Brake pads are an essential part of your car that you don’t want to cut corners on. However, (depending upon who you talk to) there are either three (or four) different types of brake pad. The variation is due to there being two different kinds of organic-based pad.
Finding the best brake pad material can be difficult. What might seem like the best choice overall might not be for your particular needs. Let’s take a moment to look at the differences between the options.
Brake Pad Comparison
The Three Types of Brake Pad
There’s no clear winner when it comes to choosing a brake pad. For example, ceramic pads are the best overall, but they might not be the best choice for everyday use due to the high cost. You should always take the time to consider what you will be using your car for, as well as its size, before making a final choice.
Climate also plays a role in your choice, as some pads are more prone to overheating or can’t handle the cold as well as a different type.
Made primarily of ceramic material with copper fibers, these are the quietest pads available. In addition, they’re practically dust-free and create low wear on the rotors. The downside is that they also tend to be the most expensive option.
Due to their durability and efficiency, ceramic pads are recommended for “spirited” drivers and those who can’t stand dirty wheels from brake dust or even the slightest brake squeal. Racing and other performance cars will also benefit from these pads although they have a bit less stopping power than metallic pads.
Seasonally, ceramic pads may be used year-round and in most climates, but may not grip as well in in cold weather. This is because ceramics warm up at roughly half the rate of common metals such as steel. You will likely not need ceramic pads unless you plan on pushing your car to its limits.
The most common type of brake pad, you probably have these installed in one of your cars right now. These highly durable pads contain 35-65 percent metal. Depending upon the model, this may be copper, iron, wire, or steel wool.
The biggest downsides are that these pads produce a lot of dust and can be much noisier. But they make up for this with better overall braking power than ceramic or organic pads. They will also fare best in cold climates compared to other types.
Semi-metallic pads are often installed on mid-range or bigger cars, SUVs, trucks, and service vehicles. They can withstand hard braking better than organic and have a cost somewhere in between ceramic and organic. For this reason, you will often see these pads being used on high-performance vehicles when the driver can’t afford ceramic.
Proper installation is a must, and the harder surface of these pads will wear rotors faster. The carbon metallic composition allows semi-metallic brake pads to last far longer than organics, although they do more damage than ceramic.
Non-Asbestos Organic (NAO)
These brake pads consist of organic-derived materials, such as fiber, glass, kevlar, resin, or rubber. NAO pads have replaced the older asbestos-derived ones due to the health risks posed by the latter. Due to their softness, they’re fairly quiet. However, they’re the least durable and tend to create a good amount of dust.
A variation of this pad, the low-metal NAO, has more metallic fibers added for increased heat resistance. Unfortunately, they produce even more dust, make more noise, and wear down just as fast as regular NAO pads.
As a general rule, organic pads work great for everyday driving and benefit most when used in temperate climates. Hot climates can cause the pads to overheat more quickly than other types, while they can take longer to fully warm up than semi-metallic when in colder climates.
The most expensive NAO material, kevlar, eliminates many of the performance issues of other materials, but is also quite costly.
Small to mid-range cars will benefit most from organic pads, with low-metal working best for the mid-range. While these pads are poorly-suited for heavy braking, they perform quite well for daily driving in a town or city. NAO pads of either type are poor choices for heavy vehicles or high-performance use.