What to Look for When Buying Brake Pads

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What to Look for When Buying Brake Pads

Obviously, it is important that a car be able to move. Even more important, however, is that a car be able to stop. The brakes are arguably the most important of a car's many systems, because it is the brakes, more than anything else, that prevent serious and possibly fatal crashes. The braking system has several different parts, any one of which could eventually wear out and have to be replaced, but only one of these components is actually designed to wear out.

Brake pads provide the friction that actually slows and stops the car during braking. Over time, even the best brake pads break down under that friction. The surface wears away to powder, and the pad becomes too thin to work safely. Sooner or later, all brake pads must be replaced. Buying quality brake pads and having them installed properly is an important part of what a responsible driver does. Understanding how brake pads work, when they need to be replaced, and how the different types of brake pad materials perform makes this important shopping trip go much more smoothly.

All About Brake Pads and the Braking System

In order to find quality brake pads, the buyer should not only know that to look for in a pad itself but also how brake pads work. Having at least a basic understanding makes it easier to figure out when to replace the brake pads and when some other problem with the braking system might be present. Knowing the difference between ceramic and more common metallic brake pads also makes understanding product claims simpler.

Brake pads are only one part of a braking system. Because brake problems could involve any of these components, it is important to understand at least the basics of the entire braking system. Cars can have either disc brakes or drum brakes, and many cars use both types. In either case, what stops the rotation of the wheel is friction between the brake pad and a surface that spins with the wheel. Between the brakes and the brake pedal is both a lever that provides mechanical advantage and a hydraulic system. Hydraulic systems work on the principle that fluids cannot be compressed; squeeze one end of a fluid filled tube, and the other end bulges out, even if the tube curves and twists or even divides. In this way, the pressure that begins with the brake pedal can be directed to the brakes of all four wheels.

Brake pads are the part of the system that are designed to wear out and be replaced. Over time, the friction of braking wears away the surface of the brake pads. Not all brake problems are the fault of the brake pads, however. The discus or drums sometimes wear out and need to be replaced, especially if used with brake pads of poor quality or if the brake pads are not replaced when they need to be. A leak in the hydraulic system can also cause the brakes to fail. A rapid loss of brake fluid actually causes the brakes to fail suddenly, with little or no warning.

Motorbike vs. Car Brake Pads

While motorbikes obviously use different brake pads than cars, the basic principles are all the same. Motorbike brake pads come in a similar range of materials and have similar quality considerations. Some terminology is different; metallic brake pads are referred to as sinter or sintered pads, for example. Squealing brakes in motorbikes is often a sign of misalignment or other problems besides worn brake pads. Another difference is that the front and rear pads tend to wear at different rates. Otherwise, buying motorbike brake pads is quite similar to buying brake pads for cars. Different types of motorbike riding also require different brake pads, since not all bikes are alike in how much of a challenge the brakes have to accept.

How to Tell if Brake Pads Need to Be Replaced

Brake pads are designed to squeal when they wear down beyond a certain point. While rust can cause occasional squealing, a squeal that persists is a clear sign that the pads need to be replaced. Other strange noises, fading brake effectiveness, vibration on braking that is not the activation of anti-lock brakes, and a tendency for the car to pull to one side while braking are all signs of brake problems that should be promptly addressed, though these signs are often not related to brake pads specifically.

Types of Brake Pads

There are four main types of brake pads in use nowadays. In the past, brake pads were made of asbestos fibre. Since asbestos is fireproof, these pads could resist the very high temperatures generated by the friction in braking. Modern brakes sometimes smoke or even glaze when overused; glazing means that the surface of the pad melts slightly and then hardens into a smooth surface that does not function well. Unfortunately, asbestos dust causes serious health problems, including the lung cancer mesothelioma.

Asbestos brake pads are now illegal in the UK and in several other countries, but aftermarket brake pads sometimes still contain asbestos fibre, depending on the laws in the country of manufacture. The asbestos content may not be labelled. Installing asbestos brake pads intentionally is illegal, but does not cause a health risk to the driver; it is the auto mechanic whose health is at risk. This table shows the four main materials that brake pads are made of. Each material is listed with advantages and disadvantages.

Brake Pad Materials



Semi-Metallic Brake Pads

Durable, but can damage rotors

Poor function in cold weather

Non-Asbestos Organic (NAO)


Wears out quickly and create more dust

Low-Metallic NAO

Functions well

Noisy and dusty

Ceramic Brake Pads

Functions well, quiet, clean, minimal damage to rotors


Buyers should keep in mind that not all pads of the same material are alike in quality. Also, they should know that low-metallic NAO pads actually have a higher metal content than ordinary NAO pads, they just have less metal than semi-metallic pads do. The choice of the material for brake pads is ultimately based on buyer's preferences.

What to Look for in Brake Pads

Brake pads vary by both price and quality. Not surprisingly, the lower cost pads tend to be lower quality, though it is possible to find good deals on quality pads. Because low-quality brake pads wear out faster, the low purchase price may not turn out to be a good deal, since the brake pads need to be replaced much more often. Plus, pads with the rough, steel wool-like texture of some low-cost types wear out the brake rotors and brake rotors are very expensive to replace. Both for safety and for overall cost effectiveness, drivers should buy the highest quality that current finances allow.

High quality brake pads are quiet and do not create much dust. Buyers should look for pads that can last over a hundred and sixty thousand kilometres before needing to be replaced. Also, they should make sure the pads work well in all weather conditions.

Installing New Brake Pads

Changing brake pads is one of the tasks that can be done at home, this saving the driver a lot of money. Instructions on changing brake pads are available online, but this is not the sort of task that anyone should do alone for the first time. While changing pads is not difficult, if something does go wrong the brakes could fail without warning and someone could die. Anyone wondering whether he or she can change brake pads should either get help from someone who is more knowledgeable and confident, or hire a mechanic.

Bedding in Brake Pads

Bedding in brake pads means essentially breaking in the pad so that it functions properly. Until this is done, the pads may not grip properly, even though nothing needs to be replaced. To bed in brake pads, drivers should use the brakes gently at low speeds several times, gradually working up to highway speeds. A period of ordinary but careful driving follows while the pads finish curing. Detailed instructions on braking in are available online. The main point is that this is one situation where the pads do not work properly but do not need to be replaced.

Buying Brake Pads on eBay

Buying brake pads through eBay is simple and convenient. A few tips on how to find the right brake pads and how to get through the buying process should still be of help, however. In order to browse the listings, begin by typing brake pads into the search box. From there, use the menu options to narrow down the results and to specify the make and model of the car or motorcycle the brake pads are for. To find something very specific quickly, try the Advanced Search feature.

Good communication between buyer and seller is the most important factor in making sure the purchase process goes smoothly. There is a contact link on the seller's profile page for any questions, along with his or her feedback score and return policy details. A good habit to maintain is reading the listing one more time before buying to make sure the listing has not been misread; accidentally buying bicycle brake pads instead of motorbike brake pads is possible and would be an embarrassing mistake.


Good quality brake pads in good condition are a major factor in safe drying. Without them, the brakes could fail, with catastrophic results. Buying replacement brake pads is not difficult, but there is some choice involved. While buying exact replacements of the old pads is one option, the old stock pads are likely to have been of middle quality. Choosing something better not only makes the car safer, it also puts off the day when another replacement must be purchased, since higher quality pads last longer.

Buyers should look for ceramic pads, ideally, for though these can be expensive, they are generally of excellent quality. Buyers should avoid pads that could put excessive wear on the rotors. Replacing the brake rotors is much more expensive than buying higher quality brake pads. Drivers should make sure to change old brake pads promptly, both for safety and in order to protect the rotors. Drivers who take care of their vehicle's brakes find that their brakes take good care of them.

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