The Importance of Braking Systems: How to Shop for Rotors and Pads

17 Jul 2020
Larry Ficks

Your car’s braking system is its most important safety feature. It requires regular inspection to ensure everything is working properly so that you avoid accidents that can lead to costly repairs, or worse – injury or fatality. That being said, it’s understandable why many people who need to replace or upgrade their ride’s braking parts (whether rotor brakes or brake pads) find it daunting to shop for replacement parts. Most of them rely on their local mechanic to order the parts and install them instead. While having your braking parts installed by a professional mechanic is definitely the way to go, if you want to be more economical, you should but them yourself.

Shopping for brake pads and rotor brakes is relatively simple. All you have to do is look for brake rotors and pads that are suitable for the make, model and year of the vehicle you’re driving, and figure out what type of driving you do on a daily basis. If you’re wondering: “Are brake rotors and discs the same thing?”, the answer is ‘yes’. Discs were first implemented in the UK on Jaguar vehicles, and later the Americans coined the term ‘brake rotors’.

brake rotors

If you’re using your vehicle for commuting or just cruising around town, basic OEM rotors are all you’ll ever need. However, if you load your vehicle with passengers and gear, you might notice the rotors getting smelly or hot. If that’s the case, you’ll need drilled rotors. Otherwise, decent-quality rotors should do the job just fine. If you’re towing hundreds of kilogrammes or even a few tonnes with your vehicle, you’ll need drilled or slotted rotors that provide more braking power and can withstand the abuse. Off-road rotors are quite demanding. Drilled and slotted models are great for a pre-runner type of driving, whereas quality OEM style rotors are preferred for mudding, as the drilled holes and slots can easily become clogged.

So, I talked about OEM, drilled, slotted and drilled and slotted rotors, but what does it all actually mean?

  • OEM rotors provide more than enough stopping power for your typical driving conditions. They provide a wider surface area, so they’re effective at dissipating heat and aren’t as prone to cracking under extreme use. These brakes are suitable for track use when paired with performance brake fluid and pads.
  • Slotted brakes feature grooves cut along the face of the rotor where the pads come in contact. When braking heavily, the slots will allow the build-up of gasses to escape, keeping the brake rotor and pads cooler. These brakes are also considered most consistent and provide a higher coefficient of friction, so your vehicle is using less energy to slow down.
  • Drilled brakes are effective at venting dust and gas that builds up when braking. They’re great at keeping temperatures down under conventional driving conditions, prolonging the lifespan of the pads. Further, they allow water to escape the rotor surface, allowing them to perform better in wet weather.
  • Drilled and slotted rotors combine the appeal and functionality of both slotted and drilled rotors. They run cooler and maintain a clean contact surface. When they’re kept within their thermal threshold, they can provide extra durability and security. These rotors are ideal for vehicles that tow heavy loads frequently. If you pair them with high-performance brake fluid and brake pads, you’ll get the best results.

car brake rotors

If you hear loud squealing noises whenever you brake, chances are your brake pads have worn down and you need a new set. Brake pads are available as organic, semi-metallic and ceramic. Every brake pad manufacturer, regardless of the material they use, claims to provide the most stopping power. However, the ideal brake pads for your vehicle will depend on the type of driving that you commonly do.

If you’re using your vehicle for driving around town only, you need OEM-quality ceramic or organic pads, as they provide smooth and quiet stops. If you’re frequently towing heavy loads, you’ll need heavy-duty semi-metallic or ceramic pads to cope with the extreme amount of heat. Since towing trailers make a lot of noise by itself, the squeaking from semi-metallic pads won’t be that noticeable. For off-roading, you’ll need heavy-duty semi-metallic or mild racing pads to provide enough stopping power when going down steep hills. If you’re a gearhead who has cranked up their vehicle’s horsepower with mods and accessories, you’ll need to make sure it can stop momentarily as well. In that case, you’ll need performance ceramic, semi-metallic and mild race pads that provide more braking power without committing your vehicle to race-only. And if you’re a racer, you’ll definitely need a race-ready braking system that can endure extreme heat. Your best bet is getting dedicated racing brake pads or heavy-duty semi-metallic pads.