Why Brake Pads?
The most important safety feature of any vehicle is the brake system, and the most important parts of a braking system are the brake pads. Worn out brake pads will decrease a car's stopping power and increase your likelihood of getting into an accident. Brake pads that have worn will also damage rotors and calipers, which will lead to expensive repairs. Changing your brake pads is one of the cheapest ways to improve your safety on the road. A brake pad change is easy enough for any car owner to do in a garage or driveway.
HOW DOES A BRAKE PAD WORK?
The disc brakes on a car work almost exactly like the brakes on a bicycle, two brake pads clamp down on the outside of a wheel and slow the vehicle down. The main difference between a bike's brakes and a car's is that instead of clamping down on the actual wheel, a car's brake pads clamp down on the disc that sits inside the wheel. The car's brake disc, also called a brake rotor, is the shiny metal piece visible through the spokes of the wheel. Brake pads actually convert a car's kinetic energy into thermal energy. The heat generated by this conversion can cause brake pads to fade and lose some of their stopping power during intense use. For that reason, cars used for racing or long trips towing heavy trailers should always have upgraded brake pads that reduce fade.
WHEN DO I NEED TO CHANGE MY BRAKE PADS?
There are two easy ways to tell if your brake pads are worn. The best way to tell is to take a look at the pad through the viewing hole in your caliper. Every pad is different, and the minimum thickness can be found either in the packaging for the pads or from the manufacturer of the brake pads. Most pads have a minimum thickness of about 1/8 inch. The second and much less safe way to tell you need new brake pads is to wait for them to tell you. Most brake pads have a metal tab that emits a high pitched screeching or squeaking noise when it rubs on the rotor, telling you that your pad is too thin and it's time to replace it. If your brake pads are worn and you hear screeching, it's time to replace your pads as soon as possible. A worn out brake pad will have reduced stopping power and will fade much more quickly than a fresh pad. Also, the metal tab that causes the brakes to squeak can gouge the brake rotor, in which case you'll need to replace that too, which can be expensive.
CERAMIC VS METALLIC BRAKE PADS
Ceramic brake pads have been used in production cars since the mid 1980s. Ceramic pads use copper instead of the steel found in semi-metallic pads. The use of copper in ceramic brake pads provides more resistance to brake fade under heavy use because copper transfers heat much better than steel. After hard braking a semi-metallic brake pad will take longer to recover to its maximum stopping power than a ceramic pad would.
Ceramic brake pads usually have a much longer life than semi-metallic pads and will often be quieter and less likely to vibrate. The dust from ceramic brake pads is much lighter in color than the resin used in semi-metallic pads. Ceramic brake dust is also much less sticky than semi-metallic brake dust. Because of this, ceramic brake pads are popular on cars with nice wheels because they substantially reduce the amount of cleaning the car's wheels require. Ceramic pads contain less metal than semi-metallic pads, which is good because the metal in brake dust can damage the finish on wheels when brake dust is allowed to sit on the wheel.