“In the earliest days of friction materials, the brakes were made of asbestos fibres. They were a good material choice for the absorption and dissipation of the heat that is generated when stopping. Then in the early 70’s, due to the health risks, asbestos was replaced with both Organic and Metallic compounds.
The Organic Brake Pads are made from natural materials like glass and rubber that have been bonded together with high heat resistant resins. Many Organic formulations use Kevlar as well. They are a much softer brake pad which results in a quieter pad, but one that also wears faster and creates a lot more dust. Organic Brake Pads are best suited for light weight small cars that have limited hard stops.
Metallic pads are typically made from a mixture of iron, copper, steel, and graphite that are all bonded together. They are good at transferring the heat generated by the friction that is created from the contact with the brake rotors. Metallic pads provide good performance, and much better resistance to brake fade than Organic pads. They are also a more cost effective option. They are harder and more durable, and are the best choice for heavier vehicles. Although Ceramic has enjoyed a considerable gain in popularity over the last dozen years, Metallic remains a popular choice.
Most of today’s Metallic pads are actually Semi-Metallic Brake Pads, which are a hybrid mix of both Organic pads and Metallic pads.
Ceramic pads came along much later. They are made of stacked glass ceramic fibres, filler material, bonding agents, and small amounts of various metals. They perform much like a dual pane window, by inhibiting the heat that is generated by the pad hitting the rotor, from going back to the hydraulic or calliper system. The Ceramic pads tend to keep the brake fluid cooler then the Metallic pad does. Due to their cooling capabilities, their performance stays strong with repeated use and repeated hard stops.
Many vehicles now come with Ceramic pads as their OE (Original Equipment) from the factory, and we always recommend that you stay with the OE manufacturers recommended friction material.
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h.t to atlautosports for this great article!