There’s a right way and a wrong way to do anything, and through the thick storm of relentless marketing hype, that line can get a little blurred. Every brake pad manufacturer says that they’re the best, and that they’re an upgrade from whatever you already have. In the real world, though, not every brake pad is created equally, and it can be hard to find what you need. We don’t want noisy brakes and dust annoying us during our daily driving.
To accommodate this, brake friction materials have evolved significantly over the years. They’ve gone from asbestos to organic to semi-metallic formulations. Each of these materials has proven to have advantages and disadvantages regarding environmental friendliness, wear, noise and stopping capability.
Asbestos pads caused health issues and organic compounds can’t always meet a wide range of braking requirements. Unfortunately the steel strands used in semi-metallic pads to provide strength and conduct heat away from rotors also generate noise and are abrasive enough to increase rotor wear.
Since they were first used on a few original equipment applications in 1985, friction materials that contain ceramic formulations have become recognized for their desirable blend of traits. These pads use ceramic compounds and copper fibers in place of the semi-metallic pad’s steel fibers. This allows the ceramic pads to handle high brake temperatures with less heat fade, provide faster recovery after the stop, and generate less dust and wear on both the pads and rotors. And from a comfort standpoint,
ceramic compounds provide much quieter braking because the ceramic compound helps dampen noise by generating a frequency beyond the human hearing range.
The ingredients in ceramic compounds produce a light-colored dust that is much less noticeable and less likely to stick to the wheels. Consequently, wheels and tires maintain a cleaner appearance longer.
Brake pad choice is similar to choosing a tire. There’s no glory in getting something outside of your driving style. All you end up with is an expensive compromise.
This works both ways, too. You might think you’ll be doing yourself a favor and be safer buying expensive heavy duty pads for daily driving, but what you could end up with is loud, annoying pads that dust like crazy and have worse cold bite than your stock pads. By the same token, if you’re doing a lot of towing or track days/autocross, you’ll be let down by a light duty pad that will fade after the first round of hard braking — to the point of being dangerous.
Another characteristic that makes ceramic materials attractive is the absence of noticeable dust. All brake pads produce dust as they wear. The ingredients in ceramic compounds produce a light colored dust that is much less noticeable and less likely to stick to the wheels. Consequently, wheels and tires maintain a cleaner appearance longer.
Ceramic pads meet or exceed all original equipment standards for durability, stopping distance and noise. According to durability tests, ceramic compounds extend brake life compared to most other semi-metallic and organic materials and outlast other premium pad materials by a significant margin – with no sacrifice in noise control, pad life or braking performance.
The Benefits of Ceramic Brake Pads Besides being quieter, ceramic brake pads handle extremely high temperatures with little fade, allowing them to recover quickly and cause less damage to the rotors. Also, when ceramic brake pads wear down, they create a finer, lighter dust than semi-metallic pads, and the dust doesn’t stick to wheels. Finally, studies have found that ceramic brake pads have a longer life span without ever sacrificing noise control, rotor life or braking performance.
One con of ceramic brake pads is the cost. Ceramic brake pads tend to be more expensive than semi-metallic pads. Also, ceramic pads aren’t suitable for all vehicles, so always be sure to check your owner’s manual before making a purchase.