Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Brake pad types

Brake pad types — which is best for your vehicle?

There are basically three brake pad types: Organic without asbestos, semi-metallic and ceramic.

Non-asbestos organic (NAO) brake pads

NAO are made from organic materials such as fiber, glass, rubber and even Kevlar. NAO is the softest of the three types. They use ADHERENT friction material that deposits a thin film of friction material onto the rotor so you get Film-on-Film braking. With Adherent friction technology, the brake pads wear faster than the rotor

The advantages of NAO brake pads:

• They are quiet

The disadvantages of NAO brake pads:

• They wear faster than semi-metallic and ceramic.
• They create a lot of brake dust that discolors your wheels

Semi-Metallic brake pads

Semi-metallic brake pads are made with metal fibers to dissipate heat away from the rotor. Semi-metallic brakes provide the most stopping power of all the types, so they’re often used on heavy SUVs and light trucks. Semi-metallic brake pads are considered an ABRASIVE type of friction material because they create friction through abrasion, rather than film-on-film (although semi-metallic pads do contain some adherent materials to lubricate). Semi-metallic brake pads don’t work as well when cold, but offer far more fade resistance in hard stops.

The advantages of semi-metallic brake pads:

• They provide the best stopping power
• They have the highest fade resistance

The disadvantages of semi-metallic brake pads:

• They create the most brake noise (squeal and grinding)
• They create brake dust
• They wear out the rotors faster
• They have to heat up to provide the best braking

Ceramic brake pads

Ceramic brake pads use ADHERENT friction technology for film-on-film braking. They provide good stopping power, low noise, and low rotor wear with less brake dust. Ceramic brake pads offer good stopping power when cold but have less fade resistance than semi-metallic brake pads when hot.

The advantages of ceramic brake pads:

• They make less noise than semi-metallic brake pads
• They’re harder than NAO pads, but softer than semi-metallic
• They’re easier on rotors than semi-metallic
• They produce much less dust than either semi-metallic or NAO

The disadvantages of ceramic brake pads:

• They’re more expensive than NAO and some semi-metallic brake pads
• They have lower fade resistance than semi-metallic brake pads.

If your vehicle came with semi-metallic, think twice about changing to ceramic because they may reduce your stopping power.

All brake pads come in different quality levels

• Most brake parts manufacturers sell economy, OE, and premium grade products.

• Economy brake pads and rotors are for penny pinchers and are usually the lowest quality. Depending on the brand, they sometimes don’t even come close to original equipment quality. They don’t brake as well and they don’t last as long. In some cases, the quality is so bad that you’re literally putting your life at risk.

• “Original Equipment” (OE) brake pads and rotors are for people who want to spend just enough to get nearly the same quality brake parts that came on the vehicle from the factory. But as you’ll learn in the other posts, “OE” is a fuzzy term because most aftermarket pad manufacturers don’t have access to OE formulas. So their “OE” pads may or may not duplicate the carmaker’s quality.

• Premium brake pads and rotors are for people who want the best performance and longest lasting products on their vehicle.

Which brake pad friction material should you choose?

Generally speaking, you should stick with the type of brake pad that came on your vehicle from the factory.  If you change to a different brake pad chemistry, you will get different braking performance. For example, if you switch to a ceramic brake pad in place of the semi-metallic pads that were original equipment of your truck, you’ll get quieter operation, less rotor wear, and less brake dust. But you’ll also experience decreased high temp braking performance. See, there’s no free lunch here. The engineers choose a particular brake pad chemistry for a reason—to get the best braking performance for the vehicle, and that’s based on the vehicle’s weight and design and Federal new car braking requirements.

Don’t buy the myth that Ceramic is always the best brake pad

About 60% of all new vehicles come with ceramic brake pads. But that doesn’t mean the other 40% have lousy brake pads. Carmakers have been making the switch to ceramic brake pads to reduce consumer complaints about noise and brake dust. The braking systems on those vehicles are designed for ceramic pads. Yet semi-metallic pads often outperform ceramic in terms of sheer stopping power. Plus, just like the word “premium,” there’s really no industry standard for the word ceramic. If your vehicle came with ceramic pads and you install an economy or OE ceramic replacement that doesn’t match the quality of the real OE pad, you’ll be disappointed with braking and product life. In other words, not all ceramic pads are created equal and they’re not always an upgrade from semi-metallic pads.

But don’t worry, because all brake pad manufacturers’ products must meet Government standards? Wait, what? What Government standards? Read on.

The Government doesn’t have your back when it comes to brake parts

There are plenty of government regulations regarding brake pads, rotors, and brake components for new vehicles. But there are NO government standards or regulations for REPLACEMENT (aftermarket) brake pads or brake components. NONE! If you think the government has your back on this, think again!

Brake pad manufacturers can make anything they want! They can refer to their products as “premium” brake pads even though they’re made with low-grade materials, or they can call them “OE” quality (even though no original equipment manufacturer would ever disclose their formulas to an outside company). They can even call their product “Ceramic” even if they contain little to no ceramic material.

That’s right when it comes to aftermarket brake pads, there’s no sheriff in town. It’s the Wild West

Responsible brake pad manufacturers take their job seriously. They design friction materials that are year, make, and model specific and use high-quality backing plates and attachment adhesives. But there are lots of bad actors out there. Those companies make brake pads from the cheapest raw materials and bottom-of-the-barrel brake components. In fact, foreign (offshore) manufacturers are flooding the North American market with really cheap sub-standard brake pads and components. You’ll buy these “no-name” substandard brake components from online auto parts sellers like ebay, and Amazon. You’ll even find them at brick and motor auto parts stores and chain operated repair shops. The manufacturers even package them in counterfeit boxes to rip off name-brand suppliers.

Here are the main takeaways

Economy brake pads are substandard

It’s really that simple, you get what you pay for. Cheap brake pads don’t last as long as OE or Premium. They make more noise. They don’t brake as well. In fact, some economy pads are just plain garbage that put you and your family at risk. Yet some shops install them on their customer’s cars to increase their profit margins. Those are usually the shops that advertise brake job specials. See this post and learn how to avoid brake job coupon special rip-offs.

Research from Frost and Sullivan shows that 94 million brake jobs were performed in North America in 2014. That’s 24 MILLION (34%) more brake jobs than should have been done based on experts’ predictions for the number of vehicles on the road and miles traveled. What’s causing all those unnecessary brake jobs? Poor brake pad and brake rotor quality issues.

OE brake pads are close to factory quality, but not always

No carmaker is ever going to divulge their trade secret formula to a non-authorized brake pad manufacturer. So the brake parts manufacturers have to reverse engineer the factory pads or just come up with their own formula. I’ve written an entire post on what OE really means. If you want to know more, read it here.

Premium brake pads may or may not actually be premium

There are no industry standards for “premium” brake pads. Any company can call their brake pads premium. Unfortunately, some of those premium brake pads are actually poor quality economy parts.

Anybody can make brake pads

You can even make your own right in your kitchen. You can buy the raw materials, rivets and steel backing plates directly from China on Alibaba. The formulations are most likely obsolete by at least 30 years, but they still sell them. Mix the raw materials, compress them and bake ‘em. Rivet or glue the friction material to the backing plate and you’re done. Or, you can buy a complete set of brake pad for your vehicle from China for about $5/set. Think they’re any good? Do you still believe in Santa Claus? Here, let’s go shopping on Alibaba for China raw materials.

best brake pads

You can buy everything you need right off Alibaba to start your own brake pad manufacturing company. Backing plates, silicate ceramic fiber, cashew shell oil (crude, so you’ll have to process it), Graphite powder, chopped steel wool fiber,even printed boxes.


Some companies just import complete pad sets from China

OK, forget about making your own brake pads in your kitchen. Why bother when you can buy them ready to resell or install on customer’s cars for as little as $3.69.set. See this ad from Alibaba? You get the pads in a box for that price. Guess who buys those…… yeah, the big chain operations and auto parts stores. More about that later in this series.

best brake pads

Hyundai brake pads $3.69/set

Part 2: What are the different types of pads? Read this


©. 2019 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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