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AKRON—When a newer vehicle comes into a shop for brake pad replacement, there is a steadily increasing possibility it is outfitted with a performance brake system.

And just as with high-performance tires, the vehicle's performance depends on having comparable brake pad replacement, according to makers of friction materials.

Performance brakes are used in a variety of applications—from professional racing to grassroots motorsports to on-the-road sports sedans.

Tire Rack Inc. defines performance street pads as a step up from most OE and premium replacement pads in the areas of pedal sensitivity, stopping power and improved resistance to fade caused by high operating temperatures. As Tire Rack explains on its website, performance brakes “are for the enthusiast driver who operates his/her vehicle in a spirited manner on the street.”

Performance brakes, often semi-metallic, are recommended to be paired with high-performance tires and wheels.

“Certainly, what you do when you put an ultra-performance tire on a vehicle is you're trying to get higher cornering performance as well as typically more grip from the tire compound,” said Terry Heffelfinger, vice president of product development, R&D and development and quality for Brake Parts Inc. L.L.C., the maker of Raybestos brakes. “And along with that, if you upgrade the brake package to either a more aggressive brake pad or rotor, that all goes in combination to give you a better overall performance package.”

Performance brake sales are growing both in OE and in the aftermarket, according to Brembo North America Inc.

“You see Brembo and high-performance brake systems becoming more prevalent on everything down from the absolute ultra-exotic cars to something that is definitely a lot more mainstream,” said Mark Valskis, Brembo's engineering manager for the high-performance and racing divisions in North America.

“So definitely there's been a focus within the OE to upgrade the brake systems along with everything else on the vehicle.”

Mr. Heffelfinger agreed. “We're seeing more packages with regard to Corvettes and sports sedans with upgrades to aggressive performance-type brakes. It is a trend (that) the OEs are offering those packages beyond the base level more and more.”

Mr. Heffelfinger noted that consumers are attracted to performance brake packages after seeing production cars with aggressive brake systems racing in events such as the Rolex/GrandAm road racing series.

While performance brakes provide better control, there are a few negatives—such as shorter wear life, increased brake dust on the wheels and more noise than ceramic brakes, for example.

Much like high-performance tires, consumers must deal with shorter replacement intervals and higher cost for their performance brakes.

“If you want the performance, just like tires, you have to expect you're going to replace (the brakes) more often,” Mr. Heffelfinger said.

Performance brake developers face the same conundrums high-performance tire developers must deal with: trying to please everybody when enhancing one feature diminishes another.

Brake compounds vary as they are tailored to different areas of the market—some people are interested in performance, some interested in low dust.

Brake dust, performance and noise are almost mutually exclusive, according to Mr. Valskis.

“You don't really see a performance pad that is also low dust,” he said. “Where the materials are at, they don't correlate. Unfortunately...that's why you see so many compounds out in the market, because people have different desires.”

However, brake makers strongly recommend that owners of vehicles with performance brakes replace the performance pads with comparable versions.

“If you want to maintain the performance of the brake system then absolutely (replace with performance pads),” Mr. Valskis said. “The brake pads are an integral component of the system and have a very strong effect on the overall performance levels.

“So if you don't install a pad that has equivalent performance capabilities, then you're degrading the entire system performance.

“You see a lot of people changing maybe to low-dust pads and everything else,” he continued, “but what a lot of people don't realize is that by doing that you're drastically reducing the performance of your brake system.”

“So if you're not using a brake pad that has similar performance to the OE, then you're actually degrading the performance, obviously, and you can have a pretty serious impact on the stopping distances, the fade performance and even the stability of the vehicle.”

Mr. Valskis also noted that when consumers plus-size their tires and wheels, especially on SUVs, they should also upgrade their brake systems. “A brake upgrade should go hand in hand with that,” he said.

“When you go from the stock wheel sizes to some of the large wheel sizes you see in the aftermarket these days,” Mr. Valskis said, “that has a major impact on the braking performance, degrading the braking performance of the vehicle. In some cases changing the wheel and tire package, we've seen, doubles the stopping distance for an SUV.”



To reach this reporter: kmccarron@ crain.com; 330-865-6127.
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