Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Brake pad cost

Brake pad cost — cost versus quality

Brake pad cost varies greatly and the quality of the brake pads is directly related to brake pad cost

What you get with cheap brake pads

Cheap steel backing plates

Cheap brake pad backing plates are usually made with “black steel” versus the much higher quality “pickled” steel.

Black steel is hot rolled at the mill. As hot steel is exposed to air the surface oxides, forming surface rust and scale. When black steel is used for brake pads, the rust and scale is left on the steel until the backing plates are stamped out of the sheet.

After stamping, the backing plates are shot-blasted to remove the rust and scale before painting.Unfortunately, the blasting process often embeds the rust into the metal and deforms the stamped backing plate. Later, as the backing plate is exposed to the element, the rust will bloom, causing the friction material to detach from the backing plate and crack off. The rust also causes the pad to bind in the caliper bracket and seize.

Cheap noise reduction shims

Noise reduction shims insulate the backing plate from the caliper to reduce the transfer of vibration noise. Shims are available in single and multiple layers. The more layers, the best the noise reduction. Cheap pads often come with single or 2-3 layer shims while premium quality pads come with 5-6 layer shims.

Cheap hardware or no hardware

Anti-rattle clips allow the brake pads to move slightly with each brake application but prevent the pad from rattling The clips are made from stainless steel, but cheap pads use a much lower grade stainless steel that can rust and lose tension.

anti rattle clips

Cheap stainless steel rusts and loses its spring tension.

Cheap brake pad backing plates are thinner

Cheap brake pads are built on thinner steel backing plates. The thinner steel is far more likely to flex during heavy braking, causing friction material separation and cracking.

Quality steel brake pad backing plates are pickled and oiled after hot rolling

Higher quality brake pads are made from pickled and oiled steel. Immediately have hot rolling, the steel is rinsed with a cleaning solution to remove large particles of dirt and debris. The metal is then submerged in a “pickling liquor” acid bath. The acid works removes impurities from the surface.

After a set time in the pickling bath, the metal is rinsed, dried and coating with oil to prevent rusting. The pickled and oiled metal is then stamped into blanks for the brake pad backing plates

Painted backing plates versus zinc coating

Painting black steel backing plates provides minimal protection because the paint doesn’t stick well to the oxidized surface. Here are some examples of black steel backing plates after being subjected to salt spray for 96-hours.

black steel brake pad backing plates

The paint has completely broken down and the black steel is rusting over the entire backing plate. End dimensions have grown due to “rust jacking.”

zinc coated brake pads

Zinc coating dramatically reduced rust formation on the backing plate and maintain dimensional stability

Brake pad cost comparison

Here’s an example of a brake pad cost comparison for brake pads for a 2010 Mazda CX-7 SUV.

economy versus premium brake pads

In this example, the premium brake pads cost$16.87 more than the economy brake pads. You get:

• Galvanized backing plates with a mechanical attachment system for the friction material versus painted backing plates and glued friction material
• 5-layer noise reduction shims versus 3-layer
• All new premium quality stainless steel hardware versus no hardware.


Given that the brake pads are the least costly portion of a brake job, it makes no sense to choose cheap brake pads. They rust and de-laminate much faster than brake pads built on a galvanized steel backing plate with mechanical attachment. The cheap pads don’t come with hardware, so you’ll have to purchase that separately. And the noise reduction shims are lower quality.

©, 2022 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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