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Metallic vs. Ceramic Brake Pads: Which Is Best?

Alex Palmeri
October 16, 2018

brake pad types

Brake pads are one of the most critical parts of our cars, so finding the right pad is important. You want good braking performance, low dust, minimal noise — and, of course, affordability.

The two most popular brake pad types are metallic and ceramic — but which one is best for you? Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each one. 

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Metallic brake pads

A metallic or semi-metallic brake pad is exactly what it sounds like. Metals make up anywhere between 30% and 70% of the pad — copper, steel, iron and other composite alloys can be used. 

Automakers like metallic pads because of their excellent performance in both cold and hot conditions and because of their versatility. The pads can be made from different types and different amounts of metal, so performance can be tailored specifically to the type of car. 

Vehicles that require more serious braking power, such as sports cars, use a higher concentration of metals in the lining. They are bonded together with an organic resin and baked in an oven to increase durability.  

Here are some major advantages and disadvantages of a metallic brake pad.

Advantages

  • Excellent braking power in both cold and hot conditions.
  • Able to withstand extreme brake temperatures before fading.
  • Excellent grip or “bite” with a firm pedal feel
  • Can be made to accommodate many driving styles and vehicles.
  • Affordable and long-lasting.

Although semi-metallic pads are what you find on most cars from the factory, they do have some faults.

Disadvantages

  • Metallic pads can squeal and are generally louder than most every other pad.
  • High levels of brake dust can lead to dirty wheels.
  • Metallic pads can wear out rotors quickly, and rotors cost more than brake pads.

Metallic pads can be a great option when it comes times to replace your brakes, especially if you drive a performance-oriented vehicle or something that requires maximum stopping capabilities in different climates. However, if dust, noise and rotor wear concern you, a ceramic brake pad might be a better option.

» LEARN MORE: Get an estimate for your brake pad replacement

Ceramic brake pads

These brake pads are made using ceramic material, much like you’d find in pottery — only much more dense in order to be able to withstand the extreme pressure and heat of braking. Copper is also used to increase stopping power and to aid in heat transfer. 

Although ceramic pads can be formulated to work in some types of racing, they’re typically used as an upgrade on normal street cars that don’t require high-performance braking. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of ceramic brake pads.

Advantages

  • Low levels of brake dust. The dust that is produced is lighter in color and barely visible.
  • Very quiet, emitting almost no sound compared to metallic.
  • Good cold and hot performance for everyday cars.
  • Gentler on brake rotors than metallic.
  • Ceramic pads can last longer than metallic pads. 

So far so good, but why aren’t they the standard in automotive brake pads yet?

Disadvantages

  • High cost. Ceramic pads are typically the most expensive brake pad you can buy.
  • Acceptable but not great performance in extreme cold or extreme heat unless specifically formulated for racing.
  • Require warm-up time to be most effective. 

The ceramic pad is great for your everyday commuter, luxury car or anything that doesn’t get whipped around a track all day long. Overall, they are a great upgrade if noise, brake dust and longevity are a concern. 

Which brake pads should you pick?

Brake pads are not all the same, and the first step in picking the right one is understanding what kind of driving you do. Most people who switch to ceramic pads on their everyday vehicles are happy with a quiet braking experience. 

On the other hand, performance car drivers or people who tow and drive larger vehicles enjoy the extra braking power typically associated with metallic pads. 

Whichever way you go, make sure to use a high-quality brake pad. If you are happy with the way your brakes perform with the original factory pads, there’s nothing wrong with using those again. 

Be wary of very cheap pads that carry a lifetime warranty. Often these are very hard pads that last a long time but wear out rotors quickly. If you’re having your brakes replaced by a repair shop, ask them what brand they like to use. Most shops will stick to a brake pad brand they have been using for a long time and are comfortable with.

No matter what pads you choose, always have them inspected at every service and maintain the brake fluid according to your owner’s manual

Alex Palmeri

About the Author

Alex Palmeri worked nine years as a master technician at Mercedes-Benz of Chicago and is currently the foreman at a large fleet garage. He writes about automotive news, maintenance and racing, and runs a YouTube channel called Legit Street Cars.

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