The braking system of your vehicle is probably its most important safety mechanism. However, even if you use your brakes day in and day out to safely reach your destination, chances are you don’t pay much attention to what happens every time you press on that brake pedal. You might not even realize the role that brake pads play, either.
To give you a good idea, you need to learn how the braking system of your car works. Every time you step on the brake pedal, the vehicle pushes the pressurized fluid through the brake lines into a caliper at every wheel, which is the location of the pads. The brake fluid will push the pads against the disc rotor in every wheel so that it will slow down to bring your wheels to a stop little by little.
Simply put, the brake system of your car transforms kinetic energy into thermal energy through the friction that the pads apply. There are two types of pads you can choose from to help you choose which best suits your driving style and your vehicle.
Short History of Brake Pads
Today, drivers can often choose between three different types of pads, namely organic, semi-metallic, and ceramic. However, it wasn’t the case in the past. The first recorded use of these pads was during the 19th century.
The famous inventor Bertha Benz, who was also the spouse of Karl Benz, the founder of Mercedes Benz, is credited for the development of the first pads made from leather in 1888 for an early patent of their vehicle.
From then on, the materials used for making the pads have changed with technological advances. It was only during the mid to late 20th century when modern disc brakes started replacing drum brakes that manufacturers also began rolling out organic, metallic, and ceramic pads used to this day.
The pads in the disc brakes were originally developed from asbestos, which is a type of material that absorbs heat and is suitable for the wear and tear that the pads are exposed to. But it was soon discovered that asbestos is a highly potent carcinogen and prolonged exposure to it can cause cancer.
Once the pads made from asbestos had worn down, asbestos is released into the air, with drivers inhaling it without them even knowing it. Manufacturers soon realized that asbestos is an unsafe compound to use in their braking systems. It led to the development of organic pads, also called NAO or non-asbestos pads intending to fill the gap.
These organic pads that are now standard in almost all new vehicles are made of a combination of fibers and other materials like fiberglass or glass, carbon compounds, rubber, and Kevlar, with resin binding everything together. These pads produce less dust compared to other types like metallic pads. These are also available at cheaper prices.
Unlike performance pads that are mainly used in high-performance and heavy vehicles, organic pads produce a moderate amount of friction with no excessive heat present. It makes them more appropriate for drivers who use their vehicles for daily commutes and driving. Organic pads are also more silent without putting too much stress on brake rotors. It is a big plus because brake rotors are frequently more expensive to replace or repair if damaged.
But organic pads also have some downsides compared to other available brake pad options. These pads have the tendency to wear out faster due to their composite nature, which means they may require more frequent replacements.
These pads also function best under smaller temperature ranges. These don’t perform as well as their semi-metallic counterparts if they overheat and are pushed too hard or under extreme weather. Organic pads also have a higher level of compressibility, which means drivers should use more force to press on the brake pedal just to engage them.
Ceramic Brake Pads
These pads are developed from material that is the same as the type of ceramic used for making plates and pottery. However, the ceramic brake pad is denser and remarkably more durable. These ceramic pads are also embedded with fine copper fibers to help improve their heat conductivity and friction.
Since they were first developed during the mid-1980s, ceramic pads have constantly become more popular because of several reasons:
- Wear and tear residue
Unlike organic pads, ceramic pads produce a smaller amount of dust as well as other particles when worn down.
- Driving conditions and temperature
Unlike organic pads, ceramic pads are more reliable in various driving conditions and temperatures.
- Noise level
Ceramic pads are very quiet and produce little to no additional sound during the application of the brakes.
However, ceramic pads have their limitations as well, mainly their cost. As a result of the higher costs of manufacturing, ceramic pads are the most expensive out of all the different types of brake pads. Since both copper and ceramic can’t absorb as much heat as other kinds of materials, most heat that the braking produces will pass through the pads and the other parts of the braking system.
The semi-metallic brake pad is different from a full metal pad as it uses fillers to produce the pad compound rather than using 100% metal. The full metal pads are often meant for very extreme braking needs.
These semi-metallic pads are anywhere between 30 and 70 percent metal, which includes steel, iron, copper, and other types of composite alloys. The different metals are mixed with graphite lubricant as well as other fillers to produce the pad. There are different available varieties of metallic brake pad compounds, with each type having its benefits for anything, including daily commutes and track racing.
But these pads also have their drawbacks. Metallic pads are often noisier than their organic or ceramic counterparts which can lead to a louder ride. Pads made from metal also tend to apply more stress to your car’s brake system, which can add more wear and strain to the brake rotors. Metallic brake pads cost somewhere between ceramic and organic pads. They also create more brake dust than the two varieties.