Better Brakes

Better Brakes

Premium components can lead to happier customers and higher profits.

Eric Dussault continues to be astounded by consumers who squawk at the price of premium brake components. “A lot of people will pay $100 to $150 for a hood deflector, but they still want to pay $25 to $30 for their brakes,” bemoans the vice-president of Alco Brakes in Loretteville, Que. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

Indeed there is — and most of it involves the need to educate customers (and some shop personnel) about the differences that exist.

Premium brake components are undeniably more effective than their value-priced alternatives. When Oshawa, Ont.-based ACDelco tested seven different types of friction material on the front brakes of a Chevy 2500 traveling at 45 km/h, stopping distances varied by as much as 90 feet. Cheaper hardware will invariably lead to noise-related complaints, while inferior rotors can lead to an array of heat-related damage.

The differences are leading a growing number of installers to introduce customers to premium products, suggests Rick McCoy of Aisin World Corporation of American in Woodstock, Ont. “The pendulum is swinging back toward quality. Mechanics have had enough of re-doing the job.”

But just how do you identify a premium component? Warranties aren’t necessarily a guarantee of quality, he says as an example. “Some of the least-expensive [suppliers] are saying, ‘We have a lifetime warranty’ and hoping you lose the receipt.”

The choice often comes down to sticking with trusted brands, and finding options that are designed for specific vehicle applications.

Several factors will set premium products apart from their counterparts, notes Brian Fleming, director of marketing for Affinia Canada Corp. in Mississauga, Ont., which markets Raybestos brakes. Premium designs, for example, are more likely to match or improve upon the fit, form, function and performance characteristics of Original Equipment components. “Premium products — especially today — represent more than a part and box. It comes with marketing support and coverage to ensure you don’t have a lost sale,” he adds.

The offerings can also lead to higher profits. All too often, shops focus on profit margins in terms of a percentage, but fail to consider the higher dollar figures associated with premium components.

“Do the math,” Fleming says. “How many dollars are you taking to the bank?”


Every brake component can be selected to meet a specific customer need.

Consider lines of value-priced brake pads, which may incorporate three different chemical formulas. In comparison, premium lines can include more than a dozen formulas that offer different characteristics relating to wear, fade, performance and weight, Fleming says.

The proper choice simply involves asking a few questions.

“It’s the counterman’s job, or the garage’s job, to ask people what they are doing with the vehicle,” Dussault says, noting that the aggressive action of a Carbon Metallic offering may be needed to effectively stop a pick-up truck that’s pulling a boat.

An entry-level brake package may be able to stop that same vehicle, but the related temperatures can run as much as 200F hotter, adds Don Ninni, a technical product support and training specialist with ACDelco.

Morse Automotive Corp. in Chicago Ill. recently released the Morse Elite disc brake pad that use a Vulcanized Silencing System (VSS) and an OE-style shim design that are made to provide better durability and noise dampening, and includes the Comprehensive Unimold attachment system that is made to prevent delamination of the friction material from the backing plate.

Yet the heaviest payloads in many of today’s pick-up trucks come in the form of a car stereo and an extra-large double-double from Tim Hortons. In these cases, customers who buy expensive rims may opt for ceramic offerings, because of the lighter dust and quieter braking action that’s traditionally associated with the material.

“They want a truck that’s going to stop and feel like a car, and have the same sort of pedal feel,” Fleming says.

But Jack McGrail, Robert Bosch’s director of product management – brake products in Mississauga, Ont., warns against any thought that one material will solve every issue.

“There’s no one perfect material,” he says. “It really depends on the person’s driving style. What’s important to them? What kind of vehicle do they have? Things like that. A lot of companies are going out and saying ceramics are the cure-all. That’s not entirely true.”

The choice of premium components is also particularly important when working on vehicles equipped with advanced stability and traction systems, Ninni adds. “ABS and traction control or suspension reaction are mapped for specific braking decelerations.”


The focus on premium products shouldn’t end with the friction material, either. Brake pads with stainless steel shims will tend to run quieter, for a longer period of time, because they resist corrosion. By way of example, McGrail suggested that a rubberized shim will begin to rust in two to three years.

Many comebacks can be traced to friction material that was installed using old hardware, Fleming adds. Premium friction providers are helping address this issue by including hardware in every box. Affinia, for example, includes everything from abutment clips to bushings. Akebono Corp. in Framington Hills, Mich. adds hardware including wear sensors and drop-in kits.

There’s simply no need to re-use old material.

Another hardware-related improvement can involve pre-assembled components.

Friction-ready calipers come complete with sliders and pins, include the proper lubricant, and have been assembled to meet exacting tolerances, says Ninni, suggesting that the use of these calipers can shave hours off the time needed to complete a brake job.

“Most folks wouldn’t try to sell a caliper [as part of a traditional brake job] because, by the time you do the other stuff, the costs outweigh what they see as the benefit,” he says. Yet skipping that step can lead to excessive noise, which is one of the top reasons for comebacks associated with brake-related service.

“There’s nothing worse than spending $1,000 on brakes and having a squeal.”


Premium rotors remain one of the most overlooked options in today’s brake jobs, largely because of a ready supply of cheap offshore alternatives that began to emerge about 15 years ago. A value-priced offering may cost as little as $10, compared to $70 for its premium counterpart.

Independent research conducted for Bosch recently found that about 36 per cent of North American brake pad sales could be considered premium. In contrast, only 27 per cent of rotors fell into the same category.

Offshore designs have improved, McGrail says, noting how the suppliers of many brand names are offering their own entry-level products made in China.

Indeed, an entry-level rotor may meet the needs that relate to fit and function, but the associated venting can make a difference in the component’s ability to displace heat. The metallurgy of some rotor designs has also been chosen to match specific friction materials, so the wrong choice can lead to excessive noise.

“The rotor is going to take mechanical energy and convert it to heat and hopefully expel it,” Ninni says. If the related heat isn’t transferred from parts attached to the hub bearing, you’re going to see other damage, such as rubber boots on the suspension end that turn brittle and crack.

“The real guy making the decision 90 per cent of the time is the installer,” Fleming says, referring to where the process needs to begin. “The consumer doesn’t get into the brands or the technology.”

“There’s always going to be a place or need for a value-line product, [but installers] have got to stop thinking that the price is the way they’re going to get more business.”

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