Most manufacturers offer a range of pads for each application, but Auto Brake consumers shouldn't be fooled into believing it's always a good-better-best choice. Nor will a family be safer with the most expensive replacement pad. The standard pad, if certified (see below), should meet the demands of normal driving. Upgraded pads for normal driving will likely be noisier, produce more dust, and possibly respond with a harder pedal feel. But if you tow, carry heavy loads or numerous passengers often, live in hilly or mountainous areas, or have a daily commute down a steep grade, you should consider an upgraded or severe-duty pad.
What's the price difference? We looked at the line of pads from one major company for a late-model Chevrolet Tahoe. The standard pad retailed for $68 per set (enough to cover two wheels) followed by an upgraded version at $87 and a severe-duty set at $98. Ceramic pads are more expensive ($120 for the Tahoe), but the advantages may be worth the extra money to many, especially those with custom wheels. Ceramic pads will help solve noise and dust problems as well as offer excellent stopping performance and comfortable pedal feel.
Look for a certified label
New vehicles must meet federal performance standards—a minimum stopping distance in a variety of situations under a specified pedal effort. Many consumers assume all aftermarket replacement pads will perform just as well or better than factory parts, but that's not necessarily the case.
In an effort to improve the customer's comfort level—and also to avoid future government regulations—brake manufacturers can test and verify their products under two voluntary certification standards. Both are designed to ensure that replacement brakes are as effective as original equipment, and consumers should make sure that any pads being installed on their vehicle are certified.
The first is an independent proprietary program developed by Greening Testing Laboratories in Detroit called D3EA—which stands for Dual Dynamometer Differential Effectiveness Analysis. This procedure tests front and rear friction materials together on dual dynamometers, then simulates vehicle weight and speed through a computer program to measure braking effectiveness and balance for different applications. D3EA was introduced in 1996, and among the first aftermarket companies to achieve D3EA certification were ACDelco, NAPA, Raybestos, and Satisfied.
The Disc Brake Supplier Manufacturers Council (BMC) has a second certification standard called BEEP, or Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedure. BEEP testing is conducted on a single dynamometer, and the numbers are washed through a computer program to compare brake performance with federal standards for new vehicles. The BEEP approval seals appear on packaging as manufacturers submit products for certification.