In this guide (Part 1 of 2 on brakes), we'll clarify the differences between "replacement" (OE factory style) and "performance" (aftermarket) brake pads and rotors. We'll discuss the appeal of each, their general advantages, and factors to consider when shopping for them. We'll also look at a few "sample" customers based heavily on actual shoppers of ours, their vehicles, and available choices they might be pondering.
If upgrading brakes has always been on your wish list, there's never a bad time to do it. But consider that doing so at the point when your old pads and rotors are worn out makes a great deal of economic sense. Since you've gotten your full money's worth out of those existing pads and rotors, spending a little more for performance brake components now means just that - because you are only spending a little more than you would have to for OE parts anyway.
So if you're at that point, this article is a must-read! Time and labor must be spent removing old parts no matter what you decide to replace them with. Our article Is It Time For New Brakes? will help you recognize the warning signs that brake components are worn out or in need of replacement.
Start With The Right Tools For The Job
Having the right brake tools BEFORE you start working on your brake system makes everything quick, easy, and doable for the home mechanic. And most importantly, it ensures you won't have to put things back together half way through finishing because you didn't have a necessary tool to get past a certain point. Doing things yourself can also save you hundreds of dollars by sparing you a visit to the repair shop - and much more over the course of a lifetime of brake work.
For a quick read on this subject, we invite you to read our article Special Tools Used In Brake Service. We discuss tools specifically designed for replacing brake components and servicing your brake system. If a quick brush-up on brake terminology would be helpful, check out our related article Glossary of Brake Terminology.
What Are "Replacement" Brake Components?
"Replacement" brake components are made to vehicle manufacturer OE (original equipment) specifications. More specifically, they're designed to match factory dimensions, thickness, materials, mounting points, and other important criteria. Generally, they are not made of exotic materials and can be expected to match OE levels of braking performance and longevity. Since they fit like original parts, no modifications are necessary for installation.
What Are "Performance" Brake Components?
Whether it's by a little or a lot, the desire to improve your vehicle's brake system comes naturally for automotive enthusiasts. Perhaps you've grown dissatisfied with OE brakes during periods of spirited driving, towing a trailer, or because they've become worn and don't work as effectively anymore.
Maybe you've made various engine and drivetrain mods, and now need more "stop" to match the "go". You certainly don't want that new-found power to not be accompanied by an increased ability to bring the thing to a halt. Or you've installed new wheels and tires, and you want better-looking (as well as performing) brakes to show through the wheels.
"Performance" brake components can accomplish all these things - giving your vehicle superior stopping power along with such benefits as longer life, lower dust, better resistance to heat fade, and more. And let's not forget the visual impression which can be left by upgraded parts.
The most popular approaches to better brakes involve swapping in new pads and rotors. With pads, a move to the performance category is accompanied by a wider range of pad materials to choose from. Rotors, which frequently are replaced at the same time as pads, may be available in drilled and/or slotted designs for increased grip.
Upgrades such as so-called "big brake" kits, larger calipers, stainless steel brake lines, master cylinders and boosters will NOT be covered here, but instead will be discussed in Part 2 of this series.
Replacement Brake Pads
Under our Replacement pads category, you'll be presented with check boxes for FRICTION MATERIAL choices of "semi-metallic", "organic", and "ceramic". Lower cost pads built to OE specifications will typically be made of organic compounds. However, semi-metallic and ceramic replacement brake pads are designed to provide better-than-OE performance while being drop-in replacements. Modifications will not be required for installation.
Choosing among these three is a matter of balancing availability, braking characteristics, and cost. Typically, organic pads are the least-expensive, but carry the disadvantages of high dust and short service life. Semi-metallic pads can offer better grip especially in high-heat braking environments but may be harsh on rotors. Ceramic pads seem to be the best of all worlds, but often at a price premium.
Organic Brake Pads
Generally, organic brake pads are the type most frequently found as OE-fitments, and contain no more than 20% metallic materials and are made from glass, rubber, Kevlar, and other high-heat resins. Befitting the word "organic", these are the least toxic to the earth and the softest of all brake pad types. That softness allows very low noise during application, and it produces an extremely low amount of wear on brake rotors.
Disadvantages of organic pads include potentially higher dust, and a higher wear rate. Unlike ceramic and semi-metallic rotors, organic brake material by itself does not dissipate heat well enough to prevent fade under hard-use conditions. Befitting its typical OE application, organic pads are best-suited for more normal driving applications such as commuting, city-driving, and low vehicle loads.
Semi-Metallic Brake Pads
Made up of steel, brass, and copper metal shavings, the metallic nature of semi-metallic pads provides a good level of brake bite when pressed hard. They can also improve that bite under higher temperatures, and can be less likely to fade, which is an especially important factor if you're towing a trailer.
Because the metallic flakes they're made of are more abrasive, these pads can be noisy and cause rotor wear. Additionally, they will probably produce brake dust that's darker and more noticeable.
Ceramic Brake Pads
Ceramic brake pads are made from a resin-based filler material that contains ceramic fibers as well as small amounts of copper fibers. Ceramic compounds dissipate heat well, so performance stays strong after repeated hard stops. Ceramic brake pads are the quietest thanks to a higher resonant frequency that's not detectable by human ears. Equally important, ceramic pads produce the lowest amount of brake dust of all the pad types. And because this dust is finer in consistency and non-adhesive to wheel surfaces, ceramic pads leave virtually no visible black residue on wheels.
Considering their unique combination of high grip, low wear rate, quiet application, user-friendly modulation, and low dust, it's not hard to understand why the sole disadvantage of ceramic pads is their high cost of production.
A unique benefit of ceramic brake pads is that they deliver fully effective braking power when they're cold, unlike other types of pads which must reach a certain temperature first. Cooler pads mean brake fluid doesn't boil, and cooler fluid means brake fade is greatly reduced. Replacement-style ceramic pads are designed for use with OEM rotors and calipers.
Performance Brake Pads
On a dollar-for-dollar basis, stepping up to performance pads is the single most cost-effective way to improve braking performance. The labor to replace pads is exactly the same whether they're replacement or performance style. And depending on your level of dissatisfaction with your current pads combined with your specific goals, the most difficult part may be making a choice among the myriad performance pads available.
We assist the process at our website by providing you with a wider selection of search categories. First, you can choose a DRIVING STYLE. Yes, you can still be in a "daily driver" and want better pads. But perhaps you tow a rig; or your style demands better performance; or you are building a track car. Just make the appropriate choice here:
For more details and product recommendations, you may find our article Which Performance Brake Pads Work Best On My Car? interesting.
More Specific Pad Ratings
But we're not done! Either in conjunction with or separate from DRIVING STYLE, we also allow you to make choices based on DUST RATING, STOPPING POWER, PAD WEAR RATING, AND NOISE RATING. The great thing here is that if you are targeting a specific complaint, our detailed search results will deliver to you the exact pad choices that provide a solution.
On disc brake systems, the rotor is a circular metal disc that rotates with the wheel to provide a surface for brake pads to clamp against when stopping friction is required. Rotors are typically made from a single piece of cast iron. If you opt to install OEM style replacement rotors with new pads, the new rotors offer the advantage of perfectly flush surfaces that haven't yet been compromised by hotspots, corrosion, or warpage.
In our Replacement rotors section, you will be looking to replace "like" with "like". This is not surprising, as vented rotors must be replaced with vented, solid with solid, and so on. Today, the good news in the replacement rotor category is that prices are reasonable, and starting off with a new set of rotors along with a new set of replacement pads will restore your brakes to 1000% operating efficiency.
As a rule, performance rotors shed heat more effectively. This is important, since the majority of heat generated by braking friction collects in the rotors. When engine mods like an air intake system or a better-breathing exhaust are installed for more power, performance rotors go nicely with a new set of brake pads.
For our purposes within this article, performance rotors we sell are the same diameter as factory ones for easy installation without modifications. (Larger diameter rotors are typically part of "Big Brake Kits", which we'll discuss in Part 2).
Similar to our web menu choices for performance pads, we again offer a choice of DRIVING STYLE under performance rotors. Next, you'll note a choice between standard size and big brakes; and then choices for ROTOR STYLE, ROTOR CONSTRUCTION, and ROTOR MATERIAL.
ROTOR STYLE: Contact Surface treatment
After DRIVING STYLE and BRAKE KIT TYPE, the first menu choice you're offered is ROTOR STYLE, which refers to the treatment on the contact surfaces. The choices are plain; drilled & slotted; dimpled & slotted; slotted; or drilled.
So-called plain rotors have smooth contact surfaces, and this is what is found on most OE rotors. However, you'll find that plain rotors can also function well as performance rotors. They just don't necessarily look as cool as a "treated" surface.
Slotted rotors feature indented, shallow slots cut into both sides of the rotor faces. These slots allow more water, heat, brake dust, and friction gases to slide out from underneath the pads. Because slotted rotors stay cooler, they're ideal for aggressive driving and 4WDs that haul heavy loads or tow trailers. Since the slots are not deeply cut into the rotor, there is minimal risk of the disc cracking.
Drilled rotors feature holes that pass from one side to the other - a layout that ensures maximum dissipation of heat and debris. Some drilled rotors may be combined with slots (drilled AND slotted). Because they dissipate heat faster, drilled rotors offer an advantage over slotted ones during high performance driving and racing.
Since the drilled holes take mass out of the rotors, cracks may occur between the perforations when used on a vehicle that takes on a greater weight load due to hauling of heavy cargo or sustained towing. Vehicles with built-up engines, turbos, or superchargers can also have a damaging effect on drilled rotors, especially when abused by either stunt driving or drifting.
Rotor surfaces with holes that have been partially drilled through are also known as 'dimpled'. While they don't pose the same risk of cracking as fully drilled rotors do, dimpled rotors sweep away less heat and debris. To make up for this, dimpled rotors often feature slots on their faces.
In some cases, you can get rotors that are both drilled AND slotted, which can provide the maximum benefits in channeling heat and debris away. With all these rotor styles, availability for your particular year, make, and model vehicle may vary. Start your search by entering that info, and our site will deliver to your view only the products that are guaranteed to fit. For more info and a few general product recommendations, see our article How To Select & Install Performance Brake Rotors.
ROTOR CONSTRUCTION: 1-Piece vs 2-Piece
Most rotors (replacement and performance) are made from a single piece of iron. These traditional rotors without two separate pieces can be referred to as "one-piece", but that term isn't always used.
Two-piece rotors feature an aluminum center section bolted to a traditional iron outer section where pads make contact. Because the center section is aluminum, a lot of weight is saved and quicker brake response is achieved. It's hard to confuse a two-piece rotor with anything else because bolts that lock the two pieces together are highly visible, and center sections usually have a different-colored finish in order to heighten their appeal. The center section is sometimes referred to as a "hat".
Originally, two-piece rotors were reserved for Big Brake Kits. But recently, the aftermarket has stepped up its choices, and there are applications for two-piece rotors in the same diameter as OE rotors, meaning they can be installed without modifications. Two-piece rotors are more expensive and are typically available for select high-performance vehicles.
2015 Volkswagen Golf
Rich had always enjoyed the light-on-the-feet performance of various VW models he'd owned over the years. After his needs dictated a new inexpensive car, Rich compared a few vehicles before purchasing a base VW Golf S 4-door because of its fuel efficiency, comfortable interior, and peppy performance - even with the base engine.
At about 40,000 miles, Rich's "brake" warning light came on. After jacking up the vehicle to pull front and rear wheels off, Rich saw his front brake pads were worn down to about 3mm of thickness (new OEM ones are approximately 12mm thick), and the rears weren't too far behind. Realizing he needs new brakes, Rich considered that while his OEM ones were compatible with his driving style, he was tired of cleaning the excessive black dust that the original pads sprayed out. And, thinking about one frustrating section of his commute where close-call panic stops could occur any time, new pads with a little more grip would be appreciated.
Observing the deep lip edge that formed on the perimeter of his OE front rotors, Rich knew he would also need to replace them because they had become too worn. The rear rotors were intact enough to be used through another set of pads. He decided any components he purchased would have to fit like OEM equipment. And - what he bought couldn't break the bank, either.
Looking through our replacement pads section, Rich earmarked the Centric Posi Quiet Premium Ceramic Disc Brake Pads because their price represents solid value. We feel these make a good choice for him because they replicate the progressive feel of original equipment, with ceramic pad construction that yields better stopping power, longer life, reduced brake fade, and lower dust buildup.
Additionally, he also considered the Powerstop Z23 Evolution Sport Performance Carbon Fiber Ceramic Brake Pads, which are carbon fiber-infused ceramic brake pads that boost stopping power while offering extremely quiet operation thanks to rubber-backed shims (most OEM ones are plain steel).
When it came to rotors, Rich was focused on value. That meant OE-style vented front rotors. His top choice here was the Centric C-Tek Standard Brake Rotor.
Ultimately, he decided to go with the benefits of the Centric Posi Quiet Premium Ceramic Disc Brake Pads front and rear, with Centric's C-Tek rotors for the front.
2016 Ford F-250 Super Duty
After retiring, Mike and his wife Lenore finally had the time to explore the continental United States the way they'd always wanted to - by way of extended road trips in their 2016 Ford F-250 XLT pulling a comfortable live-in trailer. Once all the fifth wheel towing equipment needed for towing was installed, Mike and his wife embarked on their journey.
Mike originally purchased his F-250 because he appreciated how the aluminum body panels introduced that year made the truck significantly lighter - a big plus when towing is involved. After a few long treks, he noticed that driving through regions with mountainous 2-lane highways everywhere still proved stressful. While his factory brakes got the job done, Mike began to find them lacking on repeated up-and-down grades when speed needed to be scrubbed off constantly for slowpoke drivers hogging both lanes. Once in awhile, the dreaded brake fade presented itself - creating a few white-knuckle moments.
While at home, Mike inspected his truck's brakes and noticed two things. First, his factory pads had worn down quicker than expected, and the rotors had become hot-spotted (from excess heat buildup) to the point where they couldn't be re-used. So after being underwhelmed with the durability of his factory brakes, he came to CARiD to look for new pads and rotors that would give him better grip and last longer. On our webpage for performance brakes, he selected the boxes for "Performance Brake Kits" (combo pads & rotors) and for "Hauling & Towing". These choices would provide him with the exact pad and rotor kits for his driving style.
Generally, brake pads for trucks and 4x4s are formulated to provide increased stopping levels with the type of grip that works best with heavier wheels, tires, and vehicle loads at normal highway speeds. Instead of focusing on neck-breaking autobahn grip, they deliver increased stopping power that's easy to modulate without causing instability in low traction conditions.
Mike really liked the various EBC brake kits, and the unique way that different pads and rotors were matched to each other. For instance, the EBC Stage 5 Kit pairs dimpled and slotted rotors with YellowStuff pads; the Stage 14 Kit combines smooth rotors with GreenStuff pads; and their Stage 4 Kit also uses GreenStuff pads but with slotted rotors.
The other choice which Mike found very attractive was the Power Stop Z36 "Truck and Tow" drilled and slotted kit, zinc-plated drilled and slotted rotors, plus pads using a carbon-fiber infused ceramic formula. There was even the additional advantage of a combination front and rear kit, so with one click of the mouse, Mike made his final decision.
In closing, we say if you're happy with the lifespan, dust output, fade resistance and stopping power of your OE brakes, you'll be pleased with the value and stopping power of our "repair" components - many of which provide a slight improvement over factory grade parts.
If not, you'll see bigger improvements in one or more of those areas with "performance" brake components. We've had customers tell us they came to our site unaware or uninterested in performance pads and rotors, but ultimately chose them as an experiment - and loved the results! As we stated earlier, if you've modified your vehicle in any way, or, intend to get maximum use from its towing or trailering capability, then performance brake pads and rotors are worth your while.