Three best brake pads
Worn brake pads aren't just noisy and dirty, they threaten the safety of anyone in the car, and that of other road users. Changing them is a straightforward job for most home auto enthusiasts, so it's just a question of finding the right replacements.
The easy solution is to fit the same ones used by the vehicle manufacturer. However, you can probably save money and possibly improve performance by looking elsewhere. Our buyer's guide explains the alternatives and discusses the benefits of some of the best brake pads currently available.
Considerations when choosing brake pads
Compatibility is vital
During our research we came across a common complaint: the brake pads I bought don't fit my vehicle. While it's not always the customer's fault, in many cases the problem is a lack of accuracy when ordering.
Vehicle manufacturers are constantly looking to improve their products, so one year's model can differ from the next--and often that difference is under the skin.
When ordering replacement brake pads, it is crucial to check make, model, and year. If the match is not exact, it's best to assume they will not fit. Unless your vehicle is rare, you will have plenty of choice elsewhere.
Choosing the right brake pads
The main choice you have to make is the brake pad material: organic, ceramic, and semi-metallic.
Organic brake pads are cheap--typically $20 to $30 per pair. They were originally made of asbestos, which is great at dissipating heat but has been identified as carcinogenic. Current versions are NAO: non asbestos organic. They might contain carbon fibers, rubber, kevlar, and glass, held together with resin.
Around two-thirds of new U.S. vehicles leave the factory with organic pads. Their disadvantage is that they wear comparatively quickly.
Ceramic brake pads cost little more--around $30 to $50 per pair--but their performance and durability makes them by far the most popular choice as replacements. The material is similar to household pottery (which is good at handling high temperatures) with metal fibers embedded to increase braking force. Historically these were copper, but for environmental reasons this is being replaced by alloys.
Ceramic pads are a great all-rounder, and the best choice for most drivers. They suit the majority of vehicles in day-to-day driving conditions.
Semi-metallic brake pads are a high-performance option, and costs reflect that. You're unlikely to find a pair under $60, and you could pay upwards of $140. What you get is a combination of metals and minerals that provide superior friction with fast heat dissipation. They are best-suited to heavy vehicles, sports cars, and performance sedans. They're also better in wet conditions.
They last longer than other types, but they can create more noise and dust, and are harder on brake rotors.
Brakes pads are inclined to squeal when new. Some are chamfered to combat this issue. If your brakes are still noisy after 100 miles or so, check for faults.
Most brake pads take a while to reach maximum effectiveness. Manufacturers usually advise a bedding-in period. Scorching is a technique used with high-performance pads to dramatically reduce or eliminate this, so you can use their full abilities right away.
Brake rotors are much harder than pads, and last much longer. Check them when you change your pads anyway. If they're pitted or scored, they can damage your pads and require replacing at the same time.
Q. Should I change the brake pads on all four wheels at the same time?
A. It's important to change the brakes on the wheels that share the same axle, but it may not be necessary to change them all. Pre-ABS vehicles tend to put more wear on the front brake pads. Most ABS has the opposite effect, because it's generally applied to the rear wheels.
Q. How will I know when my brake pads need changing?
A. Increases in braking distances sneak up on you and can go unnoticed. You might feel vibrations through the steering wheel, or excessive noise. The only way to know for sure is to check regularly--recommended every 10,000 miles. If you don't, the calipers can damage your brake rotors, and replacing them is expensive.
Brake pads we recommend
Best of the best: AC Delco Professional Ceramic Disc Brake Pad Set
Our take: The performance and durability you'd expect from one of the leading brands.
What we like: Precision manufacture for smooth action and low wear rates. Factory issue on all GM vehicles, and fits hundreds of others. Meets international test standards.
What we dislike: Can be noisy at first, and take a while to bed-in.
Best bang for your buck: Bosch QuietCast Premium Ceramic Disc Brake Pads
Our take: Top manufacturer delivers excellent value without compromising quality.
What we like: Superbly engineered pads focus on great performance and durability. Rubber shims reduce noise, powder coating stops rust. Copper-free pad formula is environmentally-friendly.
What we dislike: Some experience uneven wear. Can be noisier than expected.
Choice 3: StopTech Street Performance Brake Pads
Our take: A great choice for sports vehicles and enthusiastic drivers.
What we like: Scorched structure needs little or no warm-up time. Pad compound delivers consistent 'feel' and minimal fade when hot. Precision fit reduces noise.
What we dislike: Expensive. Sometimes dusty. Limited compatibility.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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