There are specific brake materials that will reduce this effect. Ceramic brake pads are one example of these material types. There are different qualities of ceramic pads as well. The better the products are, usually the more expensive they are.
Another commonly replaced brake part is the brake rotors. Again, there are vast differences in qualities, and with this come with vast difference in price. Usually the cheaper rotors have visible differences. The total thickness may be the same, however, they are made out of different metals. Also, the amount of webbing between the discs may be different, which will cut down on the thickness of the disc surface. This will cause the brakes to run hotter and increase in noise and wear. One thing I have noticed in recent years is the great increase in the rusting of the brake rotor. I feel this is due to the cheapening of the materials used to manufacture brake rotors. I have seen brake rotors only a few years old with such large rust areas that they are unusable. I have also seen brake rotors that have extreme rust areas in between the braking surfaces that are only 6 month old. I believe this problem may be more limited to locations where salt and chemicals are used on the road surfaces to control ice, like here in Minnesota.
Again, I feel these problems can be avoided by having your brakes inspected by a professional technician with knowledge and experience of the brake products available, along with knowing the needs of the vehicle and driver. We have certain customers that we know are “hard” on their brakes, and we use a specific line of brake products on their vehicles. Other vehicles are prone to brake problems and we use specific products for these vehicles as well. Also, there are specific procedures that need to be followed in order for a brake job to be done correctly. Trust me, we have seen all kinds of things with inexperienced installers. I Hate When That Happens!