Ceramic Vs. Organic Brake Pads

by Lee Sallings

As automotive brake systems have evolved, the need for improvements in brake-pad efficiency has been addressed by auto manufacturers. The organic pad compounds of the 1970s didn't provide the performance needed for today's cars and trucks. There were also serious health concerns with the asbestos used in the organic compounds.

Today's cars and light trucks need brake pads that operate at high temperatures and are efficient across a broad temperature range. Issues to consider when choosing brake pads include temperature range, noise, wear life, and dusting. Ceramic pads meet those needs much better than organic pads.


Today's cars and light trucks need brake pads that operate at high temperatures and are efficient across a broad temperature range. Organic brake pads operated in a narrow temperature range, and cooling of the brakes was critical to their safe operation. That required larger brake systems with enough mass to readily absorb and dispel heat caused by brake friction. Beginning in the 1980s, engineers started downsizing brake systems to reduce the weight of vehicles. A need arose for pads that operated across a broader heat range, and today we have ceramic brake pads that can withstand the stresses of the most undersized brake systems.


As an answer to the performance problems of organic pads, semi-metallic pads were developed to help improve heat resistance. Constructed of steel and bronze, along with carbon, those pads worked at a higher heat range, but metallic pads increased brake noise. Today's ceramic compounds do not result in similar noise problems because the compound is soft enough to absorb noise-causing vibrations.


With the high carbon and graphite contents of non-asbestos organic pads came black brake dust, and lots of it. The ceramic pad, while still producing a small amount of dust, produces a light colored dust that is less likely to stick to and stain wheels.

Long Life

Organic pads didn't last long. The replacement semi-metallic pads lasted longer, but wear on brake drums and rotors was unacceptable. The ceramic pad gives us extended pad life without excessive rotor wear.


Asbestos was originally used in organic pads; when the environmental problems of asbestos became known, manufacturers created non-asbestos organic and semi-metallic pad compounds. The original asbestos based pads are no longer available due to health concerns, and were removed from that market in the mid 1980s. The replacement non-asbestos organic and semi metallic pads are still available, but cannot compete with ceramic pads for performance.

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