Should you really mess around with your braking system? We discuss what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to your brakes.
One of the most important parts of a car is the brakes – and if you want to argue with me on this then we can try removing them and seeing how enjoyable driving is. But even between different car models, brakes can vary a great deal – in terms of complexity as well as effectiveness. There’s almost no doubt that the brakes on a Ferrari 488 GTB would be far more powerful than those on a Perodua Myvi.
In this buying guide, we’re going to cover why manufacturers specify brakes the way they do, as well as what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to modifying your brakes. As a disclaimer, you should always consult a professional when it comes to modifying anything brakes related on your car as it is a critical system. Read on to find out more:
Cost Is A Priority
Despite having remained the same way for decades, consumers nowadays tend to pick on a car if it comes with rear drum brakes instead of all-round disc brakes. There’s this perception that drum brakes are inferior to disc brakes, and in performance applications they are, but for the average entry level road car there really is no discernible difference in performance.
But this isn’t the only cost conscious measure that a manufacturer will make, and it isn’t purely limited to the entry level market. Even among higher end cars, brakes are specified to meet the minimum requirement of the car in order to keep it safe. If it weren’t the case, every car would come with largest disc and caliper package that can fit under the stock wheels.
Pistons, Disc Diameter, Pad Area
You will hear a couple of terms when it comes to brakes – usually how many pistons a brake has, as well as how big the brake disc diameter is. The number of pistons in a brake caliper generally relates to how much force you can apply to the brakes, and more is usually better to a point. On the other hand, disc diameter also has an effect on stopping power as larger discs can apply more braking torque to the wheel.
Pad area is something that’s a little more interesting, as it is a figure that isn’t always considered by those modifying their braking systems. For example, it is a little known fact that stock Porsche 911 997 brakes have less pad area than an equivalent model year Subaru Impreza WRX STI - and yet some Subaru owners made the swap even though they would be moving to a technically inferior setup. Pad area is essentially how much of the brake pad is in contact with the disc.
Brake Fluid Matters
One of the first things you can do to improve your braking system’s performance is to change the brake fluid to something that is slightly more resilient with high temperatures as well as better formulated in general to reduce the risk of boiling or contaminating. Always make sure you double check what brake fluid your car comes with from factory as not all brake fluid standards are compatible – we’re referring to the DOT number here.
What Brake Pad Compound Is Best
If you’re just getting into this, you probably won’t be having to deal with too many different options just yet. But even so, you should always make sure that the brake pad you purchase has the right kind of compound and operating range for your application. For example, many true racecar brake pads may offering insane stopping power and high temperature resistance, but are absolutely useless at lower temperatures when the brakes are too cold.
There’s also the consideration of how fast the pads will wear out or how abrasive they are to the brake discs. Some setups are really just designed for motorsports or aggressive uses so it is neither cost effective nor practical to run them on a road car. Whenever you change brake pads, make sure to resurface your brake discs and go through a proper pad bedding-in process.
Just as there are steel discs and carbon ceramic discs, brake pads also have a variety of materials available depending on the application. For most road car applications, a fully organic or semi-metallic brake pad works best as they are the least aggressive of the pad compounds and get warm relatively quickly – important during cold morning starts. There are also sintered metal brake pads that are far more aggressive with performance and wear – perhaps a little too much. Full on ceramic compounds offer even better braking performance across the range, but they are usually too expensive and completely unnecessary for road use.
Don’t Mess With The Brake Bias
You know how a bicycle has individual levers for the front brakes and rear brakes? With a car you get one pedal that does it all – but just like with a bicycle, you can’t just apply both brakes with large amounts of force when you want to stop. The grip across the front and rear tyres are different, especially as weight transfer forward under braking, which is what leads to braking systems having a front-rear bias.
The problem is that the brake bias of the system is dependent on both the brake pump, the proportioning valve, as well as the overall size of the brake calipers. If you choose to upgrade your brake package, focus more on the front brakes as upgrading the rear without proper calculations can result in a very tail-happy and very dangerous car under braking.
If It’s Too Good To Be True
In the last few years, we have seen an influx of fake or low quality brake products on our market. Everything from AP Racing to Brembo has been pirated, and there’s absolutely no guarantee of quality with a counterfeit product. Unlike other items such as bodykits or spoilers, braking equipment is an integral part of safety and if it fails you could injure yourself and others.
These items are popular among those who modify their cars as having big brakes is a show of seriousness, but ultimately it is more of a risk than it is worth. If you’re unsure of whether an items is real or fake, double check any serial numbers with the respective manufacturer as well as take note of what prices for these products are like from overseas. If the item is significantly cheaper, there’s a high chance that it’s a counterfeit product.