Ceramic Brake Pads Pros & Consby William Lynch
Brake pads have progressed a great deal over the years. Asbestos pads used to be the standard, until health concerns opened the door for semi-metallic pads to take the lead. The first ceramic brake pads were used for certain equipment applications in 1985. They started making their way to commercial automobiles in the early 1990s. Today, ceramic brake pads are used, with pros and cons.
Brake pads are responsible for actually stopping the car. When the brake pedal is pushed in a disc brake system, it activates calipers that press the brake pads against the tire rotors. The brake pads must be able to absorb enough energy and heat to grip the tire and reduce speed.
The surfaces of ceramic brake pads are made from ceramic materials and copper fibers. This is in stark contrast to semi-metallic pads which use steel wool and fibers. While steel is strong and conducts heat away from the rotors, it’s noisy and actually acts as an abrasive, contributing to rotor wear and tear. In comparison, ceramic brake pads are much quieter. They handle extremely high temperatures with little fade, allowing them to recover quickly and cause less damage to rotors. The ceramic compounds dampen noise and shift vibrations to frequencies higher than the human ear can detect, rendering annoying squeals a thing of the past. When ceramic brake pads wear down, they produce finer, lighter dust than their semi-metallic counterparts. The dust doesn’t stick to wheels, keeping them cleaner. Studies have also indicated ceramic brake pads have longer life spans without ever sacrificing of noise control, rotor life or braking performance.
Ceramic brake pads have three features not found on other pads: chamfers, slots and insulator shims. The specially angled or beveled edges of a ceramic brake pad are called chamfers. They reduce the pad’s surface area, creating more gripping pressure and reducing noise when brakes are first applied. Ceramic brake pads also feature slots or grooves cut into the pad to change vibration frequency and to permit gas and dust to escape under high temperatures. Insulator shims are yet another measure taken to reduce noise. They provide an additional layer to absorb sound and dampen vibrations.
Not all ceramic brake pads are the same. The exact composition of the ceramic-based friction material varies among manufacturers. It’s important to know the exact ceramic materials used, their particle sizes, distribution and hardness, because all these factors can affect performance.
Ceramic brake pads tend to be more expensive than semi-metallic pads. Ceramic pads aren’t suitable for all applications. Never use ceramic pads to replace the semi-metallic pads on larger, heavier trucks and SUVs, since the metal linings may be required to manage the hefty weights and increased temperatures.
- photo_camera Bartłomiej Szewczyk/iStock/Getty Images