How to buy the best brake pads
There’s a LOT more to buying brake pads than just brand or type (Organic, semi-metallic or ceramic). In addition to getting the right friction material for your driving style, you also need to consider the pad’s construction and longevity.
The brake pad backing plate design, material and bonding method is the single best indicator of pad life
In recent studies of used brake pads the study found that the single most common cause of early brake pad failure is RUST formation on the steel backing plate! When the backing plate rusts, the friction de-laminates and breaks off, causing pad failure.
Cheap brake pads use cheap steel that isn’t treated properly before painting. The instant the paint fails, rust builds to the point where it forces the friction material breaks away from the backing plate. This is called rust jacking, and once it starts, it’s goodbye brake pads.
There’s really no way to stop rust formation if the brake pad manufacturer uses regular steel backing plates. That’s why the best pads are built on a galvanized steel backing plate with a mechanical attachment system.
Why a mechanical attachment system for the friction material?
Because adhesive bonding fails when the backing plate rusts or when the pad overheats. Once de-lamination occurs, the brake pad is history. You’ll get brake noise, uneven pad and rotor wear and friction material will break off the backing plate.
Brake pads built on galvanized steel backing plates last longer
This one’s really simple. Galvanized steel backing plates resist rust much longer than painted steel backing plates. In fact, they’re generally still rust free even after the friction material is worn off.
Brake pads with mechanical attachment last longer than glued pads
NRS brake pads and brake pads from other high end brake manufacturers use mechanical attachment technology, along with galvanized steel backing plates.
Wagner OEx brake pads use mechanical attachment technology, along with galvanized steel backing plates.
So there’s more to buying a brake pad than brand alone
• Look for a pad that’s built on a galvanized backing plate with mechanical attachments.
• Look for a brake pad that has multi-layer noise reduction shims. See this article on the differences between cheap and premium noise reduction shims.
• Look for a brake pad that comes with top-quality anti-rattle clips.
Which brand to choose?
Most major brake pad brands are also Tier 1 suppliers to the carmakers. So they know what it takes to make top quality friction material and maintain quality throughout the process.
Rick thinks store brand brake parts are low quality
Most auto parts stores sell private labeled “store brand” brake pads. They don’t save you any money over name brand brake parts. So why do they sell them? Simple. They make more profit on their private labeled parts. They source them from the lowest bidder, package them in boxes that say “PREMIUM BRAKE PADS” and give you a lifetime warranty to make you feel good. But who wants to do the job over and over again because the parts quality is so low? Who cares that the replacements are free? Don’t you have better things to do with your time that redo your brakes every year?
My advice is to skip the store brands and buy OE or premium quality brake parts from name brand reputable brake parts manufacturers.
And about those quality levels
Most of these major brake pad manufacturers offer an economy, OEM and premium version of their product. If you buy OEM or better brake pads from these companies you’ll be getting a very good product.
If you buy a company’s economy version, you’d better plan on selling the car soon. Because they don’t perform as well or last nearly as long as OE or premium quality brake pads. If you’re looking to save money, buying economy brake pads is the wrong way to do it.
Who are the major players in the brake pad business?
Akebono — Japanese company and Tier 1 supplier. See more below
ACDelco — owned by General Motors and a Tier 1 supplier to GM
Advics — See Aisin Seiki Co, Ltd below
Beck Arnley — see Dr1V division of Tenneco Automotive below
Bendix See — see MAT Holdings and TMD Friction
Brembo — A Tier 1 supplier of brake calipers for Porsche, Mercedes, Lancia, BMW, Nissan and Chrysler. See more below
Bosch — No longer owned by Robert Bosch. It is now owned by Chassis Brakes International
Centric — see First Brands Group
Monroe — see Dr1V division of Tenneco Automotive
Pagid — See TMD Friction
Raybestos — see First Brands Group
Wagner — see Dr1V division of Tenneco Automotive
Who are the minor players in the brake pad business?
Dynamic Friction — A small supplier of brake parts. Located in California, the company has 18 employees with annual sales of around $3 million
EBC Brakes— A privately owned company with 400 employees and manufacturing in the U.K. and U.S. EBC products includes brake pads for cars, trucks and SUV, brake rotors (brake discs) for every rolling vehicle on the planet and even brake pads for wind farms, brake pads for military applications such as the Humvee, various armored cars and even tanks, railway brake products and all kinds of industrial vehicle brakes.
Hawk— A small specialty brake manufacture catering to amateur racers
Power Stop — a smaller brake parts manufacturer and importer. Estimated sales of just $29.4 Million/year (source Grojo.com) and 89 employees.
I’m not saying these minor players in the brake parts business make poor products. I’m not aware of bad products from any of these companies. It’s just my preference to stick with well known nationally recognized brands.
More background on the major players in the brake pad business
Aisin Seiki Co, Ltd
Aisin Seiki Co, Ltd is a Japanese manufacturer of powertrain, chassis and vehicle safety systems and automotive body parts. The Advics division manufactures brake friction and hydraulic components in 31 plants around the globe
Akebono is a 90-year old Japanese brake manufacturer headquartered in Hanyu, Saitama and Nihonbashi. Akebono is a Tier 1 supplier of brake parts to Audi, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen.
Akebono has two R&D facilities in the U.S., Japan and France. They manufacture brake parts in 30 company-owned and affiliate facilities worldwide, including two production facilities in Kentucky, one in Tennessee and one in South Carolina.
Started in 1961 in Italy by by Emilio Bombassei and Italo Breda, the company began making brake discs. In 1972 Brembo began supplying Moto Guzzi. In 1975, Enzo Ferrari asked the Brembo to equip the most prestigious racing cars in Formula 1. It was not long before Brembo was the leading name in the motorsports braking systems segment.
In the 1980s, Brembo developed an aluminum brake caliper, which was adapted for high performance vehicles made by Porsche, Mercedes, Lancia, BMW, Nissan and Chrysler. Brembo later became a Tier 1 supplier to Iveco and Renault Industrial Vehicles.
In the 2000s, Brembo acquired Alfa Real Minas, a Brazilian manufacturer of brake discs and engine flywheels. Brembo also acquired the British company AP Racing Limited, manufacturer of brake and clutch systems for race cars, motorcycles and high performance sports cars. Brembo also acquired Marchesini, a manufacturer of magnesium wheels for racing motorcycles.
First Brands Group is a global automotive parts company that owns the following automotive brands:
• Raybestos complete brake solutions,
• Centric Parts replacement brake components,
• FRAM filtration products — a Tier 1 supplier to major carmakers and the 2nd largest filter manufacturer in the world.
• Champion Laboratories Inc. (Champ Labs) Air and oil filters
• LuberFiner filtration products,
• TRICO wiper blades
• ANCO wiper blades
• Carter fuel and water pumps
• Autolite spark plugs
• StrongArm lift supports
Dr1V division of Tenneco Automotive
• Abex friction products
• Ferodo brake parts for European vehicles
• Jurid brake prducts for German vehicles
• Monroe brakes
• Wagner brake products
• Walker Exhaust products
Beck/Arnley — a direct importer of parts for foreign vehicles. Beck/Arnley purchases replacement parts directly from the Tier 1 suppliers to foreign vehicle manufactures.
Champion Spark Plugs
FP Diesel— replacement parts for diesel engines
Monroe shocks and struts
Moog steering and suspension parts
National Bearings and Oil Seals
Sealed Power — piston rings and replacement engine parts
Speed Pro — engine parts including pistons an valves
Mat Holdings Inc
Licensed the Bendix brand from Honeywell for distribution in the U.S.
MAT Holdings Inc. is a Tier 1 brake parts supplier to auto makers: General Motors, Ford, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volkswagen, Nissan, TRW, Continental Teves, Bosch, WABCO, and Knorr-Bremse. MAT Holdings manufactures over 24 million sets of passenger brake pads per year under various name brands and private label brands. They manufacture their own friction material, shoes, shims, backing plates, rotors, calipers and carriers. MAT Auto Group supplies high performance OEM products to auto racing companies AP Racing, Brembo, Hi Spec Motorsport, and Maxx Autosport.
TMD Friction, a Nisshinbo Group Company
Manufacturers brake parts under the Bendix (outside U.S.) Textar, Mintex, Don, Pagid CorbreQ and Nisshinbo brands
The brake pad business is messy
Back in the ’50’s there were less than a dozen formulas for brake shoe friction material. Anybody could make brake shoe lining in their kitchen with just a mixer and an oven. Today, there are thousands of friction material variations, but the process is still the same: mix the raw materials, bake and then bond the friction material to a brake shoe or brake pad backing plate. So just about every company that owns a mixer and oven has jumped into the game, especially companies in China.
What differentiates the brake pad manufacturers?
The largest brake parts manufacturers operate their own R&D labs and testing departments and they work closely with carmakers to develop brake friction material formulas for new cars and trucks. The parts they manufacture must meet Federal Braking standards. These companies are referred to as Tier 1 suppliers. In other words, they manufacturer the brake pads and components under contract to the carmakers, delivering the OEM brake products right to the carmaker’s assembly line. Then there are Tier 2 manufacturers that build brake products under contract to Tier 1 suppliers. Tier 1 and Tier 2 brake parts manufactures have access to the OEM’s exact formulas and are bound by trade secrecy agreements not to disclose the specifications on the OEM products they manufacture.
Then there are the aftermarket suppliers that have no association with the carmakers. They have no access to OEM specifications and even though they claim their products are OEM quality, they must either reverse engineer the OEM products or come up with their own best guess as to the ingredients. Some of the largest aftermarket manufacturers run their own R&D labs and testing facilities,. But the smaller companies are just “winging it,” using a “best guess” approach to brake pad formulations. Then there are the companies that don’t actually make anything, they’re just importers, bringing in low quality products from China and packaging them in boxes labeled “premium brake pads.”
There are NO federal standards for aftermarket brake pads
You may think that aftermarket brake pads must meet some kind of federal standards. Think again. When it comes to aftermarket brake pads, it’s the Wild West. Manufacturers can make anything they want with no minimum standards.
So why would you go with a private label (store brand) brake pads or brake pads made by a minor player when you can buy name brand brake pads from a major Tier 1 or 2 manufacturer or a respected aftermarket supplier for about the same price?
What really counts when making a brake pad?
The backing plate
The type of steel used in the backing plate, it’s thickness, the cleaning and rust treatments applied all affect its life. A poor quality backing plate can flex during heavy brake applications, causing the friction material to dislodge and break off. In addition to flexing, poor quality backing plates are poorly prepped and painted, so they rust quickly. In fact, poor quality backing plates will fail long before the friction material actually wears out.
In addition to the quality of the backing plate steel, there’s the issue of conformance to spec. Poorly made backing plates with wide stamping tolerances will either bind or rattle in the caliper.
The friction material
Obviously, the friction material is the most important part of making a brake pad that duplicates the OEM pad’s performance. To do that it must include the same high quality raw materials.
The noise reduction and anti-rattle hardware
High quality brake pads come with high quality stainless steel anti-rattle clips and multi-layered noise reduction shims. Economy pads often leave out the anti-rattle clips and shims, forcing you to buy those separately. Or, they include single layer shims made from cheap aluminum stock and low quality stainless steel anti-rattle clips.
There is SO much more to this topic. This post is just a primer on brake pads. For more information see these other in-depth posts.
Brake pad anatomy. See how brake pads are assembled
Brake pad quality levels. What’s the difference between economy and premium?
Brake pad backing plates—they’re even more important than the friction material
Brake pad backing plate types. Buying the right type can extend brake pad life.
Brake rotor quality—what’s the difference between economy and premium brake rotors?
Why brake pads fail. Yeah, there’s a reason you don’t get the expected life from brake pads.
There’s more to brake pads than just the brand
© 2012 Rick Muscoplat
Posted on by Rick Muscoplat