Replacing Brake Pads

How to replace worn pads
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Brake pads should really be called friction pads. Brake pads use a combination of force and friction to slow the vehicle down when the brakes are applied. There are also brake shoes. The difference between the two is that brake pads clamp themselves onto a rotating disc to convert the driving force of a moving vehicle into heat in order to stop the vehicle, whereas brake shoes push out against a rotating drum in order to accomplish the same task.

Brake pads and rotors are wear items that for obvious reasons should be checked and replaced on a regular basis.

While some vehicles have disc brakes and others drums, the end result of hitting the brakes should ideally be the same either way-foot goes down and car, truck, or giant RV stops. Another function of the brake pad material is to keep the discs from getting gummed up with the friction material that the pads themselves are made of. Each time the brake pads clamp themselves onto the rotor and stop the vehicle, a small amount of the material turns from brake pad into dust. A smaller amount of the brake rotor itself also turns into dust. This dust unfortunately deposits itself all over the wheels. Brake pads and rotors are wear items that for obvious reasons should be checked and replaced on a regular basis.

Read the Signs

While swapping in a new set of pads for worn out old ones seems pretty simple, it's a task to nonetheless take very seriously. A service manual is crucial, as a mistake or shortcut made during brake assembly could have dire circumstances. Minimum thicknesses of brake pads and rotors are rules to live and keep living by. New brake pads should never be installed on worn rotors into malfunctioning calipers. Particular care should be taken with ABS systems. All that said, the next choice to be made in a brake pad replacement is the characteristics of the brake pad material itself.

In the world of brake pad material, there is no one best material that works for every situation. Brake pad material designed for everyday moderate driving will quickly overheat during performance driving and cause rapid wear along with brake fade. On the other hand, high performance brake pad material will never get hot enough to create braking friction under normal street driving. Another rule of thumb is the more aggressive the brake material, the more rapid rotor or drum wear will occur. Noise is also a concern as with greater performance more noise is to be expected.

Secret Recipe

The key to selecting the right material is to determine what type of brake pad material best suits your driving style. If driving down to the corner store and returning the occasional video is your routine, then super-performance pads are not required and may actually bring a decrease in around-town performance. If track days or canyon runs are marked out on your driving calendar, then a higher performance pad may be just the ticket as standard compounds won't hold up to that kind of driving punishment. On the everyday list of brake pads are those made of organic materials. Organic pads feature moderate stopping power and wear along with low or no noise.

Next up in line are the metallic or semi-metallic pads. Actual metal embedded in the pad material makes these pads more aggressive-but can also bring more noise and disc wear along to the stopping party. Semi-metallic pads can be considered for an upgrade over organics. The latest and greatest brake pad material is ceramic. The ceramic compounds are said to offer the best of both worlds, with superior stopping power and long wear along with low or no noise. Another bonus to ceramics is low dusting-which can keep those fancy wheels cleaner longer. Within these general compound guidelines there are many variants. To rule out guesswork, stick with OEM (Original Equipment Manufacture)-specified material and upgrade only if a suitable replacement is available.

Make Your Bed

Like a fresh baseball glove or a new set of shoes, the brake pads should be broken-in, or bedded-in for best results. After making certain the system is in operating order and the installation is complete, hit the road and bed-in the brake pads. One method is to drive the vehicle and make 8-10 full stops at moderate speeds followed by a cool-down period. Pick a boulevard with a good amount of stoplights but not a ton of traffic. After the eighth or tenth stop, park the vehicle and allow the brakes to cool for around 20 minutes. Go grab a burger and shake or quadruple latte. Do not apply the parking brake during this cool off period. Do not drag brakes during cool off. After lunch or latte perform exactly the same procedure on the way back to home base. Eight to 10 roll-and-stops followed by a cool down period without use of the parking brake. This procedure heat-cycles the materials in the pads so that they can keep a balance of friction while preventing the discs from getting gummed up with pad material.

Keep in mind that brake pad bed-in recommendations vary by manufacturer. Performance pads may require specific bed-in procedures unique to material in the pad. Performing a bed-in prior to normal use is a good way to insure peak performance and longevity of any brake pad after an install. Follow along with the step-by-steps for more tips for slowing down.


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