If you’re looking for cheap car mods that you can do yourself, upgrading the brakes is one of the simplest (and quickest) upgrades you can do. Sure, it may not release any more power, and in everyday use, they won’t help to break your best lap record for the commute. But, they’ll give you more safety, better-stopping power, and increased distances to react to a ‘situation’.
In most cases, brake pads are simple, quick, and easy to install. The added bonus is that they may not even cost you much more than the standard pads. However, some high-performance pads can be a bit expensive.
You don’t have to be a wannabe racer either. Upgrading the brakes can help with many situations like towing a heavy load, better wet-weather performance, and reducing the dust that sticks to the paintwork. These are all valid reasons for changing out your brake pads.
The Best Brake Pads
We’ve chosen eight different styles, brands, or uses of brake pads. We’ve given more of a general overview rather than a full, in-depth product review, but it’s enough information to get you started.
These are light truck or SUV pads. They’re a much-needed upgrade for most vehicles of these types. Because you’re driving a heavier vehicle, the manufacturers tend to overlook stopping power. I personally feel they’re shortchanging us slightly.
Whether you’re just fun day driving or hauling a load, a truck or SUV tends to lack a bit of braking efficiency. These pads are designed to change that. They fit in a standard caliper, with a standard rotor so there’s no need to upgrade anything else. They also offer superior braking power, shorter braking distances, and less dust.
Using the same (proven) compound as the SuperDuty pads, these brake pads work great thanks to the factory burnishing.
This is another ceramic based brake pad. Hawk uses a special process at their factory that’s almost like pre-breaking in of the pads. Once installed (which is as simple as fitting a regular OEM pad), they’ll work efficiently almost from the off.
These pads are designed to give maximum efficiency and stopping power. The material used means that whatever the conditions, these pads will haul you to a stop in no time at all. They’re also pretty quiet when up to operating temperature, however, perhaps a little noisier when cold.
All in, these ceramic brake pads offer an excellent alternative to the EBC stuff.
Big rigs aren’t so much about performance, but that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from a performance brake pad. It’s just a different kind of performance. When it comes to stopping a huge amount of weight, your brakes need to be in the best shape possible. The SuperDuty pads from Hawk give you that edge.
Designed to fit straight in the caliper as a direct replacement, the main difference between these and OEM pads is that Hawk has used a ferro-carbon composite material to maximize the efficiency of the braking. The added bonus of this material is that it also reduces unwanted brake dust. They’re perfect for keeping a clean image.
There aren’t many ‘high performance’ brakes for rigs, so these have to be #1 on the list if you’re a commercial hauler.
The Yellow pads from EBC are the highest performing pads available from EBC. They are still capable of being used safely on the road. They don’t need extreme temperatures to give great stopping power. However, it does improve slightly when fully up to their working temps.
Think extreme performance vehicle (race car, hyper car, and even big rigs) and you’re there. Again, they have the similar features of the other pads from EBC – beveled edges, center groove, and unique coating to help with breaking them in from new. They’re still pretty noise-free when compared to other super sport brake pads.
EBC is a leading specialist in braking tech. Choosing any one of these pads will result in a significant upgrade over OEM braking efficiency.
The Redstuff pads are kind of like a step up from the Greenies. They have been designed for bigger, faster vehicles. For example, genuine sports cars, muscle cars, and fast European sedans (think along the lines of the BMW M5).
The basic design is the same as the Greenstuff pads (and Yellowstuff), but as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The material is ceramic based and when at the full operating temperature they can reduce braking distances by as much as 42′. That could be the difference between hitting something or not. If you’re using the car on a circuit, that sort of stopping power will make a huge difference to your times.
Finally, these produce way less brake dust than the typical sports pad, so they’re great for showin’ and goin’.
The EBC Greenstuff pads have been designed for use on sporty compacts and imported / European sedans. They’re designed for those drivers looking to make the most of less cluttered roads. Those wanting to make a bit of progress as they say.
Because it has a slightly harder compound, they produce around 30% less dust than standard pads. They have a number of great features including a center line slot for dust removal and cooling, beveled edges, and factory shims that fit between the piston and pad. You’ll not need anything special for these pads. They fit completely as standard, and even break-in as you’d expect from an OEM pad.
It sounds a little nerdy, but I also really like the color of them. For other gearheads, they’ll be able to see that you’ve really thought about the upgrades you’ve done, rather than just driven through an accessory store.
Again, these are similar to the Greenies from EBC and the HPS from Hawk. They offer better braking for regular cars and vehicles, not just sports cars or racers.
They’re designed with a high-temperature compound. They work in cold as well and offer a significant increase in braking power and longevity over standard pads. They also come with the anti-squeal shims that fit between the pad and the piston. These make a dramatic difference to the noise output, especially when fitted with some high temp compound like copaslip.
They work great straight out the box because of the treatment from the factory which helps to shorten the break-in period. Great value pad for those that don’t want to get all racey.
The HPS pad from Hawk is like the equivalent of the EBC Greenstuff. It’s a pad for regular cars and drivers that want something a little more than a standard OEM or aftermarket pad.
The compound is a ferro-carbon composite. It helps to increase braking power, reduce brake fade (some decent brake fluid can also help with that), and minimizes wear to the rotor. This gives the braking setup a longer life.
If you’re looking for something that isn’t too extreme, doesn’t create noise, or produces excessive dust, then these pads have to be on the list of best brake pads.
Deciding What You Need
As with all mods and upgrades, you need to give some thought as to what will work for you, your vehicle, and what your requirements are. Fitting a high-performance brake pad that only starts working when it gets seriously hot won’t be much use for a trip along the highway in heavy traffic. Equally, choosing a pad that wears quickly will get very boring (and expensive) when you’re changing them twice a year.
To an extent, the vehicle itself will help with pad selection. Some pads will only fit European sedans or compacts, while others could be SUV fittings only. The point is that just because it’s not standard equipment, or marketed as a ‘performance’ upgrade, it may not actually work for you or your vehicle.
Fitting brake pads is a relatively easy job even if you have limited mechanical skills. However, please be aware that brake pads are literally all that’s stopping you from having an accident. If you install them wrong, you can significantly damage your car (at best) and at worst, well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
Use the correct tools for the job. A pair of water pump pliers makes no substitute for a professional piston wind-back tool (and there’s a high chance you’ll damage the piston or rubber.) By their very nature, caliper bolts are designed to be tight. If you get the wrong wrench size, you’ll have no end of grief removing the bolt.
Make sure that the caliper is clean and free from dust. Also, make sure that if it’s a ‘floating’ caliper that slides on a pin, that the pin and mechanism are clean and that it slides easily. If not, you’ll lose braking efficiency and probably wear out one single pad prematurely.
Also, make sure that the new pads are a good fit. Sometimes a little ‘dressing’ is needed where the pads have been powder coated to ensure that they’re free to move. However, you don’t want excessive movement in the caliper. Similar to a floating caliper, if the pad sticks and can’t move, you’ll lose braking power and wear them prematurely.
Some brake pads have a coating on the reverse side to stop noise transference and to stop the piston from bonding to the pad. If your new pads don’t have this coating, you should use some sort of high-temperature grease on the back of the pad instead. However, do not get any of the greases on the braking surface itself.
Finally, when refitting the road wheels, give the wheel hubs and wheel faces (where they mount the hubs) a thorough clean with some sort of wire brush. This ensures that the wheels are running true and straight.
While you’re there, apply some of the same high temp greases to the mating surfaces to make the wheels easier to get off in the future. It’s simple mechanics, but small things like this can make all the difference over time. You won’t regret doing the job right, but you may just regret getting it wrong.
Don’t forget to torque the wheels up properly, and if you’re unsure of anything, take professional advice before starting.