Ceramic vs. Metallic Brake Pads: Which is Right for You

Your brake system is easily one of the most critical systems on your car, so it’s important to maintain it properly and get the best parts to keep it in perfect operating condition. Luckily, replacing a set of brake pads is an easy job that most backyard mechanics can tackle.

Aside from your brake fluid, the two components most likely to wear out in this system are the brake rotors and the brake pads, with the pads typically wearing out two or three times for every rotor replacement. The main parts of a brake pad are the backing plate that holds everything together and the friction material that contacts the rotors, and the difference between ceramic and metallic pads is in the composition of the friction material.

You may have heard of ceramic brake rotors and wondered about the pros and cons of this relatively new technology. When it comes to price, ceramic brake pads can tend to be more expensive, but it really does depend on the model of vehicle you’re working on. For example, at AutoZone the 2000 Ford F-150 has similar prices for semi-metallic and ceramic brake pad options, at around $50 per pair, so they’re not always more expensive, but it depends on the vehicle.

Read on for an in-depth look at ceramic and metallic brake pads and find out what their advantages and disadvantages are so that you can make the right choice when purchasing your next set of brake pads.

Metallic or Semi-Metallic Brake Pads 

Semi-Metallic brake pads were introduced in the 1960s and use high levels of metals, including copper, iron, fine steel, or other alloys in the friction material. They have some distinct performance advantages over other types of brake pads, but there are also a few disadvantages: 

semi-metallic brake pads
  • Suitable for extreme driving styles, like racing or trucking applications. Metallic or semi-metallic brake pads are ideally suited for demanding performance applications because they have consistent pedal feel and dissipate heat well, which is essential on a racetrack or other demanding applications like trucking.  
  • Strong cold weather performance. Metallic pads operate well even under very cold conditions, so you don’t need to heat them up before you use them to their maximum potential. 
  • Excellent heat distribution properties. Your brake pads and rotors generate a lot of heat when they are in repeated use, and metallic pads conduct that heat through the entire system, lowering localized heat and resisting brake fade. This is important if you are travelling in mountainous areas, where you must use the brakes repeatedly. 
  • High amounts of brake dust. Metallic brakes generate much more brake dust than ceramics, which will require you to wash your wheels more often.  
  • Noise. One of the more annoying characteristics of a metallic or semi-metallic brake pad is an increase in brake noise, but that’s a price you pay for high performance. 
  • Increased brake rotor wear. Metallic brake pads have improved stopping capabilities, but that comes because of the increased friction created between the pads and the rotor. Increased friction means more wear, and you’ll need to replace your rotors more often due to thinning of the rotor material. 

Ceramic Brake Pads 

The ceramic brake pad is the new kid on the block, having debuted in the 1980s. The friction material consists of ceramic, much like a denser version of the stuff found in pottery, infused with fine copper wires. The copper is added to enhance friction and to increase heat conductivity. Here are some of the positive and negative properties of ceramic brake pads: 

ceramic brake pads
  • Very quiet. Ceramic brake pads are renowned for their quiet operation, which is a reason that they tend to be popular with luxury vehicles. 
  • Strong wear characteristics. A set of ceramic pads will tend to last longer than metallic pads because they are harder and wear less. 
  • Very low amounts of brake dust. Ceramic brake pads create much less brake dust than an organic or metallic pad. 
  • Reduced rotor wear. A ceramic brake pad will tend to “grab” less than a semi-metallic pad, which lowers the friction and wear on the rotor. 
  • Poor initial bite in cold conditions. Ceramic pads need to warm up before they are able to create their maximum braking performance. That can be a problem if you live in a cold climate, or for the first few laps if you take your car to the track. 
  • Less heat conduction. Your ceramic pads won’t transfer the friction heat through the pad, so it can build up and cause overheating issues with your brake system in extreme driving. Overheating can cause your brake fluid to lose its ability to pressurize and it can also warp your brake rotors. 
  • Higher cost. Depending on the model of vehicle you’re replacing the brake pads for, you may end up paying more for a set of ceramic brake pads. 

Which brake pad is right for your car? 

Both ceramic and the semi-metallic brake pads have their pros and cons, but what it really comes down to is your typical driving style and the types of conditions you will be driving in. 

Average driver in normal conditions 

For normal daily commuting needs in moderate climates, a ceramic brake pad can be a great solution, owing to its low noise and low dust operation. It will also tend to last longer than a metallic pad, so that means fewer trips to the shop over the life of the vehicle.  

Spirited driver or extreme conditions 

If you want a brake pad that will give you excellent stopping power because you like to take your ride to the track, you’ll want to use a semi-metallic brake pad. This may also apply if you have a lot of freeway driving in your commute and you want to have aggressive stopping power, just in case the guy in front of you does something unwise and you need to avoid it. Mountain driving, driving in cold climates, or trucking applications with heavy loads are also strong candidates for a semi-metallic brake pad. 

When should I replace my brake pads? 

How long do brake pads last? You should replace your brake pads when they have less than a quarter inch of friction material left, or if you notice any of the following symptoms: 

  • New squealing sounds (not regular squeaks from semi-metallic pads) 
  • Grind sounds when braking 
  • Vibration in the steering wheel 
  • Pulsation in the brake pedal 
  • Brake pad indicator light on your dash 
Replacing brake pads

When it’s time to do the brakes on your vehicle, you can get the right brake pad for your car at AutoZone by searching for year, make, model, and engine size. It’s that simple! 

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