An In-Depth Look At Brake Pad Compounds

Your brakes have one seemingly simple yet crucial job – to bring your vehicle to a quick and safe stop. For this reason alone, it's important to make sure you're making the right choices when it comes to any brake repair. When the time comes to replace your brake pads, you'll want to choose the right materials that offer the best performance for your vehicle.

This means taking a close look at what your brake pads are made out of. The following offers a detailed look at several common types of brake pads, as well as the advantages and disadvantages they offer.

Semi-Metallic Brake Pads

Once upon a time, the vast majority of brake pads used asbestos, a material well known for its ability to resist and dissipate heat. While asbestos brake pads offered excellent performance, they quickly fell out of favor due to the health risks inherent to handling asbestos, especially in dust form.

These days, most automobiles rely on semi-metallic brake pads for their stopping power. These pads typically consist of a bonded mixture of metal fibers (including steel and copper), various resins and graphite. Most pads will contain anywhere from 30 to 65 percent metal fibers, hence their name.

Semi-metallic brake pads are relatively inexpensive and exceptionally durable, making them a common preference for everyday driving styles. But while the pads themselves hold up well in regards to wear, much of the wear instead ends up on the brake rotor. These pads are also noisier, on average, than other types of brake pad materials. In addition, semi-metallic brake pads offer marginal braking performance until they're sufficiently warmed up.  

Ceramic Brake Pads

Ceramic brake pads offer a longer-lasting and better-performing alternative to their semi-metallic counterparts. Unlike semi-metallic pads, ceramic brake pads are made up of ceramic fibers and nonferrous filler material, with a small amount of copper or steel fiber included.

Ceramic brakes tend to shed friction-generated heat faster than their semi-metallic counterparts, giving them the upper hand in terms of braking performance. This makes vehicles, especially high-performance cars, less prone to suffering from brake fade. They're also quieter than semi-metallic pads and produce less brake dust, a boon for enthusiasts who hate the amount of effort it takes to keep their custom alloy wheels clean. Ceramic brakes also last longer, resulting in less frequent brake pad changes.

Ceramic brake pads usually cost a bit more than their semi-metallic counterparts. However, the slight cost premium is worth paying if you value a high-performance, low-dust braking solution.

Organic Brake Pads

Organic brake pads contain a wide range of nonferrous organic materials, including rubber, Kevlar and glass. These brake pads come closest to the asbestos brake pads of old in terms of material composition and overall performance.

Due to their softer composition, organic pads are usually the quietest of all the brake pad materials. However, they also wear down faster than ceramic and semi-metallic pads. If you install a set of organic pads, be prepared to replace them in a shorter amount of time than semi-metallic and ceramic pads.

Some blends offer a very small amount of metallic materials for increased durability, at the expense of increased noise. These blends are typically known as "low-metallic non-asbestos organic (NAO)" brake pads.

Which Should You Choose?

That's a tough question to answer, since it depends on factors, including how often and how hard you drive your vehicles and whether you're looking for low noise or high performance, as well as your own repair budget:

  • Semi-metallic brakes are ideal for the vast majority of ordinary commuting tasks. They don't cost much to buy and they're fairly predictable when it comes to overall wear and tear.
  • Ceramic brakes make sense for those looking to improve their vehicle's braking and handling performance. They also make sense for significant brake noise reduction.
  • Organic brakes are also quiet and create the least amount of wear on brake rotors, but they also wear faster when significantly used.

Keeping the following in mind can help you make smart choices the next time your vehicle needs brake work. Click for more info on brake pads.