By Andrew Markel
BRAKE & FRONT END Magazine
There is one simple piece of advice I try to live by: “Know what you know and know what you don’t know.” It is a simple credo that can save you from making mistakes and looking like a complete jackass.
I am often asked about my opinion of a certain brand or application of brake pads, or what I prefer. I always feel awkward when answering these questions. While I have performed a large number of brake jobs and visited more brake pad engineering and manufacturing facilities than most people, it is difficult to give the person the answer they really want, or one I am completely comfortable with.
I can’t be a brake pad Pope who can give a blessing to one manufacturer or another. Also, I can’t condemn an entire country’s brake pad production. I have often found blanket statements about one type of material or another can get you in a lot of trouble due to its inaccuracies and over-generalizations.
In a perfect world, I could measure Mµ levels, SAE testing number or stopping distances from 60 mph. But to anybody who works in a shop, I know that this is irrelevant when a customer comes back complaining of noise or after the brakes have failed or developed a problem.
Selecting the right friction material is a difficult task. I could say that you should select the most expensive pad that your supplier offers. But, I know that the right pads for the customer are often not the ones at the top or bottom of the price column. It is a matter of looking at the engineering, reputation and appearance of the product. But, most of all it is about trust and reputation.
One of the most under utilized resources for information about brake pads is the parts store counterman or counterwoman. While they are not an engineer or even a technician, they can tell you what gets the most returns and what sells the best.
If you are going to judge a brake pad by its appearance, there are three areas you need to look at. First, look at the material used to make the shim. If the material is not a sandwich of metal, rubber or other composite material, they could be trying to pull a fast one on you. Throw the shim on the floor. If it makes any rattles or pings, do not use that pad.
Second, if how the pad looks in the caliper is important to you, take a small propane torch or open flame and apply it to the pad. If the paint comes off quickly, that paint will not be an effective corrosion barrier. High quality coatings and even plating that can take the abuse typically cost more, but can last the lifetime of the pad.
Third, the foundation of any brake pad is the backing plate. If it takes a hammer or a great deal of force to install the pad in the caliper bracket, it could be a sign that the tooling for the backing plate is worn out. If the tooling die used to stamp the backing plate is worn out, the ears and other contact points will increase in size or become distorted. If a company is not willing to spend money on the foundation of their product, it does not speak well for the rest of the pad.
Also, look at the reputation of the company. Can you get someone on the phone from the manufacturer? Do they advertise in BRAKE & FRONT END? What are they willing to do to get your business?
Most of all, try the brake pads for yourself. If you are willing to put them on your own vehicle, you might feel better about selling them to your customers.