Your brakes have one job and one job only – to stop your car. In theory, it’s a simple process – you depress the brake pedal, pads push against rotor, slowing rotor equals slowing wheels (if you’re lost already, stop reading and go shred your driver’s license. Please.)
In reality, however, there’s a lot more that goes into the process. There’s all these confusing terms like “hydraulic force multiplication” and “master cylinder” involved. That’s why most “commute-only” drivers have a one-dimensional view of it: Brakes work. When they start to grind, blindly pay a mechanic hundreds of dollars. Brakes work again.
But we car enthusiasts know there are better options. That’s why we have brake upgrade kits that cost upwards of $5,000 and why high-end carmakers like Ferrari and Lamborghini get away with charging $12,000 or more for a checkbox named “Carbon Ceramic Brake Upgrade.”
Thankfully for us middle class, however, there are much less expensive options. You don’t need eight-piston calipers and 15-inch rotors, unless you track your car on a regular basis. We road-going enthusiasts can get away with a brake bleed, turning the rotors, and upgrading our pads. You’d be surprised the difference that new pads can make. And by the way, they’re not that hard to change yourself.
First you should decide what type of pad you need – Ceramic, Kevlar, Semi-metallic…all are good for different purposes. One popular option among sports car enthusiasts are the high-performance (but somewhat expensive) Hawk HPS Brake Pads – I’ve never used them myself, but my friend has a 700+ HP Nissan 300ZX and he swears by them.
After you decide on a pad, consider buying new rotors (possibly drilled and/or slotted for better heat dissipation.) If you don’t want to go that far, just bring your existing rotors into a local auto parts store and have them turn the rotors for you. That smooths them out to stop that brake “shimmer” you get when slowing to a stop.
Finally, when you’re changing the brakes you’ll already be bleeding them, which helps remove bubbles and increase the amount of force pushing against the pads, making for a more solid braking feel, especially if they haven’t been touched in a long time.
Optional: Stainless Steel brake lines. Slip these over your worn out rubber hoses to stop them from expanding when you brake. This keeps the pressure on the pads and not the lines, which can waste a lot of energy.
Now that you know the cheap way to upgrade your brakes, hurry up and stop!