Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Brake pad quality levels

Brake pad quality levels — what’s the difference?

Brake parts manufacturers often sell two or three different brake pad quality levels for a particular vehicle and the prices vary from low to high. The price difference comes down to quality and marketing. In order to make an informed choice, you need to understand the differences in brake pad quality levels. Let’s start by discussing what the terms mean in relation to brake pads.

What are Original Equipment (OE) brake pads?

The brake parts installed on new vehicles at the assembly plant must meet rigid Government safety standards. Those parts must pass a battery of laboratory tests that measure stopping power, fade, fire and rust resistance. That testing is not only costly, but the tests must be performed on the brake parts for every model variation. For instance, the brake parts for a 4WD or AWD version are often different than the brake pads for the same year, make and model with just 2WD, due to the difference in vehicle weight. That’s a lot of testing.

To come up with brake parts that’ll pass muster, car makers work closely with their “Tier 1” brake parts suppliers (and trusted sub-contractors) to develop just the right combination of friction material, backing plate and rotor metallurgy to pass the tests. The car makers keep those formulas and specifications a closely guarded trade secret. NO car maker would ever hand out those secret formulas or specifications to an aftermarket supplier. The fact that aftermarket suppliers aren’t privy to the OE formulas is an important fact to keep in mind when you see a brake part that claims to “meet or exceed OE quality.” More on that later.

What are Original Equipment Service (OES) brake pads?

If you buy brake parts from the car dealer, you won’t get the exact same brake parts that were installed at the assembly plant. Because they’re considered “aftermarket” parts, brake parts sold by dealers and auto parts sellers don’t have to meet any Government standards. However, car makers want dealer brake parts to be as close as possible to OE performance, while still being competitively priced. So they supply their dealers with Original Equipment Service (OES) quality parts. Those parts are often manufactured by authorized “Tier 2” suppliers, using formulas and specifications provided by the car maker. OES brake parts are either the same or slightly lower quality than OE parts, but perform nearly the same as the OE factory parts.

What are aftermarket brake parts?

In general, all brake parts sold to repair shops and through auto parts sellers are referred to as aftermarket brake parts. Aftermarket parts can be made by a Tier 1 and 2 supplier and sold under a different brand name, or they can be made by a company that has no association with a car maker. Federal Mogul and APC, for example, supply brake parts to car makers as a Tier 1 or 2 supplier. But they also sell their brake parts to auto parts sellers under the Wagner and Centric brand names.

Many aftermarket brake parts are manufactured in North America and Europe by reputable well-established name brand companies. But they can also be manufactured by third-rate knock-off offshore suppliers.

Since aftermarket manufacturers can’t get their hands on OE formulas and specifications, they either have to reverse engineer the OE brake parts or come up with their best guess as to the OE formula. If they reverse engineer, they have to grab samples right from a brand new vehicle, which is costly. The samples can’t come from the dealer parts department because those are OES parts.

During the reverse engineering process the manufacturer tries to duplicate the exact raw material content and percentages, the dimensional specifications, and metallurgy used in the OE brake parts. However, even if they manage to reverse engineer the formula and metallurgy, they can’t possibly know if their efforts were successful until they subject their duplicated parts to the same laboratory testing the car makers performed. How else could they say with confidence that their product “meets or exceeds OE” quality? Due to the high cost of those tests, only the largest and most reputable brake parts manufacturers actually test their products using the same tests as the car makers.

Third rate and knock-off aftermarket brake parts manufacturers face the same obstacles but with fewer resources. Some of those manufacturers skip the reverse engineering process altogether and simply come up with a friction formula they feel works best for a certain year, make and model. In addition, many smaller brake parts manufacturers can’t afford to run their own metal stamping or rotor casting operations, so they buy backing plates and rotors from outside vendors. Once the brake parts are built, those companies peddle their products through brokers or auto parts sellers, claiming the parts meet or exceed OE quality without any actual testing. That’s misleading at best.

But aren’t all brake pad quality levels safe?

Not always. A brake pad manufacturer can make brake pads that perform adequately in most cases, but fail under severe conditions. Or, a manufacturer can make brake pads that perform well when new but degrade and fail over time due to the use inferior raw materials. Those manufacturers may be willing to gamble on the odds of being sued from a brake failure that results in injury or death. Here’s an example from Alibaba showing how any chain repair shop, importer or auto parts store can buy aftermarket brake pads for as little as $1.00/set.

cheap brake pads

Want to sell brake pads online and make money? Buy them from Alibaba for $1.00 to $2,.60 per set.


Are those brake pads any good? Who knows? If you’re an importer or auto parts seller and they fail, how likely is it that you’ll be sued? Not very. Here’s a statement from a personal injury law firm commenting on the likelihood of winning a lawsuit against brake parts manufacturers.

“Proving that the manufacturer was liable is often a tricky situation in these kinds of accidents. That’s because you have to showcase the brakes of your vehicle were designed poorly and were liable to suffer from these kinds of failures. It will require a lot of research and showcasing the design of the brakes and why they were prone to fail. It also requires checking into similar cases and displaying when sudden brake failure occurred in the same model as yours.” — Swor & Gotto Personal Injury Lawers  @sworgatto.com/understanding-the-risk-of-liability-involved-with-a-brake-failure-lawsuit/

A look at brake pad quality levels from a parts seller

I’ve compiled a list of front brake pad offerings from a retail auto parts seller for a 2010 Mazda CX-7 2.3L/turbo AWD. In addition to requiring new brake pads, a brake job on a 2010 Mazda CX-7 2.3L/turbo AWD brakes also requires anti-rattle clips (also called brake hardware) and noise reduction shims. The OE specs call for ceramic brake pads.

The three products listed below are the only products listed for this vehicle on this auto parts seller’s website.  They are all private labeled, which means we don’t know what company actually made the parts. They’re packaged under the store’s trademarked brand name. I’ve deleted the store’s brand name and the store’s part numbers and listed just the price and product descriptions to show only what’s included for the price.

• $31.99 DESCRIPTION: Ceramic friction formula, includes single layer noise-reducing shims, Powder coated backing plate, Limited Lifetime Warranty (no hardware included)

• $43.99 DESCRIPTION: Ceramic, Includes multi-layered rubber core steel shims with adhesive, OE style chamfer, Limited Lifetime Warranty, OE Performance with smooth, quiet stopping power, ultra-low dust

• $53.99 DESCRIPTION: Premium Ceramic, Powder coated steel backing plate, Multilayered rubber core steel shims with adhesive, OE style application specific chamfer, exclusive protective coating. Limited Lifetime Warranty, Better than OE Replacement, premium quiet stops and lowest dust, Hardware included where required by OE

The three products range in price from $31.99 to $53.99—a $22 spread. Of the three products, only two state that they provide OE performance or better (the $43.99 and $53.99 brake pads). The $31.99 brake pads and $43.99 brake pads don’t include the required hardware. The hardware kit costs $13.99 from this seller.

If you buy the $31.99 brake pads, you don’t know whether they’re OE quality. You’ll have to buy the hardware kit separately, bringing your total cost to $45.98. If you buy the $43.99 product, you’ll still have to buy a hardware kit for $13.99, bringing the cost to $57.98, which is more than their top-of-the-line brake pads that sell for $53.99.

Now let’s take a look at NAME BRAND brake pads from a different auto parts seller

ACDELCO 14D1258CHF1 Advantage: Ceramic w/Hardware & basic shims $24.89
ACDELCO 17D1258CH Professional: Ceramic w/Hardware & premium shims, Tested to SAE J2784 for braking effectiveness $33.99

ADVICS AD1258 Hardware Kit Included, Includes Preassembled Shims and Molybdenum Silicone Lubricant $59.89

AKEBONO ACT1258 ProACT Ceramic Pad w/Stainless Hardware and shims $52.89

BENDIX SBC1258 Stop: Ceramic, Hardware Included, Multi-Layer Shims $20.79
BENDIX CFC1258 Copper Free Ceramic: Hardware Included, 4-Layer Noise-Eliminating Shim, Tested to Ensure Performance that Meets or Exceeds Industry Standards $27.79

BOSCH BE1258H Bosch Blue: hardware, OE-style, multi-layer shims $17.13
BOSCH BP1258 Bosch QuietCast: Hardware, OE-style rubber core shim $32.79

CENTRIC 10312580 C-TEK: Ceramic shims, no hardware $20.79
CENTRIC 10612580 Posi-Quiet Extended Wear: Hardware and shims $30.79

MONROE GX1258 ProSolutionL Ceramic, Hardware Kit and shims $23.79
MONROE CX1258 Total Solution: Ceramic, Hardware Kit and shims $36.79

POWER STOP 161258 Evolution: Ceramic, No hardware, Dual rubber backed shims, Manufactured under TS16949 standards $23.99
POWER STOP 171258 Evolution Plus: Ceramic, Hardware, Dual rubber backed shims, Manufactured under TS16949 standards $26.79

RAYBESTOS SGD1258C Service Grade: Ceramic, No hardware, Slots and chamfers match OE design, noise-dampening steel shims $14.77
RAYBESTOS MGD1258CH R-Line: Ceramic, hardware, slots and chamfers match OE design, premium layered steel shims $18.13
RAYBESTOS EHT1258H {#PGD1258C} Element3; Hybrid Technology hardware and Five layered shims $23.79

WAGNER ZD1258 QuickStop: Ceramic, Hardware Installation Kit, shims $21.79
WAGNER QC1258 ThermoQuiet: Ceramic, Hardware Installation Kit, shims $30.79
WAGNER OEX1258 OEX: Ceramic, Hardware Kit and shims $28.79

What’s the lesson here?

The price difference between the least and most expensive brake pads from a manufacturer is around $10, and most of these name brand parts are less expensive than the private label parts.

As you can see, the name brand brake pads are actually less expensive in most cases and include all the parts you need. 

What you expect from an economy brake pad?

Economy brake pads are designed to appeal to “thrifty” buyers; yeah, cheapskates. Those “thrifty” buyers may assume they’re getting a brake pad that will perform as well as OE or OES brake pads but just won’t last as long. They’d be wrong in most cases. In fact, some economy pads are so bad, that they require a longer stopping distance. Yet stopping in time to avoid a crash is just as important for an old car as for a newer vehicle. Not all economy pads perform as well as OE or OES.

Economy brake pads are often made from the lowest quality friction materials and obsolete formulas. They often use thinner backing plates made from low quality “black” steel. A thinner backing plate will deflect during hard braking and under high heat conditions, causing a loss of braking power and longer stopping distance. The deflection can cause friction material separation and even cause friction material to break off from the backing plate.

Low quality steel backing plates have far less resistance to rust, which causes them to corrode. A corroded backing plate can also cause the friction material to “delaminate,” where it actually breaks away from the backing plate or falls off completely.

Bottom line: Economy brake pads often don’t brake as well under demanding conditions, corrode faster and don’t last as long as a higher quality brake pad.

What you can expect from OE quality brake pads?

Reputable brake pad manufacturers that represent their products to meet or exceed OE quality should perform as well or better than the brake pads that came with the vehicle when it was new. In other words, they should brake as well, last as long and limit noise, vibration and harshness to the same level as the OE brake pads. In my opinion, they represent the MINIMUM quality level you should even consider to replace the factory pads.

What can you expect from premium brake pads?

Premium brake pads made by a reputable brake parts manufacturer should provide superior braking, last longer and produce less noise, vibration and harshness than an OE products.

Summary of brake pad quality levels.

When it comes to buying replacement brake pads, my recommendation is to buy a premium brake pad from a reputable brake parts manufacturer like: ACDELCO, Advics, Akebono, Bendix, Bosch, Brembo, Centric, EBC, Jurid, Hawk, Monroe, Rayloc, Raybestos, StopTech, Valeo or Wagner.

Since you have no idea who makes private label brake pads from auto parts sellers AND since you’re probably paying MORE than reputable well-known name brands, you should BUY NAME BRAND BRAKE PARTS.

©, 2019 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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