Which are you looking for? Do you want incredible stopping power that will have your heart racing or quiet brakes with a long life span and less dust? It’s not as simple as it sounds, though- there is more than one way to get these things.
The suitable brake pads depend on your type of car and your personal preferences. But some general guidelines can help narrow it down for a faster decision process:
- A set of ceramic brakes will offer better stopping power
- Choose semi-metallic pads that will last longer
The truth is that semi-metallic, ceramic, and even organic pads all stop your car.
Brake pads are a trade-off. A good pad for driving around town isn’t going to be up your alley on the racetrack, just as an optimized race style of brake usage will never function well enough when applied solely outside its intended environment. However, this doesn’t mean there cannot exist one best option among all available types. Instead, different factors depend on personal preference, including vehicle type and individual actions while applying them. Driving demands, individual preferences, and your 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. So 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 ceramic.
Organic brake pads
Organic brakes are less expensive than their counterpart, but they still provide excellent stopping power. These organic pads contain glass fiber nylon or carbon/kevlar and rubber materials. This is mixed with binding resins that hold them together to create a strong bond between each piece of the pad assembly. And all of this makes it possible for you as the driver to have an easier time taking care when servicing your vehicle because there’s no need to replace any parts.
- 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 everyday 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
Semi-metallic brake pads
When you need the most efficient cooling for your brakes, semi-metallic pads are what’s best. These brake material types have been shown repeatedly to draw heat away from rotors, giving drivers better stability during heavy traffic conditions or high speeds on twisty roads. In addition, they don’t overheat as traditional organic compounds can sometimes do.
- 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
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 might be the brakes for you.
Ceramic brake pads
Ceramic brake pads are one specific type of friction material gaining popularity among drivers worldwide due to their relative ease when braking and higher resistance to wear than cheaper alternatives.
Ceramic brake pads are made using ceramic to withstand high heat levels without losing any structural integrity or becoming deformed. This is because the internal structure of the ceramic is bound by pieces of metal called “interconnectors. These interconnectors hold together all the ceramic fragments that make up the brake pad.
As the metal moves, these interconnectors ensure that they do not break apart even when exposed to large amounts of heat and force. This gives them a much longer lifetime than standard brake pads, which can require replacement after just 50-60 thousand kilometers.
Ceramic brake pads also have another advantage over alloy or metallic materials used in other forms of friction material: they prevent corrosion. The metal interconnectors in ceramic brake pads will never rust or corrode due to exposure to water or air. They also do not need any treatment added on top for this purpose. In contrast, iron or steel parts exposed directly to oxygen will eventually rust and corrode if no special preparation is given. This, along with their resistance to wear, makes them one of the best brake pads available in most countries worldwide.
For years, companies and automakers have named carbon-ceramic brakes the best bet to handle the heat of a racetrack. However, recently, manufacturers like Porsche are saying ceramic brakes might not be the best choice for those who track their cars often or are heavy on the brakes; in general, they may be better off with iron brakes after all.
- 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 frigid climates
- Do not absorb heat as well as semi-metallic pads, which can increase brake system temperatures
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, as 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 longer pad life due to their harder composition. However, 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 can absorb, the more the heat is retained in the brake rotor and surrounding components, leading 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 broader range of temperatures and have a much higher thermal threshold. Metallic brakes provide better cold bites than ceramic ones and maintain 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 a 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.
“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
The best brake pads will be built specifically for high-performance for our drivers who are constantly testing the limits of their cars.
“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.”
If you’re still in the search and see mode, check out our Brakes Buying Guide for more information. Regardless of your type of brake pads, AutoAnything has all the top-quality brake pads to upgrade your braking system for safe and dependable stopping.