Vehicle manufacturers choose their preferred type of stock brake pads based on a number of reasons including noise, dust, stopping ability and wear. The ideal combination of these aspects is obviously low noise and dust, good stopping power and long pad life. That's a lot to ask from a brake pad – especially since driving style, usage and personal preferences are as varied as the vehicles on the road. Keep reading for a brake pad material comparison that we hope will help you decide what type of brake pad is best for you. Want something more visual? Scroll down to watch a thorough brake test performed by /DRIVE and AutoAnything.com.
While your OEM brake pads are engineered to meet the high-level of performance necessary for 50,000 miles of stops, aftermarket brake pads exist for a reason. Since aftermarket pads come in a wide-range of compounds, they can better satisfy your specific requirements, whether that’s clean, quiet stops or massive amounts of brake bite.
Produce less dust than traditional semi-metallic pads
Allow for softer, quieter braking
Work great upon immediate driving and in cold weather
Cause less wear on your brake rotors than most performance aftermarket pads
Make for noticeably longer stopping distances
Wear out sooner than most ceramic brake pads
Can cause a “mushy” brake pedal feel
Quickly lose their coefficient of friction under extreme heat
Made in a wide-range of compounds, from organic to aramid fiber
Less prone to brake fade when used with a high-performance brake fluid
Dramatically shorter stopping distances over OEM pads
Provide a more consistent pedal feel and better pedal modulation
Abrasive compounds will wear your brake rotors more quickly
Must be heated to the optimal operating temp to brake effectively
Produce more brake dust for more frequent cleaning
Now that we’ve gone over the primary differences between your OEM brakes and performance pads, let’s get deeper into two of the most popular aftermarket types – Semi-Metallic and Ceramic.
Semi-Metallic Brake Pads
Metal compound usually consists of steel, iron and copper, combined with friction modifiers, fillers and graphite lubricant
Metallic composition draws heat away from the rotor and aids in more efficient brake cooling
Produce more noise and dust than ceramic but are arguably the more versatile of the two
More effective over a wider-range of temperatures and have a much higher thermal threshold
Provide better cold bite than ceramic pads and maintain much more consistent friction characteristics throughout their operating range
For track use or even spirited street driving, semi-metallic pads are the clear choice
Ceramic Brake Pads
Composed of a dense ceramic material, similar to fired pottery, with embedded copper fibers
Generally cause less wear and tear on your rotors than semi-metallic pads
Less effective in cold weather or before the brakes are up to temperature
Typically have a lower coefficient of friction than their semi-metallic counterparts (the higher the coefficient of friction, the better a brake pad will stop your vehicle)
Offer ample stopping power for casual city or highway driving
Choosing OEM or Performance Brake Pads
Unfortunately, the question of OEM or aftermarket brake pads doesn’t have a simple, straightforward answer. For some, replacing your OEM brakes with a similar type pad is more than sufficient for your daily drive. But if you’ve decided to upgrade from OEM, the best aftermarket brake pads for your ride is really up to you. Ceramic pads offer quieter stops, cleaner wheels and generally longer pad life, while semi-metallic pads, produce more noise and dust, but are more effective over a wider range of temps. For even more help finding out what compromise is right for you, check out our comprehensive Brakes Buying Guide.