Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

How to buy brake parts and save money in the long run

How to buy brake parts and save money in the long run

How to buy brake pads

Most DIYers get caught up with the type of friction material; NAO, semi-metallic and ceramic. The type of friction material is important, but not nearly as important as the quality of the friction material.

There are NO federal regulations for aftermarket brake parts

That’s right, when it comes to aftermarket brake parts, it’s the wild west. Any manufacturer can call their brake parts “premium” quality with no testing to back up their claims. They can call a brake pad “ceramic” even if there’s so little ceramic material in the pad that another manufacturer wouldn’t even classify it as ceramic.

Brand counts

Since there are no industry standards to dictate what goes into an NAO, semi-metallic or ceramic brake pad, you have to rely more on the manufacturer’s reputation more than what’s printed on the brake pad box. Within the past 20-years,dozens of new brake parts “manufacturers” have sprung up. Unfortunately most of these companies are just importing inferior brake parts from China. One company claiming to have a large manufacturing facility in the U.S. is really just an importer with 20 employees and a large warehouse located in the Midwest. So stick with reputable name brand companies that actually manufacture the parts they sell.

Brake parts quality level counts

Even within a name brand, most companies economy, OE and premium versions of their brake pads. Unless you’re planning on selling the vehicle immediately after installing new brake parts, you should avoid buying any economy brake parts. Stick with OE or premium.

How to buy brake pads

The backing plate is just as important as the friction material

Extensive testing has proven that the life of a brake pad is directly related to the quality of the steel backing plate. A galvanized steel backing plate that incorporates a mechanical attachment system to hold the friction material will outlast a brake pad built on a black steel backing plate with adhesive bonding.

Black steel backing plates, even when painted, rust quickly and the rust destroys the adhesive bond with the friction material. The rust swelling, called “rust jacking” forces the friction material away from the backing plate, causing it to crack and fall off.

black steel brake pad backing plates

Galvanized steel backing plates maintain their dimensional stability

As rust builds on a black steel backing plate, the dimensions swell, causing the backing plate to bind in the caliper bracket. That causes the pad to seize and wear quickly. In fact, cheap brake pads wear out faster due to seizing than due to friction material wear.

Galvanized steel backing plates don’t rust nearly as fast as backing plates made from black steel or even “pickled and oiled” steel. So they don’t bind and seize in the caliper brackets like cheaper brake pads.

Brake hardware quality counts

Higher quality brake pads come with brake hardware. But not all brake hardware is created equal.

Carlson Brake Parts manufactures brake hardware. Carlson recently purchased 354 brake pad kits from seven major auto parts retailers in the U.S. Carlson then tested all of the hardware for fit

The team bought 354 kits from seven retailers across the country. Carlson then performed physical measurements and test fitting on all the parts. Here are their findings:

• Out of 2,561 anti-rattle clips, 722 didn’t fit (28% failure rate)
• Some clips had oversized rails, so the pads wouldn’t go in.
• Some were too tight or didn’t sit flush, so the pads couldn’t move freely.
• Some had oversized channels, so the pads fell out.
• Some were too small and simply fell out of the caliper

The quality of the stainless steel also matters. Cheap clips rust, even though they’re made from stainless steel.

anti rattle clips

High heat degrades the spring tension of the anti-rattle clips and rust can cause the brake pad “ears” to bind

Brake shim quality counts

The noise reduction shim reduces the transmission of vibration from the brake pad backing plate to the caliper. Cheap shims are single layer and don’t do a good job of dampening vibrations. Higher quality shims are 4, 5, and even 6-layers of vibration dampening materials.

multi-layer brake pad shim

Multi-layer brake pad shim

Want to learn more about brake pad quality? See this post

How to buy brake rotors

All brake rotors are not created the same. Cheap brake rotors are made with lower quality cast iron, don’t include the same style of cooling vanes as the carmaker and actually weigh less than a higher quality brake rotor.

An inferior brake rotor won’t cool as well, stop as well or resist rust as well as a higher quality brake rotor.

See the difference between economy brake rotors and OE quality brake rotors

Make sure the brake rotor you choose uses the same cooling vane design as the carmaker. In addition, purchase brake rotors that have a rust resistant coating. Many DIYers dismiss the value of the rust resistant coating because they think it will quickly wear off the friction ring. That’s true. But what really counts is that the cooling vanes and hat area will resist rust much better than a non-coated rotor. And it’s the cooling that you care about most. It doesn’t hurt that the hat area is protected as well.

©, 2022 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat



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