Shop Talk Logo

Stop! Do You Know the Difference in Brake Pads?

brake padsWhen it’s time to replace the brakes pads on your car, you may be prompted to specify what pads you’d like installed your vehicle. Yet, how do you choose if you don’t know what type of pads are best suited for your car or driving style? By knowing the differences in each type of brake pad, you’ll be able to confidently decide on which ones are right for you and your car.

When you press down on the brake pedal, your car forces fluid throughout the brake lines to each wheel, allowing the vehicle to slow and come to a stop. The brake system’s job is to turn kinetic energy into friction that slows the wheels making the car come to a stop. The source of the friction comes from the brake pads, created when they are pressed against the rotors.

In this article you’ll learn about what brake pads are available, the differences between them, and how to choose the best brake pad based on your driving style and preferences.


In the early 80’s, friction materials were made from asbestos fibers. These kinds of pads worked well due to their ability to absorb and dissipate heat when brakes were applied. Unfortunately, asbestos was deemed a highly-potent poison that causes cancer from persistent exposure. When asbestos-constructed pads would wear down, asbestos was released into the air, creating danger for all.


Often made of materials of glass, Kevlar, carbon, rubber, or fiberglass and bonded together with extreme heat-resistant resin. These brake pads are often the lowest-priced option for brake pads, are quieter, and reduce stress on the brake rotors. Unfortunately, organic pads produce a great deal of black, brake dust and tend to wear down faster.


Many vehicles on the road today are equipped with semi-metallic brake pads. Often made from a compound of iron, copper, steel, and graphite that have bonded together, these pads provide good performance and transfer heat from friction well. Metallic brake pads are more durable and are often used for heavier vehicles. They are more resistant to brake fade, available in a wide range of formulations suitable for trucks and SUVs, are cleaner than organic materials, and are a more cost-efficient option in comparison to ceramic pads. However, there are some disadvantages to semi-metallic pads. They can be noisy and tough on the brake system causing more frequent wear of rotors.


Ceramic pads, yes, made of similar materials to what you’d find in ceramic pottery and plates, but far more durable. These pads are made of stacked glass ceramic fibers, filler material, bonding agents, and bits of varying metals. Ceramic has gained popularity in recent years and is widely used among many manufacturers. They were developed after semi-metallic pads in an attempt to reduce noise, heat, and brake dust. The difference between ceramic and metallic brake pads is that ceramic pads are quieter and cleaner in comparison to organic and semi-metallic pads, less abrasive on rotors, and often last longer than others. Drawbacks of ceramic pads include cost, as they are the most expensive brake pad option and are not designed to be used on performance vehicles or heavy-duty trucks.

When It’s Time for New Brake Pads

The life of a brake pad is usually between 25,000 and 65,000 miles, depending on your braking style and brake pad material. Ideally, brake pads should be replaced when they have just 25% or 3mm of brake life remaining. Here are some additional symptoms that your vehicle may indicate it’s time for an inspection or replacement:

  • Squealing sound – Many disc brake pads are equipped with a piece of metal called a wear indicator, that when enough of the brake pad has worn down the wear indicator makes contact with the rotor producing a squealing sound.
  • Screeching, Grinding, or Clicking sound – You may hear these sounds from time to time which could indicate dirt, heat, or other debris has come in contact with the pads or rotors and is nothing to worry about. However, constant screeching, grinding, or clicks are a clear indication that an inspection is needed.
  • Pulling – When pads are worn, your car may tend to pull from one side to the other while the brake pedal is being pressed.
  • Grooves on the Rotor – Some grooves from normal wear and tear can be resurfaced or machined. However, if the indentations are too deep, they will not be able to be machined or thick enough to dissipate heat and will require replacement.
  • Pulsating – When pressure is applied to the brake pedal and the car shakes or the brake pedal pulsates, brake pads or rotors could be worn.

Brake services don’t have to be overwhelming when you are armed with the knowledge of your brake system components and their rate of wear. Brake rotors needn’t be replaced with brake pads unless they too are worn down. Replacing just the brake pads when necessary will save you time and money. Keep in mind, if another brake service is being performed on your vehicle, replacing the pads at the same time is a smart move, ensuring your brake system is functioning like new.