Which Brake Pads Should I Get? Your Options Explained
Brake pads are complicated, but they don’t have to be.
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I’m not so good at shopping for technology. Even the computer I’m typing this thing on was on recommendation from my tech-obsessed roommate. I did little to no research because I didn’t know what the hell anything meant. Suddenly, I understood how normies feel when shopping for cars or car parts. Brake pads, for example, you'll often see different versions of at different prices for the same car.
There’s a lot of lingo and vocabulary that describes and categorizes complex auto parts and systems, and it’s hard to parse out what any of that gobbledygook means. Even the most hardened and knowledgeable of car folks can be intimidated by something that should be simple, like brakes. Brake pads come in a variety of flavors, and it can be confusing to figure out what each material is, what they do, and what is right for the car’s needs. Let me help you out by breaking down pads into material types and providing some context on what's what.
Pros: Cheap, quiet
Cons: Reduced stopping abilities, longevity
Organic pads can be found as Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) equipment on many mainstream cars. Organic pads are made of, you guessed it, naturally-derived materials like rubber, glass, kevlar, or silica. They’re cheap and they’re quiet, but honestly not good for much else. They’re not so good at stopping, and they don’t last all that long. In my experience, it’s nigh impossible to find an organic replacement for most aftermarket pad replacements. Sometimes, organic pads might be called NAO pads, or Non-Asbestos Organic pads because they’re no longer made with asbestos like they were in the past.
Cost: $ to $$
Pros: Stopping power upgrade over organic pads, still very cost effective
Cons: Noisest of three types, can generate dark dust
Semi-metallic pads are the ubiquitous choice in brake pad replacement. The pad, made up of metals like copper, steel, and other metals, are held together by graphite and work a lot better than the organic-type pads. Still, semi-metallic pads tend to make more noise than organic and ceramic-type pads. Also, this pad type works best when the pad is somewhat warm, so stopping distances might not be ideal when the weather and brakes are cold. The pads themselves tend to generate more dust than the other types, too. They’re cheap, though.
Cost: $$ to $$$
Pros: Quiet, low dust, durable
Cons: Not always great for performance driving, most expensive
Ceramic pads are made of a hardened-clay material, actually not unlike what comprises any sort of kitchen dishware. These pads are strong, quiet, dissipate heat well, are light, and generate a lot less dust than the organic or semi-metallic type.
These pads are also pricey, and some insist that they aren’t the best for performance driving either, because they’re not so good at absorbing heat. That heat can be transferred to the rest of the braking system and prematurely stress things out.
Still, things are not all cut and dry. Some manufacturers use proprietary blends of materials to offset the inherent problems of a particular type. For example, the aftermarket brakes on my Fiat 500 Abarth use a complicated carbon-fiber ceramic mix that provides way more braking power than a metallic pad, but they still have that strength and low-dust quality that ceramic pads provide.
Brake Pad Friction Ratings
In an effort to quantify things less subjectively, each set of brake pads comes with a special number and letter from the DOT (Department of Transportation) that signifies its technical mechanical stopping abilities. These numbers, or letters rather, will be represented via a two-letter code. The first letter stands for the brake pad’s cold performance, and the second letter is for the brake pad’s warm performance.
The lowest performance rating is “C”, so a brake pad rated for GG would have superior warm and cold performance compared to one rated at DE.
Unfortunately, these numbers aren’t always the easiest to find on the box or via online shopping. They’re pressed on the brake pad itself.
So Which Brake Pads Should I Use?
This list can give a great start to even the most clueless of brake buyers out there. There are definite pros and cons to each, so think about the type of driving you do, and the budget you have, and pick accordingly. A spirited driver on a budget might be more suited for an aggressive semi-metallic pad. A car that’s mostly used for daily driving would likely be best served with a long-lasting, quiet, and low-maintenance ceramic pad.
I get it, reading is hard. Therefore, let the good folks at our sister site Donut Media explain how the hell this all works.
FAQs About Brake Pads
We want to try to answer any questions you have before you start the job. We’ve selected common points of confusion from our experience, as well as commonly asked questions from popular search results. We answered those questions below.
Q. How long do brake pads typically last?
A. Brake pad durability and longevity is contingent on a huge number of factors, including driving style, vehicle type, pad type, age, and more. Generally, good pads will last at least 25,000 miles, but your mileage will vary. In hybrid and electric vehicles, regenerative braking via an electric motor assists braking force greatly, and some owners have reported brake pads lasting well over 100,000 miles.
Q. Which brake pads create the least dust?
A. Generally, ceramic brake pads create less dust than other types. Also, ceramic pad dust is lighter in color, and less willing to adhere to wheels and other surfaces.
Q. Which brake pads are quietest?
A. Ceramic pads typically are the quietest, with organic pads coming in second.
Q. Which brake pads last the longest?
A. Ceramic, generally, but it all depends on the environment, the type of driving, and the vehicle.
Q. Why are there various price levels for the same type of brake pad, like value, mid-grade, and premium?
A. Each manufacturer has different specifications of material mixes and pad designs that vary price. For example, a more expensive semi-metallic pad could have a higher concentration of expensive metals in the name of stopping power or longevity. My Fiat 500 Abarth uses aftermarket ceramic pads that have carbon fiber in them, making them a lot more expensive than the typical OEM equivalent pad.
Learn More About Brake Pads
If we piqued your curiosity or didn't quite answer your brake pad question here, check out some of these related posts:
How To Replace Brake Pads: A straightforward explainer you'll want to consult before starting the job.
Best Brake Pads for Performance and Safety: A hands-on test The Drive executed comparing a few different specific brake pads.
How Long Do Brake Pads Last?: A little more insight on how much life to expect out of various brake pad types.
Brake Pad Replacement Cost: The Drive’s Garage Guide: A Budget-focused breakdown.
How and When Should I Replace My Brake Rotors: If you're replacing pads, it's worth thinking about rotors too! Sometimes you can get away with leaving them alone, or having them re-machined before buying a new set.