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Car Care Advice

Ceramic vs. Semi-Metallic Brake Pads: 2023 Comparison

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Need to change your brake pads?

You know something’s wrong when there’s that painful, tell-tale squealing every time you brake. Or perhaps your brakes are so disengaged that your feet could be cinder blocks, and they still couldn’t press down hard enough to bring your car to a halt.

Let’s face it!
It’s time for new brake pads.

But which one should you get?

Is it a choice between ceramic vs semi metallic brake pads?
Or should you go for the organic brake?

Who knew that there could be more than one type, right?

But don’t worry.

This article will look at the different brake pads you’ll likely encounter, their pros and cons, and what each type is best suited for. We’ll also show you the easiest way to get your brake pads replaced.

This Article Contains:

Let’s get started.

The Anatomy Of A Brake Pad

The brake pad is one of the vital brake system components. It works by creating friction with the brake rotor to slow your car’s wheels to a stop. It essentially converts kinetic energy to thermal energy — which explains why your brakes heat up. 

But before we get into the types of brake pads, let’s have a quick look at each fundamental component that goes into them. 

After all, you must know what you’re working with before trying to fix it, right?

Note: If you already know what goes into a brake pad and are just looking for a comparison between the different types, skip ahead to our comparison table.

1. Friction Block

The friction block contacts the rotors (or brake disc) to slow them down. 

Friction blocks combine powders, lubricants, fibers, fillers, and abrasives held together by a binder resin. The brake pad material impacts how your brake pads perform, which we’ll get to later.

2. Underlayer

Next is the underlayer, which has more resin to bond the friction block to the backing plate. 

Some brake pads have a sensor (called a ‘squealer’) that makes a squealing noise when the brake pads wear down to the underlayer level — alerting you when the friction material is completely worn.

3. Adhesive

Braking generates a lot of heat. The adhesive has to be highly heat resistant and strong enough to hold the friction block to the backing plate under these frequent, extreme conditions.

4. Backing Plate

The backing plate is the backbone of the brake pad. It’s a steel plate designed to provide even clamping pressure along the friction block when the brake system is engaged.

5. Shim

The shim helps reduce the noise level and vibration from the backing plate to the brake calipers.

Now that you know the basic components of a brake pad, let’s move on to the types of brake pads available: 

Breaking Down The Three Different Kinds Of Brake Pads

Back in the 1950s and 60s, the asbestos pad was the go-to option for disc brake pads. Unfortunately, asbestos pads had severe environmental and public health consequences, leading to its discontinuation.

But don’t worry.

Since then, three other alternatives for your disc brakes have come in and stolen the show: 

1. The Organic Brake Pad: Your Affordable, Everyday Brake Pad

The organic brake pad, also known as the “non asbestos organic (NAO) pad,” is what you’ll likely find on any new car. It’s the preferred alternative to asbestos brake pads for most new vehicles in the US, as it’s the least expensive and does the brake job just fine.

Materials for this friction block can be glass, fiber, rubber, carbon, or Kevlar mixed with resins. These brake pads are soft, quiet, and easy on your brake rotor.

However, they require a bit more pressure when braking because they’re soft. Chances are, when you use them, you’ll experience that “mushy” brake pedal feel. Organic pads also wear out faster and produce a fair amount of messy brake dust.

These brake pads don’t tolerate overheating well, and they’re not suitable for aggressive braking — so don’t think of bringing these along to a drag race!

However, organic pads are an affordable, functional, and all-around entry-level braking solution for regular day-to-day commuting. 

Fun fact: Some manufacturers add copper fibers or steel to their organic friction materials to get low metallic brake pads. These low metallic brake pads offer better braking performance, but still produce a lot of brake dust. Adding the metals also eliminates the organic brake benefit of lower noise levels over a semi metallic pad

2. The Semi-Metallic Brake Pad: The High-Speed Power Braker

Next up is the semi-metallic brake pad.

The friction material on the semi metallic brake pad has high amounts of metal, such as iron, copper, steel wool, or other composite alloys. 

Semi metallic pads are designed for performance in extreme driving conditions, are highly versatile, and have a better braking response than their organic counterparts. They have longer brake pad durability, excellent cold bite, and function well over a wide range of brake temperatures. 

What’s cold bite?
Cold bite is how good the friction level is when the brakes are cold — better friction means better braking.

The semi metallic brake pad is also more resistant to brake fade as they conduct heat well, keeping the brake system cooler. This is good for the longevity of your brake system.

What’s brake fade?
Brake fade is the temporary reduction of braking power due to the excessive heat generated from repeated braking. This occurs at high speeds or under high loads, like when you press the brake pedal too often while driving down a steep incline.

So, what’s the compromise for this faster, more lasting, and more efficient brake pad?

One of the immediate drawbacks is the noise

The semi metallic pad also produces more brake dust, so you’ll get more dust on your brake rotors faster. One of the other downsides is that they’re more aggressive on the braking rotor because they’re metallic, so you’ll need to check your brake rotors more often for thinning.

3. The Ceramic Brake Pad: The Quiet Stopping Force

The ceramic brake pad was developed in the 1980s. 

Ceramic brakes are made using a dense ceramic compound (like pottery) with fine, embedded copper fibers or other metallic fibers that increase friction and heat conductivity.

Ceramic brake pads are the quietest of the three types
And even if they make a noise, you won’t hear them as the sound frequencies are outside the range of human hearing!

They produce the least dust, have a firm, comfortable braking sensation, and last longer than semi metallic brake pads. Their ceramic lining is also gentler on the braking rotor than semi metallic pads.

Sounds good so far?

There’s always a compromise. 

For all its plus points, the ceramic pad option is the most expensive of the three.

They also don’t absorb heat well in extreme braking conditions, as the material in ceramic brakes acts more like an insulator than a conductor. This can lead to increased heat transfer into the braking system, so avoiding frequent, heavy braking with these pads is best.

Additionally, the ceramic pads have less cold bite than semi metallic brake pads, making them less effective in cold weather. 

They also tend to have a lower friction coefficient than semi-metallic brake pads (a higher coefficient of friction means better braking ability). 

So, while ceramics have decent all around braking characteristics, they aren’t meant for high-performance use or extreme conditions.

With all that said, which brake pad is best for you?

Organic Vs Ceramic Vs Semi Metallic Brake Pads — Which Is Best?

Now that you know the different brake pads available, which one should you choose?

Use this table to help you quickly compare each type: 

FeatureOrganic PadSemi Metallic PadCeramic Pad
PriceLowMediumHigh
Performance applicationsLow Good Low 
Lowest noiseMediumHighLow
Brake pad wearFast MediumSlow
Brake dust levelsMediumHighLow
Cold biteGoodGoodFair
PurposeDaily street drivingRacing, heavy-duty workloadDaily street driving

Remember, every brake pad has its pros and cons. 

If you’re uncertain, you can always follow the manufacturer’s recommended OEM brake pads (original equipment manufacturer) instead of opting for an aftermarket brake pad. 

Ultimately, choosing the best brake pad for you depends on your driving habits, driving conditions, and purpose. 

The affordable organic pads work just fine for regular daily driving and won’t break your wallet. You could also spend more on ceramic brake pads for their long lifespan and enjoy the benefits of quietness.

However, the semi-metallic brake pad is your best option if you’re doing lots of hard braking, racing, or driving heavy loads. These are also likely better for freezing climates as their braking performance is more reliable over a much wider temperature range.

Great!

You’ve decided on which replacement brake pads you need. 

Now, you’ll have to figure out the actual replacement. 

Stay Safe And Replace Your Brake Pads With RepairSmith

Brake pad replacement costs depend on the year, make, and model of your car, and the type of brake pads used. The cost of an average brake pad replacement is typically anywhere between $120 to $270.

And there’s a super-easy way to get all this done.

RepairSmith is the most convenient car repair and maintenance solution for you. 
Here’s why RepairSmith should be your go-to repair option: 

For an accurate estimate of how much replacing your brake pads will cost you, all you have to do is fill this out online form.

The Best Brake Pads Are Ones That Work

While organic, ceramic, and semi-metallic brake pads are the most common automotive brake pads you’ll find, they’re certainly not the only ones in the market. 

There are also full metallic pads or sintered brake pads. However, these brake pads are more common on motorcycles and ATVs than cars. Alternatively, you can check out the super-expensive carbon ceramic performance brake pads that go on supercars and planes. 

Whichever type you go for, ensure they’re the best brake pad for your vehicle and usage. 

And if you’re looking for a convenient, trustworthy auto repair service to replace your brake pads, look no further than RepairSmith!