When the car was first invented, the method of slowing it down was to use a wooden block that would press against the wheel, forcing it to slow down. When cars went only 15-20 miles per hour top speed, this was an okay system of braking, but it led to numerous problems. Since then, many people have worked to create improved braking systems, leading to the creation and implementation of disc brakes, hydraulic brakes, drum brakes, and anti-lock brakes (ABS). No matter the system though, the primary function is a lever applies pressure to the wheels to slow and stop the vehicle, even from high speeds. Unfortunately, however, this causes immense friction and wear on the brakes, which means that they need to be often replaced to keep them functioning properly.
If you’re in need of new brakes, which system is right for you? The different variables you need to consider are noise, brake dust, and, above all, stopping power. There are four types of brake pads used in today’s autos. Each system has it’s own benefits and downsides, so let’s “brake” them down (sorry).
four types of brake pads
Non-Asbestos Organic (NAO)
For a long time, brake pads were made of copper and asbestos to distribute heat evenly and keep the pad from wearing down too quickly. However, in the 1980’s, it was discovered that the dust created by the asbestos was harmful to your health, so it was discontinued. Nowadays, these pads use organic materials, ranging from various fibers (such as Kevlar), glass and rubber. They are held together with a high-temperature resin. These pads distribute heat well, but can wear down quicker than metal pads.
Low Metal NAO
Similar to the pads listed above, the major difference here is that these have some metal mixed in with the organic materials (usually about 30%). The addition of metal means that they last longer than regular NAO brakes, but they can be noisier as a result.
Using a mixture of iron powder, steel wool, and copper, these brake pads are about 40-65% metal along with inorganic fillers. Because they are metallic, they last a lot longer than NAO pads, but they do create more noise and can wear down the rotors faster. They do have excellent heat transfer, although they may not work optimally in frigid conditions.
Probably one of the best types of pad out there, ceramic brakes are the cleanest, quietest type around. These are made of ceramic fibers, combined with other non-organic ingredients to make a superior pad that won’t wear down as fast as other types. However, the benefits of ceramic do come at a cost, so if you decide to get these, then plan to pay extra for them.
When it comes to brakes, you want to consider the long-term use of the car. If you have an older vehicle that may be replaced within a few years, then you probably don’t want to spring for top of the line ceramic brakes. If you drive a lot, then semi-metallic brakes can be a great option; however just keep in mind that replacing them may mean replacing the rotors as well. If you want a cheap, efficient option, though, then NAO pads would be a good bet, as long as you don’t mind replacing them more frequently.