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Summary
  • Brake pads help slow the vehicle down by pressing against the brake rotor of the wheel.
  • Brake pads are typically made of tough materials for extended wear.
  • When buying new brake pads for your vehicle, check the brand and make sure it’s been properly tested, and buy the highest quality pads you can afford.

It takes very little talent to drive fast in any car. All you need to do is mash the accelerator to the floor and watch the speedometer climb. But it goes without saying that safe stopping is more important than accelerating.

How Do Brake Pads Work?

Brakes are designed to keep working until there’s just about nothing left of the pad at all. However, as the lining wears away to the point that the steel backing plate begins to contact the rotor or drum, you’ll hear scrubbing noises. Some brake pads, even with good linings, will squeal and squeak, but there are brake pads with wear indicator reeds that will contact the rotor and make a loud screeching noise when the linings are thin enough to allow it to make contact.

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new car brake pads installed
New brake pads | Image Source: Richard McCuistian
brake pads installed on a vehicle
Brake pads installed on a vehicle | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Essential to stopping your vehicle is the disk brake assembly consisting of the brake rotor and brake caliper which contains the piston and brake Pad. As you begin to brake, the piston presses the brake pads against the brake rotors converting the forward motion into heat effectively slowing the vehicle.

What Are Brake Pads Made Of?

Ceramic Pads

Ceramic brake pads use a combination of organic materials such as synthetic glass fibers, aramid fibers, and natural fibers as the main reinforcing ingredients and include several organic modifiers as well as metals such as copper, but no steel.

High-performance vehicles need high-performance stopping power. Ceramic pads offer stronger braking performance, are lightweight, and take longer to wear out. They typically don’t produce as much dust as some other pads. Typically equipped on supercars and race cars, ceramic brake pads have proven their worth on and off the track. The downside is their price.

NAO Pads

Non-asbestos organic brake pads (NAO) are ideal for light duty braking. NAO brake pads use a combination of synthetic glass fibers, aramid fibers with natural organic fibers as the main reinforcing ingredients. Braking performance for each car make and model is further fine-tuned by adding organic or inorganic modifiers. Organic brake pads are better for the environment, but wear out faster because of their soft composition. Also, their performance fades when they get wet.

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Carbon Steel Pads

Carbon steel brake pads are made for high–performance vehicles, and typically use a carbon steel shim with nitrate rubber coating on both sides on the back side of the pad to deliver even quieter braking performance, while improving vibration installation and longevity.

Semi Metallic Pads

Semi Metallic brake pads contain between 30% and 70% metal, such as copper, iron, steel, and other composite alloys. They also use graphite lubricant and other fillers to create the pad compound. These tend to be noisy and create more of the black dust that stains fancy wheels.

How Do You Choose the Best Brake Pads?

Choosing the correct brake pads are essential to the health of your whole braking system and your safety. Purchasing the most expensive brake pads doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the best fit for your car. Have a professional brake specialist inspect your brakes, but it helps if you educate yourself a little bit on the topic.

What are you using your vehicle for?

Are you going to be doing high speed driving, towing heavy trailers, or will you be mainly driving in the city? Stopping ability is greatly affected by certain factors such as weight and frequency of braking. Getting a lower-end brake pad will increase its wear if you mismatch its application.

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Consider aftermarket over OEM

There is a wide selection of aftermarket brake pads that perform better than OEM. Based on your application, perhaps purchasing and installing aftermarket brake pads is better for you. Manufacturers pair OEM equipment to their models for their ideal use, which might not be what you’ll use the vehicle for.

Is it properly tested?

The main function of your brake pads are to effectively stop your forward motion. There are agencies like the Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedures (BEEP) that certify that the brake pads installed in your vehicle are up to standard.

Has it proven itself?

Brands that have a long history in making brakes have the advantage of development through the years. Buying branded brake pads may be pricier, but at least you’ll have the peace of mind when the time comes to suddenly stop.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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