The 3 Different Types of Brake Pads For Your Car

author avatarPaul Hadley
31st May, 2019
Filed under Car Topics

When it comes time to get new brakes, a common question that is asked is, “what is the difference between metallic, organic, and ceramic brake pads?”

Braking is always a tradeoff, which is the first thing to keep in mind. A brake pad that works well on the street will not be well-suited for a racetrack, and a dedicated race pad will not adequately perform on the street.

There is no such thing as the perfect brake pad for every driver in all situations. Usage requirements for your car, personal preferences, and driving style will vary from one individual to the next.

Brake Pad Evolution

Let’s start out by providing you with a brief history of brake pads. During the 1950s and 1960s, when disc brakes first started to be more popular, the preferred material used to make brake pads was asbestos due to its durability and heat-resistance. It was also fairly inexpensive at the time compared to other types of materials.

However, as the health and environmental consequences of asbestos became more known, asbestos based brake pads fell out of favor quickly and manufacturers had to search for a more effective, safer, and new way to curtail your vehicle’s momentum.   

Ultralite rims with brembo brakes

Organic brake pads

Also called NAO, which is short for non-asbestos organic, organic brake pads were developed to be used in place of asbestos pads. They are made out of different fibers that are mixed together with binding resins.

Some of the most common materials used to make organic brake pads include Kevlar, carbon, rubber, fiber, and glass. The tools and materials used for manufacturing brake pads are the least expensive even today, and that is why most (about 70%) new vehicles sold in the U.S. come with this type of brake pad.

Pros:

  • Ideal for daily drivers
  • Well-suited for regular commuting/driving across many environments
  • Low manufacturing cost
  • Produce less dust compared to metallic pads
  • Don’t require as much heat for generating friction
  • Soft on brake rotors

Cons:

  • Not well-suited for performance driving
  • Lose coefficient of friction quickly when overheated
  • High compressibility – may cause a “mushy” brake pedal feeling
  • Compared to other kinds of brake pads they wear out quickly
  • Only operate well in a fairly limited temperature ranges

Semi-Metallic Brake Pads

This type of brake pads, as implied by the name, contains 30 to 65% metal by weight, and are usually made out of copper, iron, steel, etc. This is combined with fillers and friction modifiers, along with a graphic lubricant.

Arguably, semi-metallic brake pads are the most versatile brake pad available, with more dust and noise being a slight compromise. They are also more durable and longer-lasting, and the metallic composition of the brake pad helps with more efficient brake-cooling and draws heat away from the rotor.  

Pros:

  • Many compounds available – suited for anything ranging from extreme track use to daily street driving
  • Compared to organic pads a lot more resistant to brake fade
  • Low compressibility – provides a firmer brake pedal feeling
  • Operating range (temperature) is much wider
  • Provides good cold bite
  • Metallic content offers a higher thermal threshold
  • Compared to organic pads have a significant increase in braking performance

Cons

  • For best performance, requires proper and careful bedding-in
  • More expensive compared to organic pads (but usually less expensive than ceramic)
  • More abrasive compared to other kinds of pads – wears out brake rotors faster
  • More brake dust is produced
  • Have a tendency to be noisier compared to ceramic or organic pads

Ceramic brake pads

Ceramic pads are made out of a dense type of ceramic material (similar to pottery that is fired inside of a kiln) and have copper fibers embedded in it. The Vehicle lab notes that ceramic pads have been used since the 1980s and were developed to be used as a replacement for organic brake pads. Ceramic pads are usually easier on rotors compared to semi-metallic pads.

Pros:

  • Stable under a broad temperature range for consistent performance
  • Longer lifespan compared to semi-metallic or organic
  • Produces lighter-colored and finer brake dust that doesn’t stick to the wheels
  • Quieter compared to semi-metallic pads. The noises emitted are above the human hearing range

Cons:

  • Provides all-around good braking characteristics, but weren’t designed as racing brake pads or heavy-duty brake pads
  • Not as much cold bite is produced compared to semi-metallic pads – might not be ideal in climates that are extremely cold
author avatar Written by Paul Hadley

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