As your car’s primary safety mechanism, brakes are arguably one of the most important parts of a vehicle. Without them, you might as well just run straight into a cliff, a passing pedestrian, or a 10-wheeler rig. That’s how important they are.
In addition to this, just having brakes is not enough, either. You need the right brakes for your vehicle and even your driving style. If there’s a mismatch, there’s a greater chance of failure, which means a greater chance of risking your safety.
In this article, we’re going to talk about the brake pads in your car, particularly two common types, ceramic and organic. We will get in-depth about the main characteristics of each one, and then discuss the crucial things that you should look for to figure out which one you need.
Why Are Brake Pads Important?
Brake pads refer to the steel pieces within your car’s brake system. When you step on the brake pedal, the brake pads apply friction to the braking discs in each of your car’s wheels, causing your car to slow down and eventually stop.
Without these vital components, your vehicle relies on nothing but time to slow it down. This is particularly bad in any type of situation. If you don’t have brakes, not only are you putting yourself and your vehicle in danger, you’re also putting others around you at risk of getting run over.
The thing is, not all brake pads are equal. If you have worn down pads or pads that aren’t suited to your particular vehicle and driving style, then the effectiveness of your braking pads is reduced, therefore also reducing your safety.
This is why you need to have brake pads that fit your circumstances just right. To do that you need to evaluate two of the most prevalent brake pad types in the market: organic and ceramic.
Organic Brake Pads
In this section, we’re going to discuss organic brake pads: what they are, how they stack up in terms of performance, their durability, and their price.
Organic brake pads get their name from the natural raw materials that are used to make them.
Originally, this type of brake pads used asbestos as its primary material since it can easily absorb the wear and tear of daily use. However, manufacturers soon found out that asbestos dissolves as the pads wear out. Not only that, but asbestos was also discovered to be carcinogenic. Long-term exposure to the material significantly increases the risk of cancer.
Today, most new cars fresh from factories are equipped with non-asbestos organic brake pads or NAO. This new type of vehicle brake pads uses materials such as rubber, fiberglass or glass, carbon compounds, and even sometimes Kevlar, all bound together with resin.
Softer than ceramic brake pads, organic brake pads can grip the braking disks well without exerting too much force into the brake rotors. This is the most significant advantage of organic pads, as too much force on the rotors can lead to cracks and breaks, which could be quite expensive to fix.
Organic brake pads are also very quiet due to the yielding nature of the material. A car that doesn’t sound like a dying seal when braking doesn’t contribute as much to noise pollution and is more comfortable to drive around in urban areas.
That said, organic brake pads have some performance issues as well. They can overheat fast, which results in a significant loss of friction. This means they’re not recommended to use in situations where you need multiple, sudden, and hard brakes in a short amount of time, such as in autocross or similar activities. Intensive use will also produce more brake dust.
More than that, organic brake pads also fare best in places with a constant narrow range of temperatures. Due to their tendency to overheat, they shouldn’t be used in extreme weather where that is more likely to happen.
Lastly, organic brake pads have a high compressibility level. Because the primary material used in organic brake pads, rubber, is yielding and not as dense as ceramic, more force is needed for it to press down on the braking disk. This means that the driver needs to press down on the brake pedal more firmly to fully engage organic brakes.
Organic brake pads are made of different materials melded together and bound with resin. Because of this, they tend to wear out quickly, because they don’t have the same bond as something with a uniform chemical composition throughout.
If you use your car for normal driving and don’t need it for long-distance trips too often, then organic brake pads will hold up just fine. However, if you frequently engage in high-speed, brake intensive, and long-distance driving, organic brake pads will wear out faster and will need more frequent replacement.
One aspect that organic brake pads excel in is the price. Because the design and composition of this product rely on materials abundant in nature, they are a lot cheaper to manufacture than other types of brake pads, such as ceramic.
Urban, lightweight vehicles that are used for daily commute tend to need nothing more than organic brake pads, which have the added benefit of being light on the wallet.
To summarize, here are the pros and cons of choosing organic brake pads.
- Inexpensive compared to other types of brake pads
- Cost-effective for lightweight, urban vehicles
- Doesn’t too much pressure on brake rotors
- Produces minimal noise
- Produces a lot of brake dust
- Has a tendency to overheat
- Doesn’t perform well in extreme temperatures
- Needs more force to be effective
- Not suitable for repeated hard braking
Ceramic Brake Pads
Ever since it was first manufactured in the 1980s, this type of brake pad has been steadily gaining popularity all around. In this next section, we’re going to examine why by going through its core characteristics such as material, performance, durability, and price.
Ceramic brake pads, just like organic brake pads, get their name from the main material used to create them.
The ceramic used for brake pads, in particular, is very close to the kind that we see in pottery and dishware, albeit a bit denser for maximum durability.
Prior to 2015, ceramic brake pads also contained copper embedded threads to improve the friction between the pad and the disk, as well as to increase the heat conductivity properties of the material.
However, a mandate by the Environmental Protection Agency dictated that ceramic brake pads contain no more than 0.5% copper content by weight to decrease the metal pollutants generated by brake dust, which often washes away into rivers and other ecosystems. The law has a deadline in the year 2025. As a result, ceramic brake pads have been shedding off copper threadings in their product to meet the deadline.
This type of brake pad is well-loved because of its high-temperature tolerance and all-around consistent performance. Ceramic brake pads can tolerate more temperature ranges than organic brake pads and still maintain peak performance throughout.
In addition to this, ceramic brake pads have been shown to maintain braking capacity, rotor life, and even noise control for a longer time compared to other types of brake pads around.
Like organic pads, ceramic brake pads are also quiet. Instead of a metallic screeching, ceramic brake pads generate noise in a frequency higher than what the human ear can detect. This means that you won’t hear anything coming from ceramic brake pads.
Another well-loved characteristic of ceramic brake pads is the noticeable absence of dust even when they wear down. This is because the ceramic compounds used to manufacture them generate lighter dust that doesn’t stick to wheels.
Lastly, since the material has a low compressibility level, the driver doesn’t need to apply a lot of force to brake effectively. However, ceramic brake pads are also more likely to damage rotors than organic brakes.
Ceramic brake pads have a much longer lifespan compared to organic brake pads. They still get worn down eventually, but they can tolerate more intensive use than their counterpart. They’re good for small to medium-sized vehicles.
However, ceramic brake pads are not as strong as semi-metallic brake pads like the ACDelco Silver 14D785MH, which are built for heavy vehicles that require a ton of friction to stop, like trucks.
Ceramic brake pads are sold at a much higher price point than organic ones. Although there are brake pad types that are more expensive, the increased price is enough justification to buy these pads only when you need them.
If you’re driving a lightweight vehicle for commute, don’t take long-distance rides, and don’t tend to drive very fast, then ceramic brake pads are an impractical choice, financially speaking.
Here’s a summary of all the advantages and disadvantages of ceramic brake pads:
- Quiet application
- Longer lifespan than organic braking pads
- Can tolerate a wider range of temperatures
- Produces less dust than organic brake pads
- Doesn’t need a lot of force to press down
- Significantly more expensive than organic brake pads
- More likely to damage brake rotors
- Not economical for lightweight vehicles
Factors to Consider When Choosing Brake Pads
In this section, we’re going to discuss the most important aspects to consider when shopping around for your vehicle’s brake pads.
If you’re a normal consumer, then you’re likely seeking to bring down the already-hefty maintenance cost of your car.
Replacing your brake pads every so often is going to add up in cost. If you tend to drive very fast, very often, you might want to get ceramic pads instead of organic ones.
At the same time, buying something too sturdy for your car will incur a lot of upfront cost, and it might not be worth it anyway if you don’t frequently use your vehicle. Organic brake pads will be enough if you only use your car to drive to and from work every day.
All brake pads produce dust when they’re used, but in some cases, this dust can stick to your wheels and result in a dirty-looking assemblage that you will then need to clean. The less dust, therefore, the better.
In terms of dust generation, organic brake pads are a huge culprit. Ceramic brake pads still produce dust, but not as much. They also don’t stick as easily to the tires.
High temperatures are a significant issue when choosing brakes because not all brake pads have the same heat tolerance. If a brake pad doesn’t dissipate the heat well, it isn’t just going to wear out faster, it can also compromise your braking capacities.
Get brake pads that are suitable for the weight of your vehicle, the amount of driving you to do, and the intensity of the braking that you often have to perform.
Isn’t it annoying when the car beside you screeches like a banshee every time it brakes? It’s not just you who feels that, but everybody else on the road. A quiet car is a comfortable car, so consider braking noises when choosing a braking pad for your vehicle.
Metallic brake pads are sturdy and heavy-duty, but very noisy. In comparison, ceramic and organic brake pads are much quieter.
Choosing Between Organic vs. Ceramic
Both types of brake pads are reliable products for lightweight to medium-sized vehicles, with overlapping characteristics. Of course, if you drive large and heavy vehicles like trucks, then both options should be a no-go, as they will not keep you safe nor comfortable.
That said, organic brake pads are best for smaller, lighter vehicles that you drive only for commutes. No high-speed, cross-country drives with this type of brakes, sadly. However, it does make up for it by being very cheap and accessible.
On the other hand, ceramic brake pads are more durable and robust. They can tolerate heavier and more frequent use, and can even be suitable for medium-sized cars. You can use these types of brakes if you’re a habitual speeder or need to drive long distances often. But be careful of the price, as it is much higher than organic brake pads.
If you’ve read this far, then you surely have all the information you need to choose between organic or ceramic brake pads.