Organic vs Ceramic vs Metallic Brake Pads: What’s the Difference?

Jan 3, 2019 | Guides

The brakes are the most important part when it comes to automobile safety. Given that without brakes, the vehicle would have to rely on time and friction to slow down, it’s clear that this system has to be as efficient as possible.

There are a few brake types. The most widespread are ceramic, metallic, and organic. All of them have their pros and cons, are priced differently, and suit different types of vehicles.

But which option performs better — organic, metallic, or ceramic brakes?

Organic, Metallic, and Ceramic Brake Pads Compared

Organic Brakes

In the 50s and 60s, brakes were made from a material that absorbs heat well — asbestos. As we now know, when asbestos is released into the air it becomes a carcinogen (cancer-causing), so car manufacturers needed another solution.

This is how the non-asbestos organic brakes or NAO, were born. Over time, we have embraced them as the standard, especially in the US where nearly all vehicles use organic brake pads.

The Pros

  • Due to the low cost of materials and the manufacturing process, they are cost-effective.
  • Normally, they don’t produce as much noise and don’t put a lot of pressure on the brake rotors. This is their most significant advantage. As we all know, wear and tear can lead to the rotor cracking or breaking. This can be quite an expensive issue to fix.
  • They are made for lightweight vehicles and normal driving conditions.

The Cons

  • Organic brakes need to cool down after use and do not perform well in higher temperature ranges. That is why they are not suitable for high-performance vehicles.
  • Organic pads are made from organic materials and cannot be used in extreme weather conditions.
  • Due to the materials used in the manufacturing process, organic brakes are compressible and you need to use more force to engage them. In some cases resulting in mushy or spongy brakes.
  • Organic brakes aren’t very durable and produce more dust. They typically need to be replaced more often.

Ceramic brakes

When the public found out that asbestos could cause cancer, the need for alternative brakes was somewhat fulfilled by NAO brake pads.

However, there was still room for improvement. In the 80s, manufacturers developed ceramic brakes. Bits of copper were weaved into them. The material used isn’t much different from the ceramics used to make mugs and plates, except that they are sturdier and more suitable for the purpose of causing friction.

The Pros

  • Produce little to no noise
  • Doesn’t leave as much dust as organic brakes
  • Suitable for more extreme conditions, not only for day-to-day use
  • A bit more expensive than organic but a longer lifespan than metallic and organic
  • The material is softer on the rotors, doesn’t stick to wheels, and you don’t need to step on the pedal as hard as organic brakes. This means that they provide less damage to other parts of the braking system

The Cons

  • Typically the most expensive option
  • Neither ceramics nor copper is the best at heat-absorption. The heat from brake usage has to be dealt with by the rest of the braking system.
  • Not the best solution for regions with extreme weather conditions.

Semi-Metallic Brakes

As the name might imply, their friction material consists of a variety of metals. They are typically comprised of iron and steel alloys mixed with fillers to improve their friction coefficient. They are semi-metallic because they are made up of around 30-60% metal by weight.

The Pros

  • Due to their metal content, they are not very compressible.
  • They are priced somewhere in between organic and ceramic.
  • The metals help dissipate heat which helps cool down the braking system faster
  • Can work in greater temperature ranges
  • Used for daily driving and performance use

The Cons

  • Are usually noisier than ceramic and organic options
  • Produce more dust
  • Harsh on brake rotors

Conclusion

The choice between these three brake pads comes down to a number of factors:

  • What you use your car for, ie daily driving, towing, etc.
  • Your location
  • Noise
  • Price

If you’re looking for something for daily driving, organic options are likely your best best. However, those of us looking to make a long-term (or long-term-ish) investment that is more eco-friendly and damages the brake system less should consider ceramic brakes. If you live in extreme climates or need something for towing, consider semi-metallic options.

Either way, we hope this brief guide helps you make an educated decision that will ensure the safety of both you and your vehicle.

Richard Reed

Writer for TheVehicleLab.com

The Vehicle Lab

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