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How to choose the best brake pads

How to choose the best brake pads for your vehicle

by Rick Muscoplat

This is a multi-part series on how to choose a new set of brake pads for your vehicle. There are many factors to consider. This is the intro section.

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

Part 3: What are the different quality levels and what does “OE” really mean. Find out here.

Part 4: Brake rotors comes in different quality levels too. What’s the difference between an economy and premium brake rotor? Find out here.

Part 5: Now let’s get down into the nitty gritty with some old fashion brake pad anatomy. Learn about brake pad components here.

Part 6: Hey, how about those brake pad backing plates? They’re just as important as the friction material, don’t you know?

Part 7: Which backing plates are the best? Nucap’s NRS™ backing plates take a giant leap forward. 

Part 8: Chamfer me this. What are the different types and what do they do?

Part 9: Shimmy, shimmy Coco bop. Noise reduction shims are really important. Cheap pads come with cheap shims that make awful music. Find out about noise reduction shims here.

Part 10: I’ve got plenty of slots, or, Why are there slots in your brake pads (or not)?

Part 11: There’s a new brake pad manufacturer in town. Read all about it here.

Part 12: Let’s make a deal. Just use this brake job coupon and become the latest rip-off victim. Learn all about brake job rip-offs here.

I volunteer on a lot of auto forums and forum visitors routinely ask: “Who makes the best brake pads?” or “What’s the best type of brake pad?” or “Who’s got the best price on brake pads?” It’s not that simple. There are good brands and not-so-good brands, but you can’t rely on brand alone because most brake pad manufacturers offer several different quality levels. Plus, there’s no single brake pad chemistry that’s best for all cars and trucks and all driving conditions. So here’s what you need to know about buying brake pads and rotors.

• 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 parts of this series, “OE” is a fuzzy term because most aftermarket pad manufacturers don’t have access to OE formulas.

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

So you first you have to decide what quality level you want and how much you’re willing to spend on your brakes. Then you can choose a brake pad type.

In addition to the quality issue, there’s the brake pad chemistry issue

There’s no single brake pad type that works for all vehicles. Factory brake pads can be non-asbestos organic (NAO), Semi-Metallic, Ceramic, Kevlar/Carbon) or a combination of materials. 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 you 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.

In addition to budget considerations, choosing the type of brake pad also depends on how you drive (light or heavy braking), the vehicle you drive, what loads you carry and where you drive (mountains, plains, city stop and go), Then there’s the question of how long you want your new brakes to last and how much dust and noise you’re willing to put up with.

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. Car makers 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 can 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 customers 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 car maker 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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