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Blog Car Care Advice Ceramic vs. Semi-Metallic Brake Pads: 2021 Comparison

Ceramic vs. Semi-Metallic Brake Pads: 2021 Comparison

January 25, 2021

Need to change your brake pads?

You know something’s wrong when there’s that painful, tell-tale squealing every single time you brake. Or perhaps you find that 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!

Clearly, 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 organic brakes?

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

But don’t worry.

In this article, we’ll look at the different types of 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

(Click on a link below to jump to a specific section)

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 have to know what you’re working with before you try 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, click here to skip to our comparison table.

1. Friction block

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

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

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. This serves as an alert for when the friction material is worn down.

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 onto the types of brake pads available: 

Breaking Down the Three Different Kinds of Brake Pads

Back in the 1950s and 60s, asbestos brake pads were the go-to option for disc brakes. Unfortunately, asbestos pads came with severe environmental and health consequences – which led to their discontinuation.

But don’t worry.

Since then, three other alternatives have come in and stole 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 the majority of 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 the brake rotors.

However, because they’re soft, they require a bit more pressure when braking. Chances are, when you use them, you’re going to 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, for regular day-to-day commuting, organic pads are an affordable, functional, and all around entry level braking solution.

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, which could be iron, copper, steel wool, or other composite alloys. 

Semi-metallic brake pads are designed for performance in extreme driving conditions and are highly versatile. They 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, lasting, and 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 debris on your 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 rotors more often for thinning.

3. The Ceramic Brake Pad: The Quiet Stopping Force

The ceramic brake pad was developed in the 1980s. 

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

Ceramic brake pads are the quietest of the three types. 

And even if they do make a noise, you won’t hear them as the sound frequencies are outside the range of human hearing!

They produce the least amount of brake dust, have a firm, comfortable braking sensation, and last longer than the semi-metallic brake pads. They’re also gentler on the braking rotor compared to the semi-metallic ones.

Sounds good so far?

There’s always a compromise. 

For all its plus points, ceramic pads are the most expensive option of the three. 

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

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

They also tend to have a lower coefficient of friction 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.

So, which brake pad is for you?

Ceramic vs Semi-Metallic vs Organic Brake Pads

Now that you know about the different types of brake pads available, which one should you go for?

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, heavyduty workloadDaily street driving

Remember, every brake pad has its own 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, your choice of brake pads depends on your driving habits, driving conditions, and purpose: 

For regular daily driving, the affordable organic pads work just fine 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, if you’re going to be doing lots of hard braking, racing, or driving heavy loads, the semi-metallic brake pad is your best option. These are also likely better for extremely cold climates as their braking performance is more reliable over a much wider temperature range.

Great!

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

Now, you just have to figure out the actual replacement

The Best Way To Replace Your Brake Pads

Brake pad replacement costs depend on the year, make, and model of your car, as well as the type of brake pads used. The cost of an average brake pad replacement is typically anywhere between $180-$350 per axle.

When you’re looking for a mechanic to help you with your brake pads, make sure that they:

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

RepairSmith is the most convenient car repair and maintenance solution, currently available in California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Texas.

Here’s why RepairSmith should be your go-to repair option: 

For an accurate estimate of what your brake pad replacement will cost you, all you have to do is fill this 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’s always the full metallic (sintered) brake pad, which is more common on motorcycles or 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, make sure they’re well-suited to your vehicle and usage. 

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