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Brakes, Which One Is Right For You

The reason for this article is the chemical plant fire in Germany as was written about in the article Chemical Factory Fire Threatens Global Car Production  at http://bloodycars.co.uk and how it will possibly effect the industry.

In that article it disclosed that about 30 percent of the world’s brake and fuel line production would be effected by this fire and the resultant loss of chemical production. With this loss of production prices are going to increase across the board for everyone in the world, and it is doubtful that it will only be 30 percent. Unfortunately, the industry can not simply increase the price of one component 30 percent or more, what will most likely happen is this increase will be passed on in every brake component. Which means the retail consumer is most likely going to gravitate to the lowest price brake service even more and possibly use brakes that are not of good quality. Which could not only place them in danger but everyone else that shares the road with them.

Brakes or brake pads as they are known to professionals is something that very few people including professionals give much thought to when making decisions about which one to use. 

Brake pads typically come in three types; Organic, Semi-Metallic, and Ceramic. There are blends, but for the sake of discussion we will confine ourselves to just these three types. The names of the types of pads pretty much describes the friction material composition accurately. The best way to think about brake pads and the compositions is to think of them as a cake being prepared for baking. The correct ingredients must be in the mixture and properly blended.

It is commonly known in the industry that the Autozone Duralast brake pads with the red colored metal backing plate were simply the noisiest in the industry. This brand in a semi-metallic composition has the metal part (think steel wool) not blended evenly. This causes a noise very similar to brakes worn out and being metal on metal even though all the steps were taken to properly install it. The noise can be intermittent as the pad wears and it is not only a problem to the customer, but the professional as well.

It is also well known that the NAPA “Safety Stop” brand will only provide about 20,000 miles service life, which is about half the normal service life.

Over the many years in the business, I have observed that most people purchase brake pads based on price only and this is a huge mistake. Many other factors should be considered before price. This price based purchasing can be the reason for premature brake wear out, noise, damage to the disc (rotor), and failure of the vehicle to stop. Here is how this happens:

Typically the customer either is told they need brake service by the repair shop or they go into the parts store to purchase replacements. Instead of the service adviser or parts counter person explaining what the customer’s vehicle needs as to friction composition and why, they simply confront the customer with pricing. The customer rarely ever knows what friction composition is required for their car, but the manufacturer’s stated requirement is clearly shown in most parts stores catalog for the counter person and is included in the online version for professionals.  

Knowing the manufacturer’s stated requirement can eliminate all the choices that clearly should not be used on your car. Now let us choose the one we want to use on your car.  Have the parts counter person bring out a box of the correct part number and correct friction composition of each price point for your vehicle. Line them all up on the counter keeping different brands together in pricing order. Do not be afraid of ‘house brand’ brake pads as they must meet safety standards to be sold. Next, open each box and place one inboard and one outboard pad in front of its correct box with the friction material facing upwards.

After you have done this take each pad, one at a time and hold it in your hand. Flex your hand so that light will reflect on the material and reveal composition blending defects. This is to eliminate those pads with obvious blending defects which could prove noisy in service. Return the defective pads to the box and close it. If your experiences are like mine you will find that the lowest and highest priced pads have the least amount of defects. Now you can choose which pad you want to use based on price if you want to.

Many ‘tire store’ and ‘brake store’ repair places tell the customer their vehicle needs brakes when the friction material has about 40 percent of its life remaining. This is their marketing strategy and you should call them on it to show you the minimum thickness specifications your particular car manufacturer states as when the pads are worn-out.

If your brakes are close to needing service I suggest strongly that you go ahead on this service now, before the new pricing makes its way into the parts chain from the loss of supply (chemical fire). Notes for the professional follow.

Notes for the professional:

Test Drive; Take that vehicle on a test drive, if it is safe to do so. Take your Infrared temperature probe with you and about halfway through your test drive, get out and quickly measure the temperatures of all the discs. Repeat this at the end of your test drive. It can help you spot calipers that are just starting to hang through temperature differences.

Resurfacing or Machining Rotors (discs); This should be done to correct warpage that makes the car unsafe, but it should not be done simply to provide a fresh surface. A disc that has not warped, but has some minor surface scoring from overdue brake service can be reused safely without resurfacing. If you are told otherwise, remind the professional that GM placed a groove into original equipment discs as a ‘heat dam’ in the 1970s. Unfortunately, this surfacing / no resurfacing is controversial even among professionals, because most have not really thought it through.

Never resurface or reuse a disc that is below minimum thickness specifications. If you insist on machining below specification discs, you are placing everyone at risk including your business.

Cleaning; You do not need any expensive chemicals to clean the brake dust off, it can be done easily with a spray mister filled with water. Just spray liberally and allow it to drip onto some spread out newspapers or into a container like an oil drain pan.

Lubricant; You should use a lubricant on the back (metal) of the pads to help control noise. Do not get any on the friction material. You should also place it on the guide pins to allow them to work smoothly. This lubricant is best purchased in a small bottle with a brush, and I personally like those from Permatex. I use a ceramic lubricant on the pad backing and a silicone lubricant on the pins.

Bleeding Calipers during pad replacement; The recommended way today is to reseat the caliper piston without opening the bleed screw. Previously it was recommended to bleed this old fluid off during replacement. If you choose to bleed off the old fluid, you may need an ABS Scan Tool to actuate the system. I do not personally like replacing parts for no reason, so I bleed with each pad replacement which gets the old contaminated fluid out of the caliper. You choose what works for you.

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