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While the braking system of a car comprises several components – rotors, calipers, hydraulic fluid, cylinder, hoses – the bit most of us think about when we hear the word ‘brakes’ is the brake pad.

While all the components of the system are equally important – if one fails, the whole system fails – it is the brake pad that is arguably doing the tough work.

When the brake pedal is depressed, the system’s components work together through hydraulic pressure to push the brake pad against the rotor, forcing the car to slow down. The level of friction and heat created by the pad gripping the rotor is intense and the wear this causes is why it is the component of the braking system that needs to be changed most often.

The brake pads themselves are relatively small, about the size of an adult’s palm, and are comprised of two elements – a backing plate and friction material that is attached to that plate. The friction material is the part of the pad that is pushed against the rotor.


There are several different types of brake pads, with the difference being in their size and the composition of the friction material.


Organic brake pads are comprised of a mix of fibres and materials – such as rubber, carbon, fiberglass, and Kevlar – held together with resin.

Relatively quiet and less abrasive to brake rotors due to their non-metallic composition, organic pads are among the cheapest pads on the market. They are popular due to their price point and usability for normal, everyday use, but are the least resistant to wear and tear.


The friction material on a semi-metallic pad is comprised of a mix of metal fibres combined with resins and fillers such as graphite. There are different types of semi-metallic pad, with the composition of the friction material varying depending on what type of job the brake pad needs to do – for example, a performance car may come with a semi-metallic brake pad, but its composition will be different to those fitted to a standard passenger car.

Semi-metallic brake pads offer good braking performance across a range of temperatures and the metal conducts heat well, which helps to cool things down more quickly. They are more resistant to brake fade and overheating than organic pads but are more expensive and tend to be more abrasive and noisier.


Ceramic brake pads are comprised of a durable ceramic material, often with copper fibres included in the mix.

While they tend to be the most expensive type of brake pads, they are not as good at conducting heat as semi-metallics, but are quieter, offer consistent performance across a wide range of environmental conditions, are considered to be more durable, and tend to produce less dust (residue worn off during braking) than other types of pads.


This rather depends on the car, the environment in which you drive, and your style of driving. A high-performance vehicle that is mostly driven in a hilly and/or high-traffic area and in a location that sees a lot of rain, will require a different type of brake pad to a family car driven around a city in a hot and dry environment.

Your car would, of course, have come fitted with a set of pads from the factory that were deemed appropriate by the manufacturer. You probably won’t go far wrong with a straight replacement for those. However, if you want to find out if aftermarket pads would work for you, the best bet is to talk to a qualified brake specialist or mechanic and discuss the options relevant to your driving style, local environment and so on. You don’t really want to mess around with something as vital as the braking system, so getting the right pads is a must and sounding out a professional just makes sense.


MTA Queensland’s Vehicle Maintenance course is designed for those who are interested in gaining valuable information and learning good practices for everyday vehicle use. The result: a safer journey with fewer breakdowns and repairs. If you have ever wanted to learn how to carry out preventative maintenance, then this course is for you. 


17 November 2019

Please note the information contained on this page is general in nature and does not take into account your specific needs or circumstances. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs, and where appropriate, seek professional advice.