Test Drives: What is the Real Cost of a Cheap Brake Pad? – UnderhoodService
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Test Drives: What is the Real Cost of a Cheap Brake Pad?

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Ever since the first issue of BRAKE & FRONT END, the magazine has warned of the costs of using inferior friction materials. In the 1930s, the magazine fought the fight against inferior materials coming from “mail-order houses.” In the 1940s, inferior materials were blamed for costing the war effort in terms of lost materials and manpower due to locked wheels and crashes.

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Today, we are in a fight against replacement brake pads that put profit ahead of safety.

The brake repair market is starting to become dominated by a “good enough” mentality. Good enough to some is just being able to stop in a “reasonable” distance at normal driving and last for 10,000 miles. But, when asked to perform an emergency stop or a series hard stops, the vehicle can become unsafe with longer stops and a low pedal. You may rationalize that you customer may never perform such sever maneuvers, but how can you be sure?

Are you sure that little old lady does not drive with two feet? Can you be sure that that a truck will never tow a boat? Is really worth installing cheap brake pads in order to be able to advertise and hopefully make profit on a $99 brake special?

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What standards should you have when selecting replacement brake pads? Try them for yourself! Set aside some time when the shop is not busy or on a weekend to try out the brands of brake pads you install. Perform at least four emergency stops from 55 mph to a dead stop back to back. Let your right foot be the judge. A series of hard stops will simulate the punishment a pad might have on a major metropolitan freeway during extreme stop and go traffic. Please, find a road or parking lot with very little traffic and use common sense.

Clean the surface of the rotor between pad changes to remove friction material deposited on the rotor. Also, perform the brake pad manufacturer’s recommended break-in procedure before performing any hard stops. Change the pads and break them in just as you would do for a customer.

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Inferior brake pads will start to fade and pedal travel will be almost to the floor. Or look at the pedal travel data on the 2nd hot stop of the FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) Test. It is the friction level that provides the deceleration torque to stop the car, but it is the pedal travel or fluid displacement that actuates the brake and is required for proper ABS functionality. If the fluid displacement increases to much, it can dramatically inhibit the response of the anti-lock brake system. Also, inferior pads will start to smell worse than the average burnt clutch. Some inferior brake pads may have a very acrid or pungent aroma due to the use of cheap glues and fillers. Also, the smell can be attributed to coatings and paints that may be burning.

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Notice your stopping distances — on the first stop you may notice a considerable increase stopping distance and pedal effort.

After performing a test, remove the pads and inspect the friction surface for glazing and delamination from the backing plate. Delamination is caused when the adhesives used to secure the friction materials to the backing plate exceed their operating range and start to lose their strength. Also, it is one of the leading causes of brake noise.

Look at the coatings or paint on the brake pads. Often the best looking brake pad will not look the same after four stops from 55 mph. This is because the paint will burn off and often catch fire. This will leave the metal backing plate exposed to the elements. Corrosion may cause rust-jacking that can weaken the bond of the friction material to the backing plate. Also, the rust can spread to slides and shims causing unwanted noise. A high quality pad will have a coating or plating on the backing plate that will stand up to the heat of four hard stops with little change in appearance.

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After you have completed your tests, you may have drawn similar conclusions and encountered results that challenge your previous notions about friction materials.

Your notions of the performance characteristics of semi-metallic, organic and ceramic should have been forgotten the day your shop stopped riveting and bonding friction materials in-house. Most high-quality brake friction materials manufacturers can’t even classify their materials as semi-met, organic or ceramic. Instead, it is a unique mix of materials suited to an exact performance profile, not one single raw material dominates the mix.

Some friction companies will cut corners at the shop’s expense. Some inferior brake pad manufacturers use only a handful of friction material formulations across an entire product catalog. This means that the same friction material may be used on a SUV and compact, the only thing they change is the backing plate. This can lead to compromises and may even influence the braking balance front to rear.

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Look beyond the edge code. The edge code system has been around since the 1950s and was initially designed as a quality standard for manufacturers. The test was used to find out if a supplier was shipping the assembly plant same stuff as the last batch. The edge code test simple test the material and not how it will perform a specific vehicle or under real world conditions.

Another issue is the use of copper and other metals that turn into environmentally damaging compounds when the heated during braking. All brake pads produce dust — where the dust goes is becoming a bigger issue. When dust is produced by the brake pad, the majority of the dust falls on the road where it is washed into the storm drains that wash into larger bodies of water. It can also end up in your lungs. Metals like copper will not kill large animals, but it kills the small microorganisms lower in the food chain. When the foundation of the food chain dies, so does the rest of the creatures in it.

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Some metals and their derivatives can cause cancer and birth defects in humans. There is a current move in California to significantly limit or eliminate the use of copper in brake pads. This is expected to be adopted nationwide in the future. The question remains as to who will be responsible for disposal of what is in the field and when? Also, antimony is banned by Proposition 65 in California. Violations of Proposition 65 may carry prison sentences. Environmental issues and carcinogen class action law suits can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and place even the largest of companies into financial disasters. These liabilities are extremely powerful as they reach into the past before protective legislation.

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Ask for MSDS sheets and certifications that materials do not contain antimony compounds, chromium, cadmium, lead, asbestos or other carcinogens. You have a right to be informed. You may also request indemnification by the brake manufacturer in regards to these issues; however indemnification may not totally limit your exposure especially if your brake manufacturer is in a protected foreign country.


CAWA and AAIA Work with Sustainable Conservation on Brake Pad Reformulation
The California/Nevada/Arizona Wholesalers Association (CAWA) and the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) recently said they are actively involved in guiding legislation slated for introduction in early 2009 to limit the use of copper in brake pads.

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The legislation is being introduced by California nonprofit organization Sustainable Conservation and collaborative partners including brake manufacturers, environmentalists, storm water management entities, regulators and CAWA’s representatives. It will address recent scientific studies concluding that copper from brake pads is impairing water quality in the state.

In pursuing legislation, Sustainable Conservation’s Brake Pad Partnership has reached out to CAWA and AAIA in an effort to reach a collaborative, consensus-based approach to crafting a workable balance between necessary innovations, long manufacturing timelines, and the stringent water quality compliance deadlines facing California. The Partnership’s deliberations over the course of 2008 have focused on three primary areas: a) the limit to be set on copper in brake pads and the time frame over which that limit will go into effect; b) ensuring that copper-containing formulations are not replaced by those with harmful constituents that cause equal or greater harm: and c) compliance and enforcement of the law once it is in place.

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“CAWA recognizes the importance of working with groups like Sustainable Conservation in an effort to find workable solutions to California’s air and water quality challenges while ensuring business and particularly automotive aftermarket business perspectives and interests are considered,” stated Rodney Pierini, president and CEO of CAWA. “It certainly makes more sense to be on the front end as legislation is being considered and drafted rather than in a reactive and often defensive posture once legislation moves through the process.”

Brake pad manufacturers agreed to introduce reformulated products within five years if technical studies being performed indicated that copper in brake pads was contributing significantly to water quality impairment. As the technical studies have been completed and their findings reached, legislation now being drafted will address reductions in copper from all brake pads with limited exceptions. According to the Brake Pad Partnership, this approach will lower the amount of copper in storm water runoff and protect water quality in highly urbanized watersheds.

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“Since the details of this legislation have yet to be developed, AAIA and CAWA have a unique opportunity to educate stakeholders on the impact of this effort on the aftermarket and to help guide the development of the legislative language to ensure our concerns are addressed,” stated Aaron Lowe, vice president of Government Affairs, AAIA. “Close involvement in the Brake Pad Coalition also will provide AAIA and CAWA the opportunity to provide timely information to the industry on developments that have the potential to impact both the composition and distribution of aftermarket brake pads,” Lowe added. CAWA and AAIA’s legislative team recently attended a meeting of the Partnership to provide an in-depth understanding of the parts distribution cycle as well as provide the unique perspective the automotive aftermarket brings to the negotiating table. CAWA and AAIA’s legislative team and members Steve Sharp of WorldPac and Borise Cota of Akebono are serving on the Partnership’s Enforcement and Compliance workgroup, which is charged with developing the legislative language that will address compliance and enforcement issues.

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CAWA and AAIA’s goal is to work with the Partnership and brake pad manufacturers to craft legislation that industry, environmental and storm water stakeholders can all support. Between now and the end of the year, the Partnership intends to finalize draft language for the legislation and identify an author to carry the bill. CAWA and AAIA remain at the forefront of these discussions and will provide additional details as events unfold.

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