When it comes to changing the brakes on your car, there are numerous different types of brake pads available. Brake pad material can be organic, ceramic or semi-metallic brake. So, when it comes to choosing a brake pad, what is the difference between ceramic and semi-metallic and which is better?
As a general rule, semi-metallic brake pads are better all round performers for everyday driving. Ceramic pads use a harder ceramic compound that generates less brake dust, are harder wearing but are not well suited to racing or high performance braking applications.
Up until recently, most road cars are shipped from the factory with semi-metallic brake pads. This is because they offer the best blend of performance, longevity and affordability.
However, ceramic brake pads are growing in popularity, due to their hard wearing longevity, and the fact that they are now as affordable as standard brake pads.
Which brake pads are better ceramic or semi-metallic?
When it comes to choosing the best brake pads for your vehicle, there are literally thousands of options on the market. Apart from choosing a brand, you can also choose between different brake pad materials.
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Most of the time, I recommend staying with OEM, or manufacturer approved after market brake pads. Vehicle makers spend millions of dollars developing their cars and their brake systems. They know what works best, and what brake pads are best suited to work with the rest of the brake components.
However, there are a growing number of vehicles being shipped with ceramic brake pads as standard. There is also a growing aftermarket range of ceramic pads available for consumers to choose from.
If you are thinking of changing over to ceramic pads then it’s worth noting the differences between ceramic pads and semi-metallic (standard) pads.
The following table outlines the main properties of semi-metallic and ceramic brake pads.
What is the difference between ceramic and semi-metallic brake pads?
|Semi-Metallic Brake Pads||Ceramic Brake Pads|
|Braking surface made from a metal/graphite alloy||Braking surface made from a clay or porcelain/copper compound|
|Semi hard wearing||Very hard wearing|
|Well matched to OEM braking components such as rotors and calipers||They can cause accelerated wearing of standard brake rotors|
|Excellent heat conductors||Poor heat conductors|
|Can produce a lot of brake dust||Produce less brake dust|
|Are noisy and can squeal if not fitted correctly||Are usually quiet|
Excellent braking performance in a wide range of weather/driving conditions
|Good braking performance in normal driving conditions|
|Suitable for high performance racing usage||Not as well suited to racing or high performance braking|
What are Ceramic brake pads?
These are not your typical brake pads that you will find factory fitted on most cars. First developed around 30 years ago, they are a very hard wearing, clean and quiet alternative to organic and metallic brake pads.
What are Ceramic brake pads made from?
Their surface brake material is made from a clay and porcelain compound with copper flakes added to enhance the thermal conductivity. Most cars won’t have them fitted as standard, and because of their unique properties they may not be suitable for all braking systems.
Ceramic brake pads are very hard wearing, and should last much longer than standard brake pads. They are also very quiet and produce a finer, lighter dust as they wear. On the downside, they chemical nature of the ceramic compound is not as good a conductor of heat as metallic pads.
So, whilst they produce less brake dust, they also take longer to heat up and they tend to push heat back against the rotors and brake calipers. This makes them less suitable for extreme braking conditions such as track cars. It will also cause the premature wear of other brake components such as rotors, and nearby suspension bushings.
How much do Ceramic Brake Pads Cost?
In the past, ceramic brake pads were generally more expensive than their semi-metallic alternatives. This is not the case any longer. As an example, a standard set of genuine Toyota front brake pads for a Toyota Camry will cost you around $65 (check them out here on Amazon). Whereas a set of Bosch QuietCast Premium Ceramic Brake Pads cost around half that at $35 (available on Amazon here).
What are the Pros and Cons of Ceramic Brake Pads?
|Hard wearing and last longer than standard brake pads||Can cause premature wear of other brake components|
|Produce less brake dust than other types of brake pads||Are not as good thermal conductors as other brake pads and they can take a while to warm up|
|Very quiet in operation due to their hardness||Not suitable for all brake systems|
|They don’t work as well in all driving conditions, especially in very cold weather|
What Are Semi-Metallic Brake Pads?
These brake pads are the standard factory fitted brake pads you will find on most cars when new. They are not the perfect option when it comes to brake pads, but they are the most popular.
Semi-metallic pads are usually made from a metal/ graphite alloy. They usually are composed of 40-60% metal, such as copper and iron. The rest is a graphite compound that helps to bind the brake pad together and enhances the thermal conductivity and performance of the pad.
Depending on the pad, the composition and percentage of metal can vary. Racing and track pads generally have more metal to help them to last longer and dissipate heat from the rotors (There are also fully metallic pads that are only suitable for racing vehicles).
Overall, this type of brake pad offers the best performance for daily drivers as they produce a fair amount of brake ‘bite’ from cold, and are great at channeling heat away from the rotors when necessary.
On the downside, they can produce a lot of brake dust, depending on the chosen brand and quality of the pad. They can also be noisy if they wear unevenly or over time if they get clogged up with brake dust.
Pros And Cons Of Semi-Metallic Brake Pads
|Are widely available for all vehicle types||Can be loud and can squeal as they wear out or get clogged with dust|
|Offer better all round braking performance from cold||Generate more dust than other pad types|
|Available in a range of hardness for daily use to racing standard||Don’t last as long as fully metallic or ceramic brake pads.|
|They are good conductors of heat and won’t put excessive wear on rotors||They are not always the cheapest available type of brake pad|
What type of brake pad Is Best (Ceramic or Semi-Metallic)?
In my opinion, semi-metallic brake pads are still the best option for most daily drivers. That’s not to say ceramic pads are not a good option. When it comes to the brakes on a standard car I prefer to stick with OEM specification.
This is because standard brake pads offer the best all round braking performance in all climates and in most driving conditions. They may not last as long as ceramic pads, but they will give a slightly better braking experience from cold.
It’s also worth noting that most cars are still designed to use standard brake pads. You need to take into account the other brake components such as rotors, heat shields, calipers and brake lines when choosing a brake pad.
Special Considerations when upgrading to ceramic brake pads
If you do decide to change over to ceramic pads here are a few recommendations:
1. Always fit new rotors when fitting ceramic brake pads.
If your car has older rotors they may not be perfectly smooth and will probably have a slight lip around the edge where they have started to wear. New standard pads will ‘bed in’ and take the shape of any slight imperfections on the rotor, ceramic pads won’t. This can lead to noisy brakes and a decrease in brake performance.
2. Only fit OEM or good quality ceramic brake pads
If you are going to move away from OEM semi-metallic brake pads, be sure to fit pads that meet all the safety specifications that standard pads meet. Check to see if there are OEM ceramic pads available for your vehicle, your local dealer should be able to help you out. If not, choose a known brand such as Bosch, ATE or Brembo.