How To Choose The Best Brake Pads

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Choosing the right brake pads for your vehicle can be a challenge. There are numerous types of pads available – organic, semi-metallic, and ceramic – and lots of companies that sell them. Everyone – from your local dealership to your local oil change shop – sells some sort of brake pad that promises to do the job of stopping your car, but which is right for your vehicle?

Green Stuff brake pads

What brake pads should you buy? Are OEM pads always best, or are after-market pads basically the same?

Before you buy a set of replacement pads, here are some important things to consider and a look at the most popular brake pad options.

What Are Your Braking Needs?
What kind of driving do you do? Drivers battling traffic jams on the daily commute have much different needs than a weekend warrior trying to make the best lap time. Pads that are a good fit for normal driving are rarely good for racing (and vice versa).

In all honesty, your braking needs are probably average. Unless your vehicle is used extensively for towing and hauling – or you really are a weekend racer – any normal use brake pad will work.

However, not all “normal” pads are the same. Some after-market pads are – in a word – terrible, while other after-market pads are quite good. Here’s how you can find out.

Organic vs Ceramic vs Semi-Metallic Pads
First, before we dive into the differences between organic, ceramic, and semi-metallic pads, it’s important to understand that the recommended type for your vehicle was chosen the day your car left the factory.

If your vehicle was designed for ceramic pads (and a lot of newer cars are), that’s the type of pad you should use. Using another type of pad – such as substituting an organic pad for a ceramic pad – is going to result in either:

  1. A reduction in stopping performance
  2. An increase in noise, vibrations, and harshness
  3. An increase in brake dust (your wheels will get dirty faster)
  4. Reduced brake pad life span

Therefore, if the OEM brake pads were ceramic (or organic or semi-metallic), you should buy another set of the same.

As for the differences between them:

  • Ceramic pads are the latest pad technology. They offer excellent stopping ability thru-out a wide range of conditions, and they’re also very quiet. The downside? Ceramic pads can cost nearly twice as much as organic pads.
  • Organic pads are relatively new (they’ve been around since the mid-80’s) and they offer decent performance for average driving. However, they must be specially formulated for heavy-duty use, as “normal” organic pads typically don’t stand up to abuse very well.
  • Semi-metallic pads are older technology, but they’re very resistant to wear and ideal for towing and hauling. However, adding semi-metallic pads to a system that wasn’t designed for them can cause damage.

OEM Brake Pads vs After-Market

There’s no shortage of after-market brake pad options for your vehicle. The local brake shop has their own brand, the auto parts chains have their own brand, well-known after-market manufacturers offer brands of their own, etc., and then finally you have OEM pads.

If you’re a normal driver (and again, most people are), the very best pad you can buy is the OEM pad (the one sold by your local dealership). If you’re looking to save money, you can purchase them online.

If you’re a heavy-duty brake user (towing, hauling, racing, etc.), you want to investigate performance brake pads made by companies like Hawk or EBC.

What you do NOT want to do is purchase cheap brake pads. Your local brake shop might offer a “$99 brake pads for life” special, but that’s a bad deal no matter how you cut it. At best, you’ll get inferior pads for a slightly lower price than your OEM pads. At worst, you’ll get louder pads that don’t stop your car as well as the OEM pads they replaced.

What’s worse, some after-market pads contain asbestos. Contrary to popular belief, it’s perfectly legal to use asbestos in brake pads (the EPA tried to ban it, but a court over-ruled them). Some of the cheapest pads on the market contain asbestos, which is bad news.

Bottom Line: Steer clear of cheap brake pads and either buy a good set of performance pads or buy a set of OEM pads. Going cheap on your brake pads is a bad idea.

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  1. Mickey says:

    I replaced my original pads at 130k miles. Had enough pad to last 150k miles. Put on Wagner Ceramic pads. They are suppose to be quiet. Notice I said suppose to be. I will go with OEM as replacements on the next pair.

  2. BriBri says:

    I’ve been a fan of Raybestos for a long time. Although, I do not change my brake pads all that often, as I am normally very gentle with my vehicle braking.

  3. john says:

    I live in San Francisco so drive a lot of hills. I don’t think my brake pads will make it over 80,000 miles.

  4. Albert says:

    So what type of brake pads are in a tundra?

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