Different suppliers means different reliability for brake pads

February 14 2018, Brian Turner - Driving.ca - Sprint Marketing

Different suppliers means different reliability for brake pads

Study shows cheaper steel will rust quicker, which puts your vehicle at risk for brake failure

Did you know that Toronto is home to the Global Brake Safety Council? This group was established in 2014 and is made up of professional engineers, auto manufacturing design engineers, product development and R&D specialists, all dedicated to upholding high standards in brake safety and responsible manufacturing.

They recently completed a thorough study of brake pads removed for replacement on hundreds of vehicles from both Toronto and Houston, Texas, choosing these two very different regions to see how the hot, humid environment of Houston and the sometimes snowy, salt-laden and harsh winter conditions on this side of the 49th parallel treat arguably the most crucial part of our vehicles’ safety systems; the lowly brake pad. They sorted through and analyzed more than 3,200 parts collected over 12 months to provide a healthy sampling of the various seasons in each of the two regions. Their results were surprising, to say the least.

Almost 67 per cent of their large sample showed no reason for replacement, with more than 50 per cent of the lining material on those remaining. Only 5.6 per cent of the batch showed complete wear down to the steel plate, and the remainder were grouped into three categories of failure: excessive rust, lining material separation and lining material fractures. Ironically, there were no real differences found in the state of parts between Houston and Toronto.

That first and exceedingly large group is a great reason to ask your shop technician to show you any old brake pads (or other parts for that matter) removed from your vehicle for replacement, to ensure you’re not having needless work done. But as the Global Council concentrates on manufacturing qualities and processes, their focus was on those brake pads that failed in the latter categories, as these represent safety concerns that wouldn’t necessarily be noticeable to the average driver until it’s too late. It’s one thing to get some audible warnings that a brake system needs attention, and quite another matter to slam on the brakes to find you have little to no deceleration.

One of the big reasons that the council points to as the cause for the majority of rust related brake pad failures is the use of ‘black’ steel for the pad backing/support plate. Black steel is hot rolled steel that has not gone through the ‘pickling and oiling’ process to remove impurities, scale, and other contaminants. This will prevent paint or anti-corrosion treatment from sticking to the metal, leading to early death by rust.

Why should consumers worry? Because, almost 30 per cent of the samples that the council examined failed from corrosion. They have confirmed that original equipment maker’s pads use properly treated steel, as do some aftermarket brands such as Federal Mogul – though not all of them do. 

So as a consumer, it’s wise to ask questions to your service advisor. Do the pads they recommend use black steel or correctly treated steel? Have they experienced any premature rust failures with these parts? How long have they been recommending and using them?

When you take into consideration the labour costs to replace a set of brake pads, it’s worth comparing prices between OEM, good quality aftermarket products and whatever your shop is recommending. Don’t be fooled by long-term warranties offered by certain brands because the fine print will tell you they’re usually limited to covering the parts and installation fees for only 90 days or so, leaving the customer to foot the labour costs after that. If brakes are inspected and serviced regularly, they should easily last 50,000 km or more on more personal-use vehicles.