The brake pads which were installed on your car or truck when it was new are "fine" - fine for most motorists who drive unmodified vehicles. But YOU, the auto enthusiast, know better. You have made various drivetrain mods, or have converted your truck into a towing rig. You've added bigger wheels and tires and now want brakes which won't leave such a mess on the shiny rims. You recognize that you need to improve the "stop" to accompany the "go". The first, and easiest, item to move up to is a set of performance brake pads.
When considering such an upgrade, you'll see three main types of performance pads available on the market today - "semi-metallic" pads, "organic" pads, and "ceramic" pads. Because each provides a unique set of benefits with price points that vary based on materials used in the pad compound material, you may be asking yourself which type of performance brake pad is best for me?
In the scope of this article, we'll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each type. We'll also cover a number of specific pads we offer, grouped together in categories of pads that are for street driving only, combination street/track use, and 4x4 applications. Unless specified otherwise, all brake pads we cover here can be used with OEM rotors and calipers.
Of note, virtually all the pads available in our performance section feature a center slot for improved removal of dust and water as well as heat. That center slot also allows complete and even expansion of compound materials when things get hot.
Semi-Metallic Brake Pads
Made up of steel, brass, and copper metal shavings, semi-metallic pads are the type most commonly found as original equipment on production vehicles. Their lower cost makes them economical, and their metallic nature provides a good level of brake bite when pressed hard. Because of this, some performance pads may use specially formulated metallic material that digs quickly into brake rotors to provide the highest amount of grip.
Generally, semi-metallic pads disburse heat more effectively than organic pads, but not as effectively as ceramic ones. Because the metallic flakes they're made of are more abrasive, these pads can be noisy and cause rotor wear. Additionally, these may produce brake dust that's darker in color than the other pad materials. This forms a visible black coating on wheels until it's washed off.
Organic Brake Pads
Generally, organic brake pads 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 higher wear rate, and applications that are more limited to everyday street driving. Unlike ceramic and semi-metallic rotors, organic brake material by itself does not dissipate heat well enough to prevent fade under hard-use conditions. That said, organic brake compounds blended with some metallic and ceramic particles can be engineered to produce effective grip that lasts on the racetrack.
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. Additionally, ceramic brake pads offer the ability to shed heat well under the most severe racetrack conditions - making them a popular choice in Formula One, NASCAR, and other forms of championship racing. Cooler pads mean brake fluid doesn't boil, and cooler fluid means brake fade is greatly reduced. Ceramic pads are designed for use with OEM rotors and calipers, and are also very well suited to drum-to-disc conversions as well as racing applications.
Pads With Improved Grip For Everyday Driving
When it comes to street use pads, we've got a selection you'll appreciate. For less powerful vehicles that don't usually travel at triple-digit velocity, EBC Greenstuff 2000 Series organic brake pads offer better braking power at real world driving speeds where autobahn levels of grip are not necessary. A patented metallic aramid compound uses DuPont Kevlar and Twaron composites to minimize the amount of steel wool necessary, so these pads cause far less abrasive wear on rotors without compromising brake pad efficiency or longevity.
Powerstop Z23 Evolution Sport Performance Brake Pads 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).
Powerstop also offers their ceramic/metallic blend Z26 Extreme Street Performance Brake Pads to provide shorter stopping distances for high-performance cars used on the street. If you've modified your car for more horsepower, or installed more massive wheels and tires, Z26 pads are an easy way to dial up the braking power to where it needs to be.
For those seeking a value-priced brake pad that replicates the progressive feel of original equipment with an enhanced level of performance, Hawk OES Brake Pads offer ceramic construction that provide noticeably better stopping power, longer life, reduced brake fade, and lower dust buildup when used with OEM rotors and calipers.
For heavier, more powerful cars, Hawk offers the more aggressive Performance Ceramic Brake Pads which deliver smooth application proper for a premium automobile with a stronger level of grip at higher speeds. If you plan on doing aggressive urban street driving with short, repetitive bursts of heavy braking, Hawk's semi-metallic High Performance Street Race Brake Pads made from ferro-carbon provide 20 to 40% more braking power without causing higher wear on rotors the way racetrack formulated pads do.
Pads For Mix Of Street Driving & Some Track Use
For the vehicle owner who enjoys taking their daily driver to the track on weekends for light-duty racing, we've got a selection of pads designed for you. For starters, Brembo Sport Brake Pads feature a combination ceramic/semi-metallic blend for OEM rotors and calipers. These are suited for both street driving and light track use.
Powerstop semi-metallic Track Day Brake Pads (carbon fiber metallic) are ideal pads for track day enthusiasts who require extreme fade resistance along with consistent pedal feel and modulation. EBC Yellowstuff Brake Pads are replacement ceramic brake pads designed to offer an optimum combination of performance on both the street and the racetrack for higher-horsepower, mid-weight sports cars and muscle cars.
EBC Redstuff Ceramic Low Dust Brake Pads are replacement ceramic brake pads that use a Kevlar-based fiber compound formulated specifically for heavier cars and trucks engineered for high levels of speed. While they provide a more gradual level of grip than EBC Yellowstuff pads, their braking power is nonetheless a substantial improvement over semi-metallic brake pads.
EBC Bluestuff NDX Formula Racing Brake Pads can be used for street driving, but their aggressive nature is designed to provide an even higher level of performance for the racing enthusiast who owns a vehicle equipped with superior multi-piston, high-performance brake calipers. They're blended to take the extra squeezing power of multi-piston calipers and make the most of it, offering massive levels of grip when you need to scrub off speed fast.
In order to hold together under extreme heavy use, traditional rivets are not used to secure pad material and backing plate together. Instead, an additional layer of resin between the two forms a strong chemical bond that provides three times the resistance of pad separation or shear. Four balancing weights built in to the backing plates of Bluestuff pads ensure high-frequency vibration is cancelled out to eliminate squealing noise.
Wilwood's ProMatrix Street Performance Brake Pads represent a solid value when it comes to giving your vehicle an easy boost in stopping power. They will also perform superbly on lighter weight vehicles during street races of shorter duration. Wilwood BP-10 pads are the next step up, and offer these same benefits tailored for upgraded rotors that are slotted and/or drilled. And if you're seeking a street-use pad designed to upgrade braking power with low dust, low noise, and smooth application befitting of a classic luxury car or muscle car, choose the Wilwood PolyMatrix Q ceramic pads (select "Type Q" in Product Options). PolyMatrix Qs are also suitable for use with upgraded specialty aluminum rotors.
Wilwood BP-20 pads are designed for use with upgraded calipers as well as slotted/drilled rotors, and can be used for medium-duty track racing or heavy-duty drag strip use. And for a street pad that can be used with OEM rotors and calipers during light-to-medium road racing on paved or dirt tracks where shorter bursts of hard braking are the norm, Wilwood's Polymatrix E pads will meet your needs well.
Pads For 4x4s During Off-Roading And Towing
Brake pads designed for 4x4s are formulated to provide increased stopping levels with the type of grip that works properly with heavier wheels, tires, and vehicle loads at speeds that aren't triple-digit. So instead of neck-breaking autobahn grip, you'll find increased stopping power that's easy to modulate without causing instability in low traction conditions.
For pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles that venture off-road in areas where brake components get covered in dirt, sand, and grit, EBC offers the organic Greenstuff 6000 Series Truck and SUV Brake Pads. For heavier pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles, EBC has taken all virtues of the Greenstuff 6000 pads and concentrated the formula to create the stronger-acting Greenstuff 7000 Series SUV Supreme Compound Brake Pads. The 7000 series is the ultimate set of endurance pads. Formulated for the unique needs of heavier trucks and sport utilities that venture off-road, these are constructed from an organic aramid compound which blends Kevlar and Twaron composites to create a harder pad surface that's extremely resistant to dirt, rocks, and sand.
Powerstop Z36 Extreme Truck and Tow Ceramic Brake Pads are a ceramic/semi-metallic blend developed for heavier trucks and SUVs. Because of their partial ceramic makeup, they'll provide a longer lifespan than typical OEM 100% semi-metallic pads along with better brake feel, cleaner front wheels and quiet stops.
Hawk semi-metallic Light Truck & SUV Brake Pads are specifically designed to improve performance when big tires or trailer towing are part of the picture. And for pickups and vans that see heavy-duty commercial use hauling or pulling heavy loads, Hawk Super Duty Truck Brake Pads deliver a more concentrated truck formula designed to reduce the heat buildup from constant use that causes poor braking and premature wear.
While performance brake pads may not be for everyone, you may find that any change for the better compared to OE pads will result in improved pedal feel and shorter stopping distances. As we stated earlier, if you have modified your vehicle in any way, or, intend to get maximum use from its towing or trailering capability, then performance brake pads are worth a second look.
While the pads referenced in this article are good examples, they’re not the only products we recommend. To get a feel for what may work best for your needs, we encourage you to use the checkboxes along the left side of the screen which allow you to narrow your search by Stopping Power (“medium” or “high”), Noise (“low” or “medium”), and Pad Wear Lifetime (“medium” or “high”). Additionally, you can enter the year, make, and model of your vehicle to see what products are specifically made for your ride. And if you’re considering replacing brake rotors as well, our related article How To Select & Install Performance Brake Rotors will prove helpful.
Given their relatively modest cost, combined with the ease with which they install (no other vehicle mods needed), there's no reason not to upgrade the ones on your car - no matter how you drive.