HOW DO YOU PICK A BRAKE PAD?
The squeak is happening, you can’t take it anymore, and it’s time to do something about it: it’s time for new brake pads. But how does one choose the best brake pads, anyway?
Sure, changing brake pads can be a bit of a hassle, but we’re here to make it easier! Here are some helpful tips on how to choose the right brake pads for your vehicle, without too much hassle.
First though, ask yourself, “What are my driving needs?” It’s important to know if you have light, moderate, or heavy driving needs when choosing your brake pads. For example, a student who drives a sedan to school regularly has light needs; someone who spends a lot of time in traffic might have moderate needs; while a heavy-duty truck will usually have heavy needs. This matters when choosing the right brake pad for your vehicle.
WHEN IS IT BEST TO REPLACE THE BRAKE PAD?
Generally, you’ll want to replace brake pads about every 30,000 to 40,000 miles. This is around the same time as when you should replace your tires. Definitely change your brake pads before they wear down (squealing pads are worn down). This will damage the brake rotor by grinding into it. This is often the cause of loud brakes that are annoying as all get out, and can require brake rotor replacement to get rid of it.
Another indicator of old brake pads is called “brake pulsing” which is when the brake pedal “pulses” (moves, shakes, jumbles, etc) as you’re pressing it down. Typically this means worn brake pads, but it can also be caused by a warped rotor or misaligned brake system. If the damage is that serious, it is best to seek professional brake service as soon as possible.
For help finding a brake shop in your area, read our article “What Makes a Great Brake Shop?”
TYPES OF BRAKE PAD
There are a few different kinds of brake pads that are better suited for different situations. You can always get the best brake pads possible, but if you don’t drive often or your car isn’t very heavy anyway, sometimes a cheap brake pad can be a more efficient choice.
Time was, brake pads were composited with asbestos, which is known to be cancer-causing especially when ground into particles (which is what happens when you “grind” yourself to a halt). These days, asbestos is only used in rare kinds of performance brake pads or other specialized conditions.
ORGANIC BRAKE PAD
Organic pads are made from a mixture of a number of materials including carbon, glass, rubber, and other natural fibers. This makes them safer for the environment and has the benefit of making them generally quieter. You’re more likely to see them on smaller, lighter vehicles that don’t need as much stopping force. Unfortunately, they tend to have a shorter lifespan, especially under working conditions, and may need to be replaced more often.
SEMI-METALLIC BRAKE PAD
More often than not, modern auto brake pads are made of a mix of metals like iron, copper, and other materials that have particular heat-resistant properties. Semi-metallic brake pads are more common in working vehicles and trucks because they last much longer. Additionally, they reduce friction better, which means better-stopping power. This is a critical difference when it comes to larger vehicles.
CERAMIC BRAKE PAD
One of the best materials happens to be ceramics, which are especially resistant to heat. While this tends to make them more expensive, and they don’t survive well in cold climates, nonetheless they offer some of the best stopping power possible. Better yet, they can be quieter even than organic brake pads. Unfortunately again, they won’t last as long as semi-metallic and this can make them especially expensive under harder conditions (think constant stop-and-go traffic, for example).
BRAKE PAD CHARACTERISTICS
The 4 critical considerations when choosing new brake pads are Price, Performance, Noise, and Durability. Price is self-explanatory; Performance is how well they stop; Noise is how loud they are; and Durability is how long they last including how well they prevent heat transfer to the other parts of the brake system, which can damage them.
Organic brake pads are the cheapest, they’re an average noise level, they have low performance, and they tend not to cause much damage to the braking system. A good all-around choice for most drivers.
Metallic brake pads are moderately expensive, they tend to be the noisiest, but they also brake well. However, they are worst on the braking system, and if used under harsh conditions can cause damage like rotor warping (typically only under extremes though).
Ceramic brake pads are expensive, they tend to be the quietest, they brake extremely well, and they tend not to transfer much heat to the brake system. This means they are much better overall for your vehicle. They may be pricier, but they’re worth it.
PARTS OF A BRAKE
Essentially, your car’s brake system consists of:
The Brake Housing, which holds the other parts in the brake system and attaches them to the rest of the car;
The Brake Caliper, which clamps over the brake disc and holds it together with the brake pads;
The Brake Disc (Brake Rotor), which is what the brake pads squeeze against to stop the wheels;
The Brake Pad, is a specially made heat-resistant buffer that absorbs motion energy through friction in order to stop your car.
The Brake Line, transfers brake fluid pressure in order to squeeze the brake pads against the brake disk, creating stopping friction.
Sometimes it becomes necessary to get a break fluid flush if for example, you begin to notice they’re not responding when you press the brake pedal. Pads squeak when they go bad, but so too does the brake rotor when it’s warped. A warped caliper can also cause squeaking, and all these problems can cause pulsing as mentioned before.
To learn how disc brakes work, click here to read our article “How Do Brakes Work?”
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
SHOULD I STICK WITH MANUFACTURERS/OEM BRAKE PADS?
It’s always better to stick with OEM brakes if the alternative is worse brakes. However, if you’re willing to install equal quality brakes or better, then no, it is not necessary to stick with OEM brake pads. There may be some exceptions in case of voiding a service warranty, but those aren’t the most convenient brake pad warranties then, are they?
SHOULD I CHEAP OUT ON BRAKE PADS?
No. You do not want your brake pads to give out or underperform even a little in case of an accident. It is perfectly fine to choose affordable brakes and cheap brake installation, sure, but please be sure to choose the brake pads that suit your vehicle best and no less (ie probably not organic brakes for a working vehicle, especially a truck).
NEED BRAKE REPAIR NOW?
Never wait too long to get brake service. You don’t want to risk that on wet or even dirt roads. Come to Tedious Repairs and we’ll help you get back on the road fast, affordably, and most importantly, safely.
Use the contact information below to call or text, email, or schedule an appointment online. Tune in next week for more auto repair content and other cool stuff.
Thanks for reading!
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Buddy started his auto career journey at Butte College and started his own auto repair company in 2007. Since then he has worked on countless cars, diagnosing, repairing, and replacing worn, faulty, and broken parts.
After a few years, he moved to a bigger shop to accommodate his growth and to better serve the Chico, CA community. It’s a family-owned & operated business.
Outside of work Buddy enjoys spending time with his family and playing softball is one of his many passions.