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Best Aftermarket Brakes: A Complete Explainer

Adding aftermarket braking components to your vehicle can improve your safety and performance when done right.

Finding The Right Aftermarket Brakes For Your Ride

Car brake
Car brake

Modifying one’s automobile is a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts here at CarsForSale. Whether you prefer hardcore off-road prerunners or super speedy sports cars for events like Autocross, we’ve told you how to get involved with vehicles that accept customization readily. We’ve even gone as far as to recommend our favorite aftermarket seats but very few topics are as vital as braking performance. In this article, we’ll talk about what aftermarket upgrades are available, what pitfalls to avoid, and how to get the best bang for your buck.

What’s The Point Of Upgrading Brakes Anyway?

Mountain Road
Mountain Road

In most situations, original equipment braking components are more than adequate for the majority of drivers. In addition, there’s no need to worry about fitment since the parts match the ones being replaced. Ultimately though, aftermarket components can offer improved performance.

Better braking components can shorten stopping distance, improve brake pedal feedback, and resist overheating better than stock components. That includes situations like descending a mountain where brakes often overheat.

Autocross competition - performanceracing.com
Autocross competition - performanceracing.com

That performance isn’t simply limited to how quickly a vehicle can stop though. If that vehicle is used for events like autocross, high-speed off-road events, or other competition, better braking can equate to later braking and less brake fade. Each of those benefits can dramatically improve performance. Here’s a look at what parts to consider.

Brake Pads

Ceramic Brake Pads - r1concpets.com
Ceramic Brake Pads - r1concpets.com

No braking upgrade is as easy as swapping out old brake pads for aftermarket ones. Performance braking pads have a number of potential benefits. Some pads, typically called organic pads, are specifically meant to reduce braking noise and braking dust. At the same time, they may or may not stop faster than the stock pads.

A step above organic pads is ceramic pads which resist heat better but can create a little more brake dust. These two types of brake pads, organic and ceramic, are the most popular aftermarket options as they’ll improve performance without major drawbacks for daily-driven vehicles.

Semi-Metallic Brake Pads - r1concpets.com
Semi-Metallic Brake Pads - r1concpets.com

Cars that compete in high-speed contests will benefit from more aggressive options. Semi-metallic brake pads typically include steel, carbon, Kevlar®, or a mix of similar components. While they’re typically dustier, they also offer a lot better resistance to brake fade when they get hot. These pads also have the benefit of biting harder into the rotor and thus improving stopping distance in most cases.

Atop the brake pad pyramid are those made with ferro-carbon. Used almost exclusively for vehicles that engage in competition, ferro-carbon pads can provide 20-40 percent better stopping power than typical brake pads. The downside of such pads is that they require more heat in the pad to function that well and most everyday drivers in everyday vehicles would never get the pad hot enough to work well.

Brake Rotors

Brake Rotor
Brake Rotor

Upgrading brake rotors is usually the next step either during a brake pad upgrade or after it. Replacing rotors is usually a simple job that also improves braking performance. Most rotors, even aftermarket ones, are made from the same cast iron material. The benefit of aftermarket rotors is their ability to cool the braking surface more quickly and to evacuate brake dust from between the surface of the pad and the brake rotor itself.

Aftermarket brake rotors accomplish both goals through drilled holes, slots, or both. Drilled holes in the rotor allow the heat generated by braking to evacuate through the holes which in turn allows the pad to better contact the rotor. Slotted rotors perform a similar action but in this case, the slot itself is used as the evacuation route for spent brake dust and heat. In fact, most tests show that slotted rotors do a significantly better job of evacuating dust over a drilled rotor.

Those seeking additional performance can look into carbon ceramic rotors which offer improved stopping distance, better heat dissipation, and dramatically better resistance to brake fade even after multiple repeated hard braking events like those a vehicle would experience at a track day. Keep in mind that carbon ceramic brake rotors are extremely expensive when compared to conventional rotors.

Brake Lines

Braided brake lines - mweekend.net
Braided brake lines - mweekend.net

When you press on your brake pedal hydraulic fluid is used to engage the brake caliper itself. Typically, it gets to the caliper through a reinforced rubber tube. Some choose to replace the lines with steel-braided examples and the effect can be dramatic.

While still safe, rubberized lines can allow for a lot more flex than steel-braided ones. As a result, pedal feel and braking performance can be improved when switching to steel-braided lines.

Brake Kits

Brake Kit - rr-raccing.com
Brake Kit - rr-raccing.com

Big brake kits are typically sold as a complete package that includes the pads, the rotors, steel-braided brake lines, and brake calipers as well. This is by far the most expensive aftermarket braking upgrade but it’s also the most comprehensive and typically the best way to do a complete overhaul. Much like replacing the OEM components with new OEM components, getting a big brake kit can be of huge benefit because every part is already designed to work together so fitment is rarely an issue.

Tires

Car Tire Selection
Car Tire Selection

Why talk about tires in an article about brakes? Tires dictate how well any vehicle can use the tools it has. Bad tires can make the most exceptional performance vehicle fail to accelerate, turn, or stop as it should. Great tires can elevate a seemingly boring car to performance levels most wouldn’t believe.

When braking components are improved, tires are even more important because the additional braking power is transmitted through the tire to slow the vehicle. If the tires aren’t up to the job, one might find themselves engaging ABS more often or even locking up the brakes on older vehicles without ABS.

Pitfalls To Avoid When Buying Aftermarket Brakes

Brembo Brakes - brembo.com
Brembo Brakes - brembo.com

Purchasing high-quality braking components is vitally important since a vehicle’s braking system is safety critical. It’s recommended that anyone who upgrades their braking system only uses well-respected component manufacturers Brembo, StopTech, Hawk, EBC, Baer, and Wilwood. Buying from companies with little to their name could have catastrophic results depending on product quality.

Sometimes you’ll see components that say “Carbon-Fiber + Organic” or something similar. In such cases, the lowest grade component mentioned on the package is likely the majority of the brake pad material and performance should be expected to align with that grade.

Coming To A Stop

Car driving at high speed
Car driving at high speed

Upgrading your brakes isn’t something that should be taken lightly. As we mentioned above, these are safety-critical components. At the same time, when done right, aftermarket brakes can improve safety by shortening the distance needed to stop, reducing brake fade, and improving pedal feedback. When it comes to improving the safety and performance of your vehicle, aftermarket brakes can prove to be one of the best investments on the market.

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Stephen Rivers

Stephen Rivers is a car enthusiast who loves all things built with passion, extending to nearly all car cultures. After obtaining an occupational studies degree in sports medicine, Stephen turned his attention to sports cars. He was employed as an auto shop manager, spent time in auto sales, and worked as a software developer for a racing company, but Stephen began writing about cars over 10 years ago. When he's not in front of a computer screen, he's racing his own Bugeye Subaru WRX in as many autocross and rallycross competitions as he can.

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