For all of you that are adventurous enough to do a little work on your own car. One of the things that you might have tried, or may be willing to try is replacing your own brake pads. In many cases the hardest part of replacing your brake pads comes during that moment that you are standing at the parts counter at your friendly neighborhood auto parts store. After they look up your parts based on make and model, they will usually ask you what kind of pads you prefer.
You might answer this question by telling them that you want the new kind of pads. Of course this goes without saying. What they are referring to is the composition of the friction material used in the pad. Not all pads are equal, and just because they fit on your car doesn’t mean that they are the best thing for it. Your choices are usually semi-metallic, organic, or ceramic, but there are a few more choices for some makes and models.
Semi-metallic pads are the cheapest, and last a long time. They are composed of a material that contains ground up bits of metal. Semi-metallic pads used to be the most commonly used pads but they have some drawbacks. The biggest drawback is that semi-metallic pads are much more likely than the others to develop a squealing noise. This might be just a minor chirp as the wheels come to a stop or it could be a major howl that emanates the instant the brake pedal is touched. Either way it can be very annoying. Semi-metallic pads are also harder on brake rotors and have more of a tendency to wear the rotors down.
Organic pads are made from materials that are usually carbon based. Sometimes they are referred to as synthetic pads. They are a very common pad of choice for smaller vehicles because of they way they wear. Organic pads used to use asbestos as a primary component in the friction material. Asbestos was very good at withstanding the heat, and providing nice smooth braking feel, but it is a known carcinogen and was fazed out decades ago.
A common component in organic brake pads today is Kevlar. Organic pads are good because they are very quiet compared to semi-metallics and they are easier on the rotors. The biggest problem with organic pads is that they wear much faster than any of the others. Sometimes organic pads can be worn out in as little as 20,000 miles. They do not take abuse very well. They also produce a fair amount of break dust that will build up on your bling rims.
The third type of pad and the one that might be the best is the ceramic brake pad. These pads are composed of a material that is made up of ceramic fibers, copper, and bonding agents. These pads last a long time, dissipate heat very well, and don’t produce very much dust that accumulates on the wheels. They are also very quiet, or at least it would seem so to humans. The vibration of the pads in the calipers that becomes the noise that we hear, vibrates at a frequency that human ears cannot hear. If the noise can’t be heard, is it really making a noise? Do the dogs in the neighborhood appreciate all of this noise?
The biggest problem with ceramic pads is that they are expensive. Often times they will be 3 times more expensive than semi-metallic or organic pads. A normal set of semi-metallic pads might run $15 to $20, where as a set of ceramic pads for the same vehicle might be $50 or $60. Considering how much better ceramic pads are, the cost should not be prohibitive. Remember we are talking about a very important system on your vehicle. The difference between $15 and $50 is not the same as the difference between $100 and $300 dollars so spending three times more on brake pads is not as painful on the wallet.
The other things that you usually get with the more expensive pads are things such as new shims, and new anti-rattle clips and springs. Replacing this hardware is a good idea even though it may not be totally necessary. Both of these things will help to keep the pads quiet.
Ceramic brake pads can be hard on brake rotors but considering brake rotors are getting much cheaper to replace, the amount that pads wear down the rotors, doesn’t matter as much anyway.
|Disc brake quiet applied to the back of the pad and not to the friction|
surface on the bottom.
Another type of pad that is out there but maybe not so common is the full metallic type. Metallic pads are made from pulverized metal particles formed into a block and attached to a steel plate. These are very tough but they are only effective when the brakes get hot and they make a tremendous amount of noise. These are probably best suited to using on a race car rather then on the family minivan (not that you could even get any that would fit your minivan).
If you find yourself in the parts store buying brake pads and they ask you which ones you want. Go for the ceramic first, the organic second, and if neither one of those are available don’t bother with the semi-metallic and just go to another store. When they try to sell you the small packets of goo that goes on the pads, it’s not a bad idea. Just don’t put the goo on the friction surface of the pad, it’s supposed to go on the steel backing plate of the pad. This helps the pads to keep from vibrating in the calipers which causes a squealing sound. Never be afraid to spend a little extra when doing your brakes, in the end it will likely be worth it.