Manufacturers are increasingly switching to brake pads using so-called “ceramic” or “ceramic technology”. This latest evolution in pad design offers many benefits, but also can have some downsides. Here is what you need to know about ceramic brake pads.
What are brake pads made of?Brake pads are made up of a variety of materials that are mixed together and then pressed using multiple tons of force into the shape of a brake pad. Over the years the materials to make the brake pad mix have evolved. Some of this was due to increased performance – new materials were better at stopping when wet, or when hot, for instance.
Another part of the changes were actually emissions related. Every time you stop, your brake pads are squeezed against the brake rotor. This generates heat, but it also generates dust. Some of this dust ends up on the wheels, making them darker and dirtier looking, but most of the dust ends up in the air. Because of this the EPA and CARB introduced limits to how much environmentally hazardous material can be in brake pads. In fact, asbestos, now known to be a very dangerous carcinogen, was used in brake pads until 1993.
Regulations and materials have changed quite a bit since then, too. The latest pads are zero asbestos and have less metals, like copper, than they used to. Most pads today are referred to as “organic” pads, meaning they use a collection of carbon-based materials in their composition. These pads are reliable and inexpensive to make.
Ceramic pads introduce ceramic-type compounds – think a ceramic plate – to the brake material. They aren’t 100% ceramic – that would be impossible – but there are enough ceramic compounds to noticeably change the behavior of the pad compared to a traditional or organic pad.
Why is Ceramic Superior?
There are reasons why drivers and manufacturers choose ceramic pads – long life and low dust. Of these two, low dust is often the primary reason customers reference it. Not only do the pads give off less dust, the dust that they do give off is much lighter in color and easier to clean off your wheels. Normally a clean wheel will show brake dust in just a few hundred miles – a medium road trip. With ceramic brake pads, drivers can go 5-10k miles without a noticeable buildup of brake dust.
Increased lifespan is a big advantage too. You can expect a ceramic pad to last around 50% longer than a traditional pad, give or take. Brake pad wear is HEAVILY dependent on driving conditions and vehicle design, so it’s hard to measure the exact increase in number of miles or years. However, in controlled testing 50% seems like a reasonable expectation. If you see pads advertised as “long life” or with a “lifetime guarantee” they are probably ceramic-based pads.
What are the downsides of ceramic pads?
Ceramic pads primarily have one down side: performance. This isn’t to say that they perform poorly, but a typical a ceramic pad will have a lower friction rating than a similar organic pad. This means that you may notice less initial “bite” when you first press on the brake pedal. The pedal also may feel slightly firmer as ceramic pads flex less under pressure than traditional pads. Modern ceramic formulations are largely free of other issues, however.
Can a ceramic pad perform as well as a traditional pad?
Absolutely! High end ceramic pads, like those made by Akebono, actually offer BETTER friction ratings than organic pads. These pads often demand a higher price, but remember you are paying for all the benefits of ceramic pads – low dust, long life – and getting an increase in performance.
Read more about brake pads!
Brake Pads Explained
Want to learn more about friction ratings?
Check out our article – What do brake pad friction ratings mean?