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 every day 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, a simple brake pad swap is just that – simple, quick and easy, and the added bonus is that they may not even cost you much more than the standard pads (although some high performance pads can be a bit … spendy).
You don’t have to be a wannabee racer either – upgrading the brakes can help with many situations … towing a heavy load, better wet weather performance, reducing the dust that sticks to the paintwork … all valid reasons for changing out the best brake pads.
The Best Brake Pads
I’ve chosen eight different styles, brands or uses of brake pads, so I’m sure that somewhere in that list, you’ll be covered. I’ve given more of a generic overview rather than a full, in-depth product review, but it’s enough information to get you started.
1. EBC Brakes Greenstuff Pads
The EBC Greenstuff pads have been designed for use on sporty compacts and imported / European sedans, with an eye to those drivers looking to make the most of less cluttered roads – wanting to make a bit of progress as they say.
Thanks to the slightly harder compound, the produce around 30% less dust than standard pads, and they have a number of great features – 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 to do anything specific 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, and 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.
2. EBC Brakes Redstuff Pads
The Redstuff pads are kind of like a step up from the Greenies, and have been designed for bigger, faster vehicles … 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 full operating temperature they can reduce braking distances by as much as 42’ … that could be the difference between hitting something or not, and 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’.
3. EBC Brakes Yellowstuff Pads
Another step up again … the Yellow pads from EBC are the highest performing pads available from EBC, and are still capable of being used safely on the road – they don’t need extreme temperatures to give great stopping power, although 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, and they’re still pretty noise-free when compared to other super sport brake pads.
EBC are a leading specialist in braking tech, choosing any one of these pads will result in a significant upgrade over OEM braking efficiency.
4. Hawk Performance Ceramic Brake Pads
Another ceramic based brake pad, but Hawk use a special process at their factory that’s almost like pre-breaking in of the pads, so 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, although perhaps a little noisier when cold.
All in, these ceramic brake pads offer an excellent alternative to the EBC stuff.
5. Hawk HP Superduty Brake Pads
Big rigs aren’t so much about performance, but that doesn’t mean they don’t benefit from an 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 have 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 – 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.
6. Hawk Performance LTS Brake Pads
These are light truck or SUV pads, and they’re a much needed upgrade for most vehicles of these types … just because you’re driving a heavier vehicle, the manufacturers tend to overlook stopping power, and I personally feel they’re short changing us slightly.
Whether you’re just funday driving or hauling a load, a truck or SUV tends to lack a bit of braking efficiency, and 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, and they offer superior braking power, shorter braking distances and less dust.
Using the same (proven) compound as the SuperDuty pads, these brake pads work great straight from the off, thanks to the factory burnishing.
7. Hawk HPS Brake Pads
The HPS pad from Hawk is like the equivalent of the EBC Greenstuff – 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, which helps to increase braking power, reduce brake fade (although some decent brake fluid can help with that) and minimizes wear to the rotor, giving the braking setup a longer life – it’s a win-win situation.
If you’re looking for something that isn’t too extreme, creates noise or excessive dust, then these pads have to be on the list of best brake pads.
8. StopTech Street Performance Brake Pad
Again, these are similar to the Greenies from EBC and the HPS from Hawk – better braking for regular cars and vehicles, not just sports cars or racers.
Designed with a high temperature compound, although they work form cold as well, they 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, thanks to the treatment from factory which helps to shorten the break in period. Great value pad for those that don’t want to get all racey.
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; trust me, I’ve done that.
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 fitment only, I guess the point I’m making 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.
Finally, just some short but useful information on new pads …
Fitting brake pads is a relatively easy job, even if you have limited mechanical skills, but please be aware that this is really all that’s quite literally stopping you from having accident – get this wrong and you can significantly damage your car (at best), at worst … it doesn’t bear thinking about.
Use the correct tools for the job – a pair of waterpump pliers makes no substitute for a professional piston wind-back tool (and there’s a high chance you’ll damage the piston or rubber), and by their very nature, caliper bolts are designed to be tight – get the wrong wrench size and you’ll have no end of grief removing the bolt.
Make sure that the caliper is clean, free from dust and that if it’s a ‘floating’ caliper that slides on a pin, the pin and mechanism are clean and that it slides easily, or 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 (although 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, but … and it’s a very big but … do not get any of the grease 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 grease 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.