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Are Brake Pads Universal? Sizing Explained

Brake pads are not universal. There are many different kinds of brake pads offered for different vehicle makes, models, shapes, sizes, and use.

Of course, there may be a certain kind of brake pad that fits several different kinds of vehicles, but the biggest factor that makes a universal brake pad impossible is the type of car you have and its purpose.  

What are Brake Pads?

brake pads universal

A brake pad is the component of a disc brake that that sits between the brake caliper and brake rotor. When the brake pedal is depressed, the caliper squeezes the brake pad tight against the rotor of the vehicle, making it stop.

Brakes pads have friction material on their surface, and the pad itself is designed to convert the rotational kinetic energy of the spinning rotor into thermal energy, thus stopping the vehicle. Generally speaking, the greater the brake pad’s ability to do this, the better the vehicle will stop. Most vehicles have two brake pads per disc brake.

In addition to the brake pads’ ability to disburse heat and clamp down on the rotor, other factors aid in stopping a heavy vehicle, even if the brake pad itself is made of quality material.

What Makes Them Different?

There are so many different kinds of vehicles on the road today that it can be hard to find just a few things in common between them. Not only their shape and how they are designed, but their size and purpose all affect what kind of brake pads are the best choice for an individual vehicle.

Five main factors will affect what kind of brake pads you should use.

Size

Size is the most common factor that determines what kind of brake pads need to be used.

"Sizing" is all encompassing and considers wheel size, brake rotor, size of the vehicle, and considers front and rear rotors.

Wheel size varies considerably depending on the type of vehicle. Many luxury and performance vehicles have large wheels and thus can fit larger brakes which then require larger brake pads. Larger vehicles usually have larger wheels, even though this is not always the case. 

The second factor that affects size is the brake rotor. The larger the wheel of a vehicle, the larger the brake rotor can be. Again, just because a vehicle’s wheel allows a large brake rotor to be fitted does not mean that the vehicle’s brake rotor will be as large as possible.

A good example of this is a typical family sedan. Recent trends have caused stock wheel sizes to increase across the segment, especially in top-of-the-line trim levels. Even though larger wheels may be fitted to this kind of vehicle for styling purposes, a vehicle like a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord will most likely be used as a commuter vehicle. As a result, the largest possible brake rotors do not need to be fitted to the car because they are not needed. 

The third size-related factor is the size of the vehicle. Vehicles like pickup trucks are larger and heavier than most cars and vans; therefore, it is more likely that they will have larger brake pads to help stop the extra weight more efficiently. It is the same with large cars and vans compared to compact cars.

The last size-related factor is whether the brake pads are for the front rotors or the rear. The majority of vehicles have larger front brakes than rear brakes. When slowing down, a vehicle’s weight shifts toward the front of the vehicle through momentum. As a result, the front brakes need to work harder than the rears, making the front braking assembly larger and the force required to stop the vehicle greater.

Brake Pad Shape

Brake pads can be shaped in several different ways depending on the vehicle’s use. They can be shaped similar to an elongated half circle to conform to the brake rotor assembly, they can be squared, or they can be shaped like an elongated hexagon.

Additionally, many brake pads include grooves or channels cut through the middle to mitigate noise, heat, and gasses when in contact with the rotor. Regardless of their overall shape, most brake pads also include chamfers. Chamfers are angled cutouts on either side or edge of the pad.             

Parallel chamfers are cuts in the brake pad that are vertically aligned relative to the pad. This means that if you hold the pad straight up and down, the chamfer cuts would be perpendicular to the ground.

Two types of parallel chamfers are basic and J-Scoop. The basic cut is a gradual cut in which the pad becomes progressively thinner toward each end. These are mainly used for sound-deadening. A J-scoop parallel chamfer is a deep, vertical cut on each end of the pad and is used primarily to prevent wear.

Radial Chamfers are those that are aligned relative to the curvature of the pad. This means that if a pad is curved to fit the rotor assembly, each chamfer will conform to the angle at each end of the pad. Both basic and J-scoop radial chambers are available and serve the same purposes as parallel chamfer types. 

Compound chamfers are a cross between a parallel and radial chamfer. They are feature two angled cuts on each end of the pad and are primarily used for the maximum amount of rotor-to-pad contact. 

V-chamfers can work with any aforementioned chamfer type as they feature a v-shaped cutout in the center of the pad. They are used primarily to reduce vibrations within the pad, and therefore, brake noise.

Brand

As with any other product, brake pads are made by numerous manufacturers, most of whom also make other braking components.

Though materials may generally be the same, each manufacturer will have their own methods, marketing, and perhaps their own special formulas for the materials they put in their individual products. Some of the most common brands include Brembo, Bosch, Wagner, and ACDelco.

Pad Material

Brake pads are made with several types of materials. The three main types of brake pad materials are organic, semi-metallic, and ceramic.

Organic

organic brake pads

Organic brake pads are the softest, cheapest, and least durable of the three. Because of this, they are often found in road-going cars that are not meant to be anything else.

They also do not have as big of an impact on the brake rotor as other types, but they do produce the most brake dust, which can cause other issues when not removed from wheels and other components.

Organic brake pads are also called non-metallic brake pads because they do not use metallic compounds in their makeup.

Semi-Metallic

metallic brakes

Semi-Metallic brake pads are a good “middle ground” brake pad because even though they are more expensive than organic pads, they also last longer and have greater stopping power.

These types of pads do contain metallic compounds within their makeup which grip the rotors but also wear them out quicker. These have become more common in modern vehicles as they have become heavier with safety and technology features.

Ceramic

ceramic brakes

Ceramic brake pads are the most expensive type and are primarily used in high-performance vehicles. Because of the use of clay within their makeup and their superior heat absorption qualities, these types of brake pads provide little to no fade, even at the highest temperatures.

Ceramic pads are usually only necessary on racing and track cars where extreme conditions exist.

Vehicle Purpose

The last thing that dictates the type of brake pads one might decide to use is the purpose of the vehicle on which the brake pads are fitted. This could include any combination of factors listed above as all have benefits and drawbacks.

Additionally, these will vary based on the kind of vehicle you buy. Even two competing vehicles in the same vehicle class may have different brake sizes that require a certain shape and compound.

When replacing or upgrading brake pads, one should always consider the type of vehicle being equipped, the most common type of driving, and the desired results of the braking system.

What are the Best Brake pads?

The best brake pads for any given individual will vary depending on their needs. Individuals who need inexpensive brake pads should choose organic pads.

Those who can spend more money but still want a quiet riding experience may opt for organic pads or semi-metallic pats with a parallel chamfer. 

Final Thoughts

Brake pads come in different sizes, shapes, and materials depending on various factors. The size and purpose of each vehicle will often dictate what kinds of brake pads are used, but personal factors such as different desired braking characteristics from stock will also affect the chosen upgrades.

The best brake pads for you will also vary depending on your wants and needs. Though most people may never consciously choose certain brake pads, even when it comes time to replace them, you can be prepared to make a better decision should you ever want to do so.

Shawn Furman
I have been a vehicle hobbyist for as long as I can remember as well as a freelance writer for the past three and a half years. My clients have included Vehicle Scene, Autolist, CarGurus, and now The Vehicle Lab. In addition to my current clients, I also maintain my own blog where I am able to share my knowledge and experience through vehicle reviews, car-buying guides, how-to guides, and list articles.
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