When you have a performance car, your stock brake system might not cut it. If you're driving aggressively (and, let's be honest, why wouldn't you be?), you need something that will handle the serious power and speed your car produces. Performance brake upgrades like a new set of pads - or even a big brake kit - will fit that bill.

However, there's more to effective braking than just choosing a part on a website. It's important to understand how brake systems work, so you can choose something that works for your specific needs. Here's what you need to know.

Car braking

Performance brakes make a big difference on the racetrack, via twin-loc.fr

Do You Need To Upgrade Your Brake System?

Generally speaking, every car on the road could use a brake system upgrade.

This isn't to say that OEM brake systems are bad (far from it, in fact - many of them are quite good), so much as to say you can never have brakes that are too good. If you can reduce your stopping distance, why wouldn't you?

Still, if that's not a good enough reason to upgrade, here are some questions you should consider:

  1. Are your stock brakes overheating? You'll know because you'll smell them gassing - it's a distinctive smell that you can't miss. If you're smelling hot brakes with any sort of regularity, you're a good candidate for an upgrade.
  2. Are your stock brakes wearing quickly? A good set of OEM front brake pads should last a year or two on a performance car, and perhaps as many as 5 years on a 'regular' car. If you're burning through brake pads every few months - and replacing rotors every other time you buy pads - you're a good candidate for an upgrade.
  3. Are you racing? If you're taking your vehicle out on a track, you're a good candidate for a brake upgrade.
  4. Have you increased your vehicle's engine power more than 20%? If you've made any substantial improvements to engine power, you should think seriously about investing in a brake upgrade.

If the answer to all of these questions is no, you can probably stop right here. A brake upgrade isn't for you.

But if you've answered yes to even one question, it's time to talk upgrades.

Performance Brake Pads

Upgrading your brake pads to a performance formulation has a lot of benefits. The biggest benefit is that performance pads resist fade much, much better than stock brakes. You'll get better performance at the track, as performance pads tend to stick better once they get hot.

Performance brake pads have some downsides, however:

  • They have to be 'bedded in' using a specific process. If they aren't probably bed-in after install, they will perform poorly. Usually, the process is simple enough, but a lot of people forget and/or don't realize they need to do it.
  • Performance pads aren't very good when they're cold (at least a lot of them aren't). Cold brake pads are a problem when you upgrade to a performance compound. While OEM brakes tend to grab pretty good first thing in the morning, a performance pad works quite poorly until it reaches a few hundred degrees of temperature.
  • Performance pads don't last as long as OEM pads, at least on the street. An OEM brake pad will last a good long time when used on the street. If you replace an OEM pad with a performance pad on a street car, you'll probably a new set of pads sooner than expected. Of course, you'll probably stop better in the meantime.
  • Performance pads can be noisy. Again, if you're on the track every weekend, you probably don't care. If you're adding performance pads to a car that you expect to be whisper quiet, you might be disappointed.

We carry the Hawk brand of performance pads, as they offer a range of options for different types of use. If you're running at the track every weekend and commuting in between, a Hawk code 'R' pad is a good choice. If you've got a car with some performance upgrades - but you're looking for a mostly street pad - an 'HPS' or 'Z' pad is a good choice.

Performance brakes

The Hawk HP Plus performance brake pad set

As always, feel free to contact us for a brake pad recommendation.

Replacement Performance Rotors

After pad upgrades come rotor upgrades. Most upgraded rotors offer:

  • Increased swept area, which allows for a larger set of pads, and/or
  • Increased cooling, either via cross-drilling, improved vents, slots, or higher quality materials

A rotor upgrade is often best when paired with a pad upgrade. Pads and rotors are a system - if you combine a good rotor with a pad designed for that rotor, you'll get more braking performance than you would with a mis-matched set.

If there's a downside to a new set of rotors and pads, it's cost. Of course, many after-market rotors and performance pads cost nearly as much as an OEM set of rotors and pads from your local dealership.

Big Brake Kits

At the top of the brake performance pyramid, we have big brake kits. While each kit is a bit different, they typically offer:

  • Larger brake rotors with more swept area
  • Pads to match the rotors
  • Upgraded calipers with more pistons for more grabbing force
  • Stainless steel brake lines

Additionally, some of these kits will offer an upgraded master cylinder as well.

These kits are idea for racing, but really anyone with a need for speed would be wise to invest in a big brake kit. As pricey as they may be, they're usually less expensive than repairs from running into something.

Don't Forget Brake Fluid and Lines!

Last but not least, don't forget that your brakes live and die by the quality of your brake fluid and the strength of your brake lines. A strong set of brake lines will not expand or "swell" during heavy use. A good brake fluid will resist compression, even at high temperatures.

While there are some performance brake fluids available, the most important thing to know is that you should replace your brake fluid frequently. Brake fluid is ruined once it reaches a high enough temperature. If you have a spirited day at the track, your brake fluid is likely cooked. Replacing it is a good idea.

Likewise, a set of steel braided brake lines is a good investment for anyone tracking their car. Of course, they're definitely not a bad investment for people who only occasionally like to drive fast.

Summing Up

You can't ever lose investing in brake performance. Whether it's a set of upgraded pads or a big brake kit, the cost of a brake system upgrade is much lower than the cost of poor brake performance. It's better to be safe than sorry, after all.

For expert advice on choosing the right performance pads, rotors, and other parts for your car, check out this article or contact us.