How do you even go about defining what's the best? It seems like such a personal decision. Well, that might be true for ice cream flavors, music genres and pizza toppings. But, when it comes to the best brakes, there's actually an objective standard on which to judge what's hot and what's not: the best brakes are the ones that stop your vehicle the fastest.
Okay, now that we have a working definition of what makes great brakes, there's one more question to answer: are stock brakes better than performance brakes? In a word: no! Not by a long shot. Factory brakes are to performance brakes what Cold Duck is to Dom Perignon—a low-grade imitation that'll do the job but leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth.
Performance brakes are made up of multiple parts working in conjunction to bring you to a commanding halt when you need it most. Here's a quick rundown on what makes up a premium brake system.
Stage 1: Brake Pads
Brake pads are the heart and soul of your brake system, but factory pads just don't hold a candle to performance options. First, let's discuss the failings of factory pads. Standard equipment replacements are engineered strictly to the minimum standards for your vehicle. If you drive with any gusto, they're going to fall short and put you into a precarious position. Plus, they don't last as long as performance pads, and they're often more expensive than upgraded brake pads.
Performance pads are built from the ground up using better friction materials that stop faster, last longer and generate less brake dust. Plus, you can pick from both metallic and ceramic brake pads from top brands like Hawk Brake Pads and Baer Brakes.
Stage 2: Brake Rotors
If brake pads are the heart and soul of a fast-stopping brake system, then the brake rotors are the body and muscle. Like full-metal discuses that only Hercules could chuck, performance rotors are forged from only the toughest metals. Unlike stock rotors, race-ready rotors are finished with either slotted grooves, cross-drilled holes or both. Besides their racy looks, these slots and holes actually boost performance—they allow gases, moisture and brake dust to wipe off of the rotor's surface, preventing brake fade.
Choosing from the myriad brake rotor manufacturers can seem daunting at first because they all tend to look alike. But, looks can be deceiving. Always go with a brand with a strong reputation in the brake industry. Brembo Brakes is arguably the best-known and most-trusted brand around, but EBC brake rotors and DBA rotors are strong contenders as well.
Stage 3: Brake Lines
Brakes are controlled by hydraulic fluid—if there's no fluid, there's no stopping! That's why no brake overhaul is complete without upgraded brake lines. Like heavy-duty veins, they channel the fluid from your brake master cylinder out to all the calipers. The stock variety are simply metal tubes, but they're prone to damage. Proper performance brake lines, though, are wrapped in stainless steel webbing, making them much stronger and longer lasting.