Not too long ago, brake pads were made from asbestos materials that were very effective in resisting heat but produced a hazardous dust.
Asbestos pads also produced significant amounts of gasses during hard braking. To prevent the gasses from interfering with the contact of the brake pads with the brake disc, holes were often cross-drilled into the discs of extremely high-performance vehicles.
Because newer brake pads don’t use asbestos, not as much gas forms, and the latest brake disc technology uses slots to promote cooling and disrupt gas buildup. The slots are also much better at preventing stress cracking, something that drilled rotors often suffer from.
The new materials used in today’s brake pads are safer for the environment, but unfortunately they can cause brake discs to warp prematurely, causing a pulsing feel in the brake pedal.
High-performance brake pads
Brake pads designed for everyday use must meet a variety of requirements, including:
Performance when wet
Low noise and squeal
Low dust production
For those looking for high-performance brake pads, however, companies produce specialized brake pads that resist fading even under high-temperature buildup.
The downside is that these brake pads often don’t produce very good braking at the lower temperatures found in standard street driving. Using racing pads on the street is never a good idea, because they almost never reach the operating temperature for which they were designed.
Change your fluid
Brake fluid is hydroscopic, meaning it attracts moisture. This is bad for several reasons:
Moisture in the brake fluid reduces its boiling point, which makes it easier for the fluid to boil under heavy braking.
Boiling brake fluid can cause brake fade when driving down long mountain roads, especially with a heavy load or while towing a trailer.
Moisture also acts to corrode metal components within the braking system, possibly causing an eventual failure.
Fortunately, the solution is easy. Brake fluid should be changed on the service interval recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer, or around every two years or so.
Fresh brake fluid is something few people think about, even though it can dramatically affect braking performance.
Keep your brakes happy
Most well-maintained cars have plenty of braking capability. For those who take their cars to the track, uprated brake pads and even larger brake discs are available.
Just remember: What is good for the high-temperature environment of a speed-based event may be completely wrong for that cold, rainy drive home from work.
By making the right choices and regularly changing your brake fluid, your brakes should perform flawlessly and go almost unnoticed.
Maybe that’s why engines get all of the glamor.