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Brake pads are one of the more important but also most misunderstood and mysterious parts in your car. They have the undeniably important task of safely slowing down your car no matter what the speed or situation may be. Browsing the pages of FCP Euro’s website will bring up a vast array of brake pads and compounds. You’ll often see terms like ceramic, organic, and semi-metallic and be unsure which to choose. Questions like which offers the best stopping power or lowest dust, and which brake pads last the longest are common? Well, wonder no more, as we explain the different brake pad compounds to help you know how to choose the best brake pads for your car.

 

What Are Organic Brake Pads?

01_Textar Brake Pads 2568301

Chances are, the brake pads that came with your car from the factory are an organic compound brake pad. In an organic brake pad, various organic components such as carbon, kevlar, glass, and rubber are bound together with a high-temperature resin. These OEM and Genuine brake pads are often called Non-Asbestos Organic (NAO) brake pads to differentiate them from cheaper organic pads that still use asbestos as a friction component due to the health risks associated with asbestos. 

Most brake pads that are not specifically labeled as semi-metallic or ceramic are an organic brake pad. Because of the different mixes of different organic compounds, performance, price, and quality can vary significantly. The only real rule is that organic compound pads have less than 30% metallic content. 

01.5Textar Q+ brake pades

An organic compound brake pad offers the driver sure stopping power, with a strong initial bite and quiet, smooth operation. This means that organic brake pads are less likely to squeak and squeal than some other types. Organic brake pads also tend to be fairly gentle on brake rotors, but the brake pads themselves wear out more quickly than other options. 

Like any BMW, Mercedes, Audi, or VW owner will also tell you, organic brake pad compounds tend to be very dusty, with the dark and sticky dust as evidence of the carbon and kevlar compounds used in these pads. Organic brake pads generally don’t work well over very wide temperature ranges and will lose stopping power quickly, or “fade” once they get too hot. An organic brake pad is also more compressible than ceramic or semi-metallic compounds, which means they are more likely to feel soft or ‘mushy’ under heavy braking. 

If you are looking to maintain factory-like braking performance for a reasonable price and don’t mind the brake dust, organic compound brake pads are an excellent choice for many German car drivers. They’re more than likely the type of brake pads that your car came with from the factory. Many of the brake kits sold by FCP Euro include organic compound pads from OE-suppliers such as Textar, TRW, ATE, and Pagid. These all offer genuine performance for a fraction of the price. 

02_EBC brakes Yellowstuff brake pads DP42127R

Although organic brake pads are not as good in performance applications as a semi-metallic, there are performance-oriented organic brake pads. EBC YellowStuff, for example, is an example of a performance organic brake pad. They offer a strong cold bite and generally good performance with relatively low noise but produce a good amount of dust. However, when they are pushed beyond their operating range, such as in heavy track use, the brake pad will lose pedal feel, wear more quickly, and lose stopping power until it cools. 

 

What Are Hybrid & Advanced Organic Brake Pads?

03_Hawk brake pads HPS HB603F616

Many of the popular modern performance brake pads could be classified as a new kind of pad that technically falls under an organic label due to its core materials, but offers higher performance than a traditional organic brake pad. Many Hawk brake pads, for example, are comprised of their “ferro-carbon” compound. Depending on the exact formula, Hawk sport brake pads may have a mix of organic, metallic, and ceramic components to optimize daily performance, increase high-temperature performance, or reduce dust.

Another type of hybrid organic brake pad includes Para-Aramid compounds. Para-Aramid brake pads have a higher metallic content than typical organic pads, along with kevlar and Aramid-2, a synthetic fiber designed to replace asbestos. They tend to have very stable and consistent torque characteristics over a wide temperature range and further blur the line between what we think of when it comes to an organic pad. Stoptech Sport brake pads are one of the more popular Para-Aramid based brake pads. 

Organic Brake Pad Advantages

Organic Brake Pad Disadvantages

Quiet operation (less likely to squeal)

Dusty (dark and usually sticks to wheels)

Strong initial bite for confident braking

Pads wear more quickly

Rotor-friendly - will not heavily wear brake rotors 

Narrow performance range; doesn’t like to be overheated

Strong value - usually less expensive than other compounds 

Traditionally has less pedal feel, but hybrid compounds are changing the rules

 

What Are Semi-Metallic Brake Pads?

04_Ferodo Racing DS2500 brake pads FCP1664H

As you might assume from their name, semi-metallic brake pads have a much higher content of metal components in the brake pad material than an organic type brake pad. A semi-metallic brake pad is typically made of various metals, including copper, iron, steel, and graphite, and again, bound together with a high-temperature resin.

Thanks to their higher metal content, a semi-metallic brake pad offers a much less compressible brake pad material, which means a firmer pedal for the driver, especially in heavy braking situations. They can also offer much higher performance over a wider temperature range than an organic pad, making them ideal for performance use. Despite this, semi-metallics still typically offer strong cold stopping power, making them one of the most versatile brake pads when it comes to high-performance streetcars. Semi-metallic brake pads usually offer an increase in brake torque and stopping power as temperatures increase, up to their design limit.  

A side-effect of their higher braking power and higher metallic content means that semi-metallic brake pads are going to be harder on your brake rotors than an organic or ceramic compound. If you’re taking advantage of the FCP Euro Lifetime Replacement Guarantee and replacing your brake rotors under our lifetime warranty, this isn’t so much of a concern, but it is something to be aware of when it comes to service life.  

05_Ferodo Racing DS2500 brake pads for VW

Similarly to organic brake pads, semi-metallic pads do tend to be fairly dusty, but the amount of dust can depend quite a bit on the exact brake compound and manufacturer. It’s also more likely for them to squeal or make noise, but occasional noise is usually an acceptable trade-off for those looking for maximum performance. 

Some of the best sports cars on the market come with semi-metallic brake pads, so if you own a high-performance Porsche, BMW, or Mercedes, a semi-metallic may be the best choice for you. The Ferodo DS2500 is a semi-metallic brake pad that is a true dual-purpose street and track pad. If you have a highly modified hot-hatch like a VW GTI or daily driver that you also use for weekend track days or autocross, the DS2500 is one of the best choices around. 

Semi-metallic Brake Pad Advantages

Semi-metallic Brake Pad Disadvantages

Top performer - many high performance and racing brake pads are semi-metallic

Harder on brake rotors than organic or ceramic brake pads

Wide operating temperature range, increased brake torque as temps go up

Dusty, usually falls between an organic and ceramic pad

Less compressible, for better brake feel

More likely to squeal or make noise 

Excellent initial bite and cold performance

More expensive than organic brake pads

 

What Are Ceramic Brake Pads?

06_Akebono Euro Ceramic brake pad set

Ceramic brake pads are a relative new-comer when it comes to brake pad technology. Thanks to major players like Akebono, ceramic brakes are fairly well known and widely distributed today. Compromised mainly of ceramic materials, a bonding agent, and copper fibers, ceramic brake pads offer ideal performance on the street, with a few notable benefits over organic pad compounds. 

First, quality ceramic brake pads are typically firm in terms of compressibility, meaning that you’ll have a firmer brake pedal than an organic pad, similar to a semi-metallic. Secondly, ceramic brake pads are very long-wearing, and in normal use, drivers will see many more miles with a ceramic compound than either organic or semi-metallic. Lastly, because they’re so hard and long-wearing, ceramic brake pads produce very little brake dust, and whatever dust they do produce is very light in color and tends not to stick to wheels like organic and semi-metallic dust. Despite their durability, ceramic brake pads are very rotor-friendly and help to extend your brake service intervals.

Ceramic pads also tend to have very little to no noise at all. Because of their lighter materials, the resonance that we hear as squealing with other compounds is at a higher pitch, therefore out of our hearing range. Basically, humans just don’t hear it. 

Of course, as with anything, there are a few downsides to ceramic brake compounds. While ceramic brake pads tend to have a fairly wide operating range, they usually aren’t ideal as a high performance or racing brake pad and aren’t as durable if you push them beyond their maximum operating range. They also can have less bite and poor cold performance, meaning that when you first apply the brakes, especially in cold weather, you’ll notice less immediate stopping power. 

07_TRW Ceramic Brake pads TPC1760

Ceramic brake pads are also the most expensive to produce, which brings us to another talking point: Perhaps more than any other brake pad compound, the quality of a ceramic brake pad is extremely important. Many of the lowest cost generic options on the market may offer significantly less stopping power than a quality ceramic compound like a TRW, Bosch, or Akebono brake pad. 

Ceramic brake compounds are a perfect choice for European car owners who want a very low-dust, long-wearing, and consistently performing brake pad.

 

Ceramic Brake Pad Advantages

Ceramic Brake Pad Disadvantages

Extremely low dust, quiet operation

Typically more expensive

Long-wearing and durable

Weaker initial bite

Less compressible, for better brake feel

Not ideal as a performance brake pad

Consistent stopping power over a wide temperature range

Low quality ceramic pads offer low dust, but little stopping power (quality matters)  

Ultimately, the best brake pads for you really depend on what type of car you have and how you drive it. Are you interested in something that offers low-dust, consistent stopping, and long life for your daily commute? Are you looking for the lowest price, or do you want ultimate stopping power on the street or the track? By reviewing your ‘must-have’ features and benefits along with the characteristics of ceramic, organic, and semi-metallic brake pads, you should be able to find the perfect pad for your German car

If you have any questions about how to choose a brake pad for your car after reading, leave them in the comments section below. 

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Written by :
Nathan Brown

FCP Euro's Event Director by day, writer and contributor by night, and wanna-be race car driver on the weekends. Nathan has been working in the VW and Audi performance aftermarket for nearly two decades, and dabbled with Porsche and BMW. He also used to write under the pen-name of Alex Rogan for magazines like Eurotuner, Performance VW, Total 911, and European Car. He has a Cornflower Blue Rabbit Edition GTI daily driver which is surprisingly still mostly stock, and a Mk5 GTI track car which is mostly not. ••• Instagram: @njbrown55


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