Brakes are the most essential system in your vehicle. Disagree? How far will your engine’s get-up-and-go get you if you can’t stop quickly and efficiently? To the nearest insurance claim, perhaps?
Obviously, brake pads are crucial to your safety. However, because of their longevity, it’s easy to caught up in the options when it’s time to replace them. Here’s a look at how to choose the best brake pads for your vehicle.
The Designer Always Knows Best
Selecting the best brake pad composition – i.e. organic, ceramic, or semi-metallic - isn’t something a consumer should try to choose on their own. The reason? The engineers who designed your vehicle already figured it out.
Simply put: If your vehicle is designed for organic pads (or ceramic or semi-metallic), then you should use organic pads. Your vehicle's brake system is designed to compliment a very specific type of pad. If you switch that Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) spec' pad out with a cheap after-market pad to save money your brake system performance will likely suffer.
In other words, only use OEM-spec brake pads. Generally speaking, this means you have to use OEM pads themselves.
Why Use OEM Brake Pads?
OEM brake pads are best because:
- They're designed specifically for your vehicle, and your vehicle is designed for them
- The vehicle manufacturer certifies these pads will operate just like they did when the car was brand new. OEM pads won't squeak or vibrate, won't generate excessive amounts of dust, etc.
- Unlike some after-market pads, OEM pads will never damage your brake system
If there's a downside to using OEM brake pads, it's cost. After-market pads are often less expensive, and after-market installers (such as your local brake shop) are usually less costly than your local dealership.
However, there are a couple of things you can do to save. First, buy your OEM brake pads yourself online. Second, find a shop that will install the pads you bought for a flat fee. You'll be able to save lots of money and still use the best possible brake pad for your vehicle.
The Dangers of After-Market Brake Pads
If you’re considering after-market pads because they’re less expensive then OEM, consider the tradeoff you’ll be taking for the bargain. Aftermarket brake pads typically (but not always) cut costs by using inferior materials. For example: Instead of using expensive copper ceramics that perform incredibly well in all conditions, they'll use cheap spun mineral wools that decompose after heavy braking. Instead of using advanced microspheres that keep your brakes cool without effecting stopping power, after-market companies will skip this material altogether, meaning that your rotors are more likely to warp.
What's more, some after-market brake pads are made using asbestos, a known carcinogen. While many believe asbestos has been outlawed, that is not the case. In the last decade, import of asbestos-laden brake pads has risen 83%. If you're wondering what materials are in your super cheap “$99 for life” brake pads, you need to ask.
If the pads don’t specifically say they’re asbestos free, chances are they’re laced with the heat-resistant carcinogen.
Not All After-Market Pads Are Bad
If you're seeking a performance upgrade, quality after-market brake pads are available. While these pads are good quality (companies like Stop Tech and Brembo offer excellent quality after-market pads), they're designed for vehicles that have special needs that go beyond that of the average driver.
If your car is a daily commuter, strapping on a set of high-quality performance brake pads might not give you the stopping experience you're hoping for. While you'll enjoy excellent braking performance at high speeds, you may find that performance brake pads:
- don't work very well until they warm up
- don't last as long as OEM pads
- have a more difficult break-in process
- and, in some cases, require you to re-grind your brake rotors more frequently
If you need the upgraded performance these pads offer, these are small issues to deal with. On the other hand, if you don't really use the performance pads as intended, these small issues (combined with the high cost of performance brake pads) might make the case for sticking with OEM pads.
Whatever brake pad you choose, think of your brake system like a pair of running shoes. Would you rather have the most expensive set you can buy, the cheapest set you can buy, or something in between? OEM brake pads are the in-between option.
Author Tom Blackman writes for Olathe Toyota Parts Center, an online store offering OEM Toyota parts at discount prices. Learn more about brake pads by reading their comprehensive article “What Are Brake Pads Made Of?” on Parts.OlatheToyota.com.