The Best Brake Pads for Your Vehicle

By Jacob Black

February 19, 2021

It doesn’t matter if you’re throwing out the anchor, hauling on the binders, or jamming on the pedal – when it comes to crunch time, your brakes are the only thing between you and disaster.

The best brake pads offer consistent stopping power and bite, without wearing away at the metal components of your car – like the brake disc and hub assembly. Brake temperatures climb to mind-boggling figures even in normal driving conditions, let alone emergency conditions, and your brake pads need to cope with more stresses, more often, than just about any other component in your vehicle.

As technology and manufacturing techniques have evolved the cost of replacing your pads has come down significantly. With such a huge range of cost and performance its hard to know the difference between good brake pads and ones to avoid.

You’ll know it’s time to replace your pads when the brake pedal becomes longer, indicating a bigger distance between the pads and the disc, or if you feel inconsistent stopping power. If you hear a squealing or grinding sound from your brakes – you should replace them immediately.

Bear in mind that pads usually come in sets of two, and you should change both sides at the same time in the front or rear. You can change front and rear brakes at different times because fronts generally wear faster than rears. That’s because the physics of weight transfer mean your front tires provide most of your braking grip – and manufacturers often make their front brakes bigger as a result.

It doesn’t matter if you drive a lot, or a little. If you’re into high-performance or just the regular commute, we all have to change our brakes at some point. Below, we’ll highlight the best brake pads for a range of situations and drivers.

1. Editor's Pick: Best Pads for High Performance: Brembo Sport HP2000

ProsCons
  • Brembo street-cred
  • Excellent performance
  • Expensive
  • Lots of brake dust

Key Specs

Ideal operating temp: 200 – 300C
Temperature range: 100 – 600C
Material: Ceramic
Features: Red shim

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In today’s episode of, “why am I not surprised?” we’re going to give you the obvious answer to the question, “what is the best brake pad for sports cars?”. Brembo Sport brake pads are among the, if not the, best-known performance products in the world, and for good reason.

These brakes are designed for a wide range of operating temperatures while offering class-leading bite and performance. If you’re an occasional track-day driver, or even a regular track-day driver, Brembo will perform stop after stop, giving you tire-torturing braking power.

The company blends its proprietary friction material to operate when cold, as well as up to 600C, for consistent stopping power and feel. This matters because the rigours of daily driving keep the pad in a different temperature range to the ardours of performance driving. The road-focused Brembos also boast quietness and longevity.

Brembo’s ceramic HP2000 pads are put through a thermal scorching process in the final stages of manufacture, so they’re ready to bite right from the first application. Brembo pads are also direct OEM fit for a wide range of vehicles.

Thanks to its reputation and popularity, Brembo is also among the most counterfeited brands, so make sure you check your box for the authenticity certificate shipped with all Brembo brakes. You’ll also know your Brembo pads are authentic thanks to the signature red shim plate on the back of the bad assembly.

2. Best Brake Pads for the Daily Driver: Bendix Premium Copper Free

ProsCons
  • Great value
  • Reliable performance
  • Not compatible with all rotors

Key Specs

Ideal operating temp: 100 – 200C
Temperature range: 100 – 300C
Material: Semi-metallic
Features: Slotted and chamfered

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Bendix claims its four-layer backing shim is “noise-eliminating”, but that’s marketing speak. As a noise-dampening measure, it is genuinely effective for a low-cost pad.

The shape and design of Bendix pads is OE-spec thanks to the company’s work with auto manufacturers on machining and tooling. Chamfered edges help provide consistent contact between the pad face and the brake disc, and reduce pad knock off. Knock off is when the forces of cornering, and the leading edge of the pad hitting the front lip of the rotor push the pad back into the caliper.

It’s worth noting that these semi-metallic units are not always compatible with higher-end rotors, so check carefully before installing. Bendix supplies the mounting hardware, including brake grease and mounting tabs where required.

3. Longest-Lasting Brake Pad: Bosch QuietCast

ProsCons
  • Low noise
  • Long lasting
  • Can be pricey

Key Specs

Ideal operating temp: 100 – 200C
Temperature range: 100 – 300C
Material: Semi-metallic
Features: Slotted and chamfered

See Price

The Bosch range of QuietCast brake pads offer rust resistance thanks to powder-coated performance and longevity courtesy of a unique chemical re-coating formula.

The protective transfer layer is a chemical compound that coats the rotor and pad surface as you use the pads, extending the life of both components. In addition, the QuietCast pads feature a unique shim moulding that helps maintain the integrity of the pad and multi-layer shim for the life of the unit. That leads to more braking stability and more consistent pad-to-rotor contact throughout the life of the pads, with no rattling or vibration.

As the name suggests, Bosch engineered this set to offer superior quietness in daily driving uses, and offers its pads in both ceramic and semi-metallic friction material guises. Bosch mimics the OE-spec chamfering and slotting to give you an OE-type experience even when upgrading for more stopping power. In fact, Bosch is a regular OE fitment for a range of auto makers.

4. Best Brake Pad for Towing: Hawk Superduty

ProsCons
  • Great fade resistance
  • High temperature tolerance
  • Harsh braking feel

Key Specs

Ideal operating temp: 100 – 400C
Temperature range: 100 – 400C
Material: Ferro-carbon
Features: Powder-coated backing

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Hawk Superduty ferro-carbon material brake pads are the ideal choice for those of us who tow trailers or haul loads with our trucks.

Heavy duty hauling and towing generates massive brake temperatures. The Hawk Superduty pad provides both a high coefficient of friction for powerful stopping performance and excellent heat dissipation for rapid recovery — especially after a big stop.

These high-performance pads are engineered to handle the forces that only come with large weights. They’re robust in design both of the pad assembly and the friction material, for reliable long-term performance in high-stress situations. These pads are perfect for fleet managers, truckers, or anyone who regularly pulls a trailer.

Hawk offers a lifetime warranty, so they won’t delaminate or break apart prematurely. That’s peace of mind for commercial drivers who log long miles in their vehicles, as well as daily drivers who want a long-lasting heavy-duty brake pad.

5. Best Value Brake Pads: Wagner QuickStop Ceramic

ProsCons
  • Low dust
  • Excellent value
  • High-tech ceramic friction material
  • Prone to heat fade
  • Only average stopping performance

Key Specs

Ideal operating temp: N/A
Temperature range: N/A
Material: Ceramic
Features: Post-cured finishing, application-specific design and build

See Price

Wagner leads the way in the democratisation of ceramic brake pad technology with its great value QuickStop ceramic range.

The US-based company’s line up of pads provide a great balance of technology, performance, and price with coverage for 98 percent of the vehicles sold in North America.

Application-specific fitment of mounting hardware, shims, slots, chamfers help provide original-equipment level performance and vibration-free operation. Wagner’s pads are post-cured, not scorched, so there is a breaking in process that involves 20 stops from 50 km/h before they operate optimally. The benefit of this, according to Wagner, is that the pads maintain consistent friction coefficient throughout a wider arc of operating temperatures throughout the life of the pad.

That curing process is also credited for the remarkably low amount of dust generated by the QuickStop range, which makes for cleaner wheels and longer brake life.

6. Best Value Performance Brake Pads: Power Stop Extreme Performance New Formulation

ProsCons
  • High performance
  • Low dust
  • Carbon-fibre ceramic friction material
  • Can be hard to find

Key Specs

Ideal operating temp: 200-300C
Temperature range: 100-600C
Material: Carbon-fibre infused ceramic
Features: High-quality mounting hardware

See Price

If you want affordable high-performance braking power for your car then the Power Stop Extreme Performance range is the pad for you.

Power Stop’s use of carbon-fibre ceramic friction material elevates it above a range of competitors without breaking the bank. They are also low dust, which makes them a favourite for muscle car owners who want to show off their rides without stopping to clean wheels all the time!

Power Stop recommends its brakes (unsurprisingly) for big-wheel and big-brake upgrades as well and provides kits with all those components available. The excellent thermal stability offered by Power Stop’s proprietary carbon-fibre infused ceramic compound means that these pads give impressive high-speed braking as well as everyday driveability.

Crucially, they manage to avoid the high-pitch squeaking that some high-performance brakes give off at low speeds. The Extreme Performance New Formulation kit is a clever kit guaranteed to give your car excellent stopping ability.

What are the Different Types of Friction Material?

While brake pads used to be made of roughly the same stuff, and even at one stage, from asbestos, friction material technology has come a long way in recent years. Nowadays, ceramic materials that were once reserved for high-end race cars or supercars are commonplace on the average family sedan or (gasp) minivan!

There are pros and cons for each type of material, and you may be surprised to learn that cost is less and less a factor. Decreasing production costs and environmental regulations are moving pad manufacturers away from certain metals have led to an explosion in synthetic and ceramic compounds on the market.

The main types of friction material are organic, semi-metallic, and ceramic.

Organic pads are kinder on your brake rotors and offer lower noise and dust levels than others because they’re softer. They often contain resins which help with consistent thermal performance, but organic materials wear quickly and offer only modest stopping power. That’s why we didn’t include any organic material options in this list.

Semi metallic materials often cool quicker than other types, last longer, and have a high metal content. The downside is they’re sometimes noisier, and messier than other brakes because they produce more fine grey dust.

Ceramics are the new big thing in braking performance. They excellent performance, low brake dust, and great heat management, so they’re less likely to fade even under heavy use. Up until recently, ceramic brakes were cost-prohibitive, but in recent years have become cheaper to make and are now mainstream.

One step above ceramic brakes is carbon-ceramic pads. These offer a big range of performance at all temperatures but are particularly effective at managing high temps, making them a good option for track day enthusiasts.

Brake Pad Components

Brake pads are made up of two main components: the friction material that contacts the rotor to provide friction, and the backing plate that the friction blocks to which they are mounted. The pistons in your brake caliper push against the backing plate to force the friction material against the rotor, generating friction which turns your forward momentum into heat and slows you down.

In most instances the backing plate is further supported by a shim. The backing plate and shim assembly can consist of anything from one to five layers, and what those layers are will impact the amount of noise, vibration, and stress that your brakes suffer through.

The best brake pads are made with four or more layers, one of which is some sort of noise-dampening rubber to control vibrations. That vibration control not only gives you better stopping power but also increases the life off all your braking components.

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