The most common questions our customer service advisors are being asked on a daily basis are regarding brake pads. “What’s the difference between ceramic and metallic brake pads?”, “What are organic brakes?”, “What is the best choice of brake rotors for my car?” and so on.
The short answer: there are several important differences and the right choice depends on many factors. Also, the truth is, there has never been and probably never will be “the perfect, universal brake” for any vehicle, driving style and preferences. This article, will however, decode the differences and help you to make the best decision you can, but keep an open mind, as you will have to make compromises…
A VERY BRIEF HISTORY
Some of the first braking mechanisms in the automotive industry were made of asbestos, which, at the time, was an excellent choice of material for the heat absorption. It was widely used until the early 70’s, when due to the health risks, was replaced with metallic and organic compounds.
ORGANIC BRAKE PADS
Nope, you are not in a grocery store at all. The organic brake pads are a real thing and are made from natural materials such as glass and rubber, often reinforced with synthetic Kevlar, that have been bonded together with high heat resistant compounds. These kind of brake pads are the most inexpensive option, they are much softer, quieter, but also wear much faster. For this reason, they are mostly used in small, lightweight city vehicles.
- Softness and fairly quiet operations
- They do not need to produce much heat to generate good friction
- They produce less dust than metallic pads
- Perfect for every day vehicles and “sensible”, steady drivers
- Relatively limited operating temperature range
- Wear out quickly compared to other types of brake pads
- High compressibility – can cause “mushy” feel when braking
- Quickly lose friction when overheated
- Not at all suitable for performance driving
METALLIC BRAKE PADS
Now, these are much harder, and definitely more durable. Metallic pads are made from 30-65% metal by weight, typically consisting of steel, iron, copper, graphite etc. They are excellent for transferring the heat, providing good performance, and resistance to brake fade is superior to the organic brake systems.
Many exotic and prestige car drivers prefer the metallic brake pads because they offer improved performance and work perfectly in a wider range of temperatures and conditions. However, there are some important disadvantages to metallic brake pads: they are noisier than ceramic or organic brake pads, transferring more noise onto the cabin and are harsh on the brake system, adding more strain and wear on the brake rotors.
- Superior braking performance over organic pads
- Can withstand much higher operating temperatures
- Even when cold they are still able to provide good performance, but with a slightly firmer brake pedal feel
- Better resistance to brake fade than organic pads
- They are suitable for many driving conditions, including track racing
- Noisier than organic or ceramic pads
- They produce more brake dust
- Wear brake rotors faster as they are far more abrasive than other types
- They are more expensive than organic pads, but generally cheaper than ceramic
CERAMIC BRAKE PADS
Ceramic pads came into the picture much later as they are in use only since 2000’s. They are made of stacked glass ceramic fibres, filler material, bonding agents, and a very small amount of imbedded copper fibres. They are real heat eaters, and they are stopping the high temperature from going back to the hydraulic or calliper system. These pads tend to stay cooler than the metallic ones. Due to these capabilities, their performance stays strong with repeated use and repeated hard stops. Many high performance vehicles now come with ceramic pads as their Original Equipment from the factory.
Carbon Ceramic pads are constructed in one of two ways – either a core of ceramic material reinforced with chopped carbon fibre with an additional ceramic layer on the friction surface or simply the core of ceramic material with chopped carbon fibre and no outer friction layer. They offer up 70% weight saving, improved handling and drivability in both wet and dry conditions, less noise, vibration and harshness, and reduced brake wear. This is why many of the high-performance vehicle manufacturers mount them as standard. You can find them on most of the Ferrari models, Bugatti, Bentley, Lamborghini Huracan and Aventador, McLaren, Pagani, Porsche and Audi performance models.
- The quietest on the market mainly because the noise they produce is above the range of human hearing
- Produce finer dust which does not stick to wheels
- They offer the longest lifespan when compared with organic or metallic pads
- Their excellent thermal efficiency allows optimal performance in a wide range of temperatures
- Price… they are typically, the most expensive, premium type of brakes
- Not best for cold climates as they require a baseline level of temperature for optimal performance which can be hard to achieve on the road in cold climates.
CONFUSED? READ ON
This is the part when you have to make a compromise. If you want clean, quiet stops, you’ll pay for it in braking performance.
Ceramic pads offer quieter operation, cleaner wheels, and generally last longer, but don’t work so effectively when they are cold. They are very often used in performance cars because they shed ever so important weight and resist fade very well. On the other hand, metallic ones are nosier and produce more dust, but they are more versatile of the two.
If you plan on driving your performance car in a spirited way and on track, ceramic pads are the clear choice. But for casual city and steady long-distance driving, commuting, ceramic or organic pads will provide you with ample stopping power, will be quieter, cleaner and will last longer.
Enhancing your vehicle doesn’t have to stop once you’ve found the best brake pads. Read our blog article for the top car modifications that every Ferrari owner should know about for more ideas.