When it comes to maintaining the safety and performance of your vehicle, choosing the right brake pads is crucial. With many options available, including semi-metallic, ceramic, and organic brake pads, it can be tough to decide which type is best for your car.
This article will dive into the key characteristics of semi-metallic and ceramic brake pads, including their performance, durability, and cost. We’ll also help you understand what you need to consider when selecting the best brake pads for your needs.
Whether you’re a car enthusiast or a first-time vehicle owner, this article has the information you need to make an informed decision about your brake pads.
A Brief Overview of Brake Pads Material
Before jumping straight to the comparison between ceramic vs semi-metallic brake pads, let’s take a closer look at a brief overview of the brake pads used today. This will also give you a better picture of what the difference is.
Semi-Metallic Brake Pads
Semi-metallic brake pads are the type of brake pad found in the majority of cars being sold today. They were introduced in the 1960s and made from a mixture of metallic and non-metallic materials.
They often contain between 30% to 70% metals, such as iron, copper, steel, and other metallic elements. The rest of the brake pads are non-metallic materials called “filler materials”. These include materials such as rubber, carbon compounds, and fiberglass.
These filler materials help to improve the brake pad’s overall braking performance by dampening vibrations and reducing noise. But also by improving its ability to grip the brake rotor.
One of the main advantages of semi-metallic brake pads is their durability and high braking performance. And by adding a higher percentage of metal, you increase their longevity. They are able to withstand high temperatures and perform well under heavy braking conditions.
This makes them a good choice for high-performance vehicles or driving in extreme weather conditions.
But, this type of brake pad is known for being noisy and producing high amounts of brake dust. Besides, due to them generating a high amount of friction and heat, they are also known for giving the brake rotors a hard time with increased wear.
Ceramic-Metallic Brake Pads
Ceramic brake pads were first introduced in the 1980s and have ever since increased in popularity. This type of brake pad is made of a durable ceramic compound often reinforced with other materials to improve friction and heat management, making them exceedingly good for continuous hard braking.
In the past, ceramic brake pads contained a higher amount of copper threads for these purposes, but since 2015, the EPA has mandated that the copper content in brake pads be reduced to less than 5 percent by weight by 2021 and less than 0.5 by 2025.
While they are typically more expensive and mostly found on luxury- and sports cars, ceramic brake pads are known for being very quiet and producing less brake dust as they wear.
They also perform consistently and with endurance in a wide range of temperatures and driving conditions, making them a good fit for most driving situations.
The only disadvantage, apart from the higher cost, is that the ceramic brake pad tends to bite less in cold conditions. So for it to create maximum braking performance, it first needs to warm up, making the brake pad less suitable for daily driving in cold climates.
Organic Brake Pads
As a third option, you may have heard about organic brake pads, also known as non-asbestos organic (NAO) brake pads. They were developed as a safer alternative to asbestos-based brake pads, which were prohibited in the 1990s with the exception of vehicles pre 1974.
These non-metallic brake pads are the softest of them all, made from a mixture of materials and fibers such as rubber, carbon compounds, glass or fiberglass, and Kevlar, which are bound together with resin.
Besides their low price point, organic brake pads’ main advantages are their suitability for everyday driving and commuting. They generate a moderate amount of friction without producing much heat, making them a comfortable and reliable choice for daily use.
In addition, organic brake pads are generally quiet and don’t put much stress on the brake rotors, which can help to reduce maintenance costs.
However, there are also some disadvantages to using organic brake pads. They tend to wear out more quickly than other brake pads, which means they need to be replaced more often.
In addition, they may not perform as well in extreme weather or in situations where they are being pushed too hard or to the point where they overheat.
They also have a higher compressibility level than semi-metallic or ceramic brake pads, meaning the driver has to use much more force on the brake pedal to engage them. All together makes them a poor choice for anything other than daily road driving.
The Difference Between Ceramic vs Semi-Metallic Brake Pads
When it comes to brakes, both ceramic and semi-metallic brake pads are known for providing great stopping power and consistent braking power. However, there are a few key characteristics that make them apart.
Performance & Durability
In terms of performance, both types of brake pads have their own strengths and weaknesses. First of all, the semi-metallic types are generally known for their more aggressive braking action and better performance over a wider range of temperatures and conditions. In other words, they generate more friction and have improved braking performance, making them the best option for performance-driven drivers.
However, there are drawbacks too. More friction means more heat, and compared to the less heat-conductive ceramic brake pads, the semi-metallic ones struggle to quickly recover from the generated heat. This inevitably puts harder strain on your brake system, causing more wear and tear on the brake rotors. In addition to this, it also results in the semi-metallic brake pads tend to brake fade more easily.
Ceramic brake pads, on the other hand, provide better heat resistance and the ability to resist fade, making them exceedingly good at handling high temperatures while still doing a great job stopping your vehicle. As they quickly recover from the heat, ceramic brake pads tend to cause less damage to the brake rotors, which is a great benefit.
However, as they are less heat conductive, they are also known for their poor performance in cold conditions compared to semi-metallic brake pads. Which means they have to warm up before providing their maximum braking performance.
When it comes to comparing the lifespan of each type of brake pad, ceramic brake pads generally tend to last longer. The main reason for this is that ceramic brake pads are made from a ceramic material that is much harder than metallic materials used in semi-metallic brake pads, making them less prone to wear.
And in addition to this, as ceramic brake pads generate less heat, they are also less susceptible to head-induced wear and tear and can maintain their shape and performance over a longer period of time. However, in the end, the biggest factor affecting longevity is driving conditions.
Also read: 6 Signs When to Replace Brake Pads
Noise & Dust Level
In addition to more wear and tear on brake rotors, another drawback with semi-metallic brake pads is their annoying characteristics of producing high amounts of brake dust and being squeaky or noisier than ceramic and organic brake pads.
In this case, the ceramic brake pads win by far thanks to both being extremely quiet and producing small amounts of brake dust. This is the main reason ceramic brake pads are consistently growing in popularity and why they tend to be popular with luxury vehicles.
So far, it seems like ceramic brake pads don’t have many disadvantages. They cause less wear on brake rotors, they make braking smooth and quiet, and you don’t have to keep your wheels clean of all that brake dust. So how come they are not used in every standard passenger vehicle?
Well, besides the matter of cold conditions, when it comes to the price, ceramic brake pads tend to be more expensive to manufacture than semi-metallic brake pads. To be competitive in the market, car manufacturers must carefully manage their costs to produce affordable vehicles for consumers.
Therefore, the price is compared against the pros and cons of each type of brake pad, and right now, the organic and semi-metallic brake pads are winning the competition of manufacturer’s choice.
Pros and Cons of Semi-Metallic vs Ceramic Brake Pads
Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of semi-metallic brake pads and ceramic brake pads.
Pros of semi-metallic brake pads:
- More affordable than ceramic brake pads
- Strong braking performance
- Suitable in extreme driving conditions
- Good cold weather performance
Cons of semi-metallic brake pads:
- High dust level
- Increased wear and tear on the brake rotor
- More prone to brake fade
Pros of ceramic brake pads:
- Good and consistent braking performance
- Low thermal conductivity and less prone to brake fade
- Quiet braking operation
- Low brake dust level
- Longer lifespan
- Less wear on the brake rotors
Cons of ceramic brake pads:
- More expensive than semi-metallic pads
- Poor braking performance in cold weather conditions
Which Is Better Ceramic or Semi-Metallic Brake Pads?
As you can see, both ceramic and semi-metallic have their pros and cons, but which one is better depends on your driving style and driving conditions.
For example, ceramic brake pads would be the best option for daily commuting in moderate climates, thanks to their low noise and dust level. And as mentioned, they tend to last longer and put less strain and wear on the brake rotors, which means fewer trips to the mechanic for brake service.
So although ceramic brake pads have a higher upfront cost, you may end up breaking even or saving money in the long run by choosing ceramic pads. However, this is of course not something we can guarantee.
On the other hand, if you want a brake pad with better braking performance and stopping power in a wider range of driving conditions, you’ll want to choose the semi-metallic brake pad.
Choosing the Right Brake Pad For You
So with the knowledge from above, here’s a simple list of a few things to consider when choosing the right brake pad for you:
- Your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Your driving style.
- The driving conditions.
- Your price range
Suppose you’re still unsure which one to choose. In that case, we always recommend consulting a professional mechanic who also will be able to make sure the chosen brake pad is compatible with your specific vehicle.
While comparing semi-metallic vs ceramic brake pads, both seem to have their pros and cons that can be beneficial depending on your driving style, driving conditions, and what you expect of your vehicle. For drivers with a focus on high-performance and aggressive braking, the semi-metallic ones seem to be the best fit.
But if you’re looking for brake pads that are less noisy and produce small amounts of brake dust, it’s the ceramic brake pads you’ll want to get. However, keep in mind to consider your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations, and don’t hesitate to consult a professional mechanic before choosing.
Interested in reading more? Learn how long it takes to change brakes here!