It’s the ultimate question when it comes to replacing your brakes: “What are the best brake pads for my car?” You want performance. You want to stop on a dime. You want quiet braking. Is that so complicated? Yes and no.
The first thing you need to decide is whether you’re looking for ceramic vs. semi-metallic brake pads. But while both semi-metallic brake pads and ceramic brake pads (or any brakes, for that matter) serve the same essential function, there are a lot of differences between them. And the best brake pads for your car depend not only on the pads, but on you.
Braking is a tradeoff. A brake pad that works well driving around the city isn’t suitable for the racetrack, just like a dedicated race pad won’t function adequately on the street. A pad that’s quieter may also be less durable. You can compare semi-metallic vs ceramic brake pads for 10 different cars and never come to the same conclusion. That’s simply because there will never be one “best” brake pad for every vehicle, every driver and every situation. Driving demands, individual preferences and your own unique style of hitting the brakes all factor into which brake pads are the best for your car or truck.
But that’s why we’re here to help. Our team of experts have broken down the best brake pads on the market—as well as the pros and cons of each type. Ceramic brakes, organic brakes, semi-metallic brakes—they all have their place. Read on to figure out the best brake pads for you.
The evolution of brake pads
Let’s start some quick and painless brake pad history. When disc brakes—which use calipers to squeeze pads on either side of a wheel’s rotor—started to go mainstream in the 1950s and ’60s, asbestos was the preferred brake-pad material. Asbestos is heat resistant, durable, effective, and relatively cheap. As everyone now knows, it’s also bad for your health. As the hazards of asbestos became more widely known, the pads fell out of favor and manufacturers had to go looking for alternatives that would perform without breaking the bank. They came up with three categories of pads: organic, semi-metallic, and organic.
Organic brake pads (also known as NAO, or “non-asbestos organic”) are composed of various materials—like glass, fiber, rubber, carbon and Kevlar—mixed with binding resins that hold them together. The materials and tools used to manufacture organic brake pads are still the least expensive, which is why about 70% of new cars sold in the U.S. come factory-fitted with organic brakes.
- Soft, quiet, easy on brake rotors
- Don’t require much heat to generate good friction
- Produce less dust than semi-metallic brake pads
- Low manufacturing cost
- Suitable for normal driving/commuting across many environments
- Perfect for every day vehicles and drivers
- Only operate well within a relatively limited temperature range
- Wear out quickly compared to other types of brake pads
- High compressibility—can cause “mushy” brake pedal-feel
- When overheated, they lose some of their braking power
- Not at all suitable for performance driving
While they do get the job done, most drivers are left with a feeling of “meh” when they look at everything organic brakes have to offer—especially those looking to do performance driving. Most people who want to upgrade their braking system will turn to ceramic or semi-metallic brake pads.
Semi-metallic pads contain 30-65% metal by weight, typically consisting of steel, iron, copper, etc. Manufacturers combine metal fibers with friction modifiers and fillers, as well as a graphite lubricant. High-quality semi-metallic brake pads will have finer metallic fibers and lower-quality ones will be more coarse. Regardless of the thickness of the fibers in your semi-metallic brake pads, a noticeable advantage they have is the ability of the metallic composition to draw heat away from the rotor, giving you more efficient brake-cooling.
- Dramatically better braking performance than organic pads
- Perform well in a wide range of temperatures
- Less resistant to wear across temperatures (aka, higher thermal threshold)
- Good cold bite—they perform well from the outset, without being warmed up
- Provide a firmer brake pedal feel (low compressibility)
- Much more resistant to brake fade than organic pads
- Numerous compounds available — suitable for anything, from daily street-driving to extreme track use
- Tend to be noisier than organic or ceramic brake pads
- Produce more brake dust
- More abrasive than other types of pads — which you can expect to wear brake rotors more quickly
- More expensive than organic pads (but generally cheaper than ceramic brakes)
- Require careful and proper bedding-in for the best performance
Though we certainly can’t say that semi-metallics are the best brake pads across the board, they are extremely versatile. They’re a little more expensive but a lot higher-performing than organic pads. Still, if you’re comparing semi-metallic vs ceramic, there are trade-offs. The compromise you’ll need to make here is more noise and dust. But you’ll gain durability in extreme temperatures, on and off-track braking power, and a bit more money in your pocket at the end of the day.
Metallic may be the best brake pads for you if you regularly tow big loads, find yourself on the racetrack a lot, or don’t want the hassle of worrying whether your brake pads have had time to warm up on short trips. When it comes to the ceramic vs. metallic brake pads debate, nothing can match the conductibility of metal. Drivers in extreme temperatures and extreme situations, these might just be the brakes for you.
Ceramic brake pads are the new-ish kid on the block. Developed in the 1980s, ceramic brake pads area blend of super-strong ceramic (think of it a bit like pottery fired in a kiln) with copper fibers embedded into the pad compound. So, like their metallic counterparts, they do use metal parts, but the main material is ceramic. Ceramic brake pads were developed as a quieter, less dusty alternative to organic and semi-metallic brake pads. Drivers have been happily using them since the 1980’s, but they’ve been getting more popular over the last few years, despite their high price tag. The ceramic compounds and copper fibers allow ceramic brake pads to handle higher brake temperatures with less heat fade, provide faster recovery after the stop and generate less dust.
- Quieter than semi-metallic brake pads, they emit noises that are above the range of human hearing
- Produce finer, lighter-colored brake dust, which doesn’t stick to wheels
- Longer lifespan than organic or semi-metallic brake pads
- Stable under a wide range of temperatures for consistent performance
- Usually the most expensive type of brake pad on the market
- Do not produce as much cold bite as semi-metallic pads, making them less than ideal in extremely cold climates
- Do not absorb heat as well as semi-metallic pads, which can increase brake system temperatures
- Good all-around braking characteristics, but not designed for heavy-duty performance or racetrack braking systems
As you can see, this adds some fuel to the fire that is the ceramic vs. semi metallic brake pads debate. Let’s break it down a bit more: Drivers of race cars and big trucks with even bigger loads, these probably aren’t the best brake pads for you. But when it comes to those other details—noise, brake dust, heat conductivity—ceramics stack up better than semi-metallic options. If you can afford the price tag, you’ll reap the rewards with less wear and tear on your entire braking system. If you don’t balk at a little noise and want the extra bite, metallic is your go-to.
Ceramic vs. Semi-Metallic Brake Pads
By now, you should be leaning slightly toward one or the other, semi-metallic vs. ceramic brake pads, based on your driving conditions and personal style. To make your final decision, pick those things that you aren’t willing to compromise on at all, and let them guide you.
But, like we said before, there is no single brake pad that can reign supreme in every single situation; nobody is taking home the title of “best brake pads.” The ceramic vs semi metallic brake pads debate is a compromise. If you want clean, quiet stops, you’ll pay for it in braking performance. If you want massive amounts of brake bite under extreme temperatures, you’ll be cleaning your wheels every few days. That’s just the way it works.
Ceramic brake pads offer quieter stops, cleaner wheels, and generally longer pad-life due to their harder composition. The downsides include less cold bite, rendering them less effective in cold weather or before the brakes are up to temperature. In addition, they 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).
Ceramic pads were never designed to be extreme performance or racing brake pads. It’s just the truth. The ceramic material is a less effective heat sink than their metallic equivalents — instead, they act almost like an insulator. The less heat the pad is able to absorb, the more the heat is retained in the brake rotor and surrounding components, which can lead to increased temperatures of the entire brake system.
On the other hand, while semi-metallic pads do produce more noise and dust, they’re arguably the more versatile of the two. They are more effective over a wider range of temperatures and have a much higher thermal threshold. Metallic brakes provide better cold bite than ceramic brakes and maintain much more consistent friction characteristics throughout their operating range.
If you plan on driving your car on a racetrack (or even a spirited mountain run), semi-metallic brake pads are the clear choice.
For casual city or highway driving, commuting, or chauffeuring the kids around town, ceramic or organic pads offer ample stopping power with the added benefits of quietness, cleaner wheels, and longer lifespans.
Now that you’ve narrowed down your choice between brake pad materials, we’ll help you shop for the best brake pads in each category with our buying guide, below.
DAILY DRIVER BRAKE PADS
When a noise-free stop and long-lasting braking power matter most, these are the best brake pads to have along for the ride. They are our tried-and-true performers when it comes to day-in and day-out durability.
“Pads are well engineered, look and feel top notch. They are one of those products that can be installed by feel with your eyes closed. Fit easily, and sat perfectly in caliber. Stop great with no noise, vibration, or dust. Would definitely recommend, especially at the price point of AutoAnything. Will look for Bendix on my next brake job!!”
“Brake pads work as advertised. Good pads for a daily driver. Good stopping performance.”
PERFORMANCE DRIVING BRAKE PADS
For our drivers who are always testing their—and their cars’—limits the best brake pads are going to be built specifically for high-performance.
“Power Stop pads great for all vehicles on wet, dry, snow or icy roads.”
“High Performance but low price compared with other brands”
HEAVY DUTY / TOWING BRAKE PADS
Big payloads require even bigger stops. You’ll never doubt your truck’s braking abilities with these superior pads.
“I was looking for a solid set of pads to put on my truck. These seem to fit the bill.”
“With this pad, my tundra has no brake fade and stops quicker pulling a 26′ travel trailer.”
Ready for more? Whether you are looking for organic, metallic or ceramic brake pads, AutoAnything has just the right selection to ensure you upgrade your braking system with only the top quality brake pads on the market.