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Updated December 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for best brake pads

Fitting replacement brake pads is an essential part of vehicle maintenance. Poor braking isn’t just dangerous; it directly affects tire wear, and it has an impact on handling and therefore on ride quality. If you’re patient and careful, changing brake pads isn’t difficult. Many people like to save money by doing it themselves. The challenge is in selecting the best brake pads for your vehicle.

Our top brake pads are the ones that meet or exceed our criteria. These brake pads suit the vast majority of vehicles and budgets, and we’re happy to recommend them.

We’ve also put together the following brake pad guide, with information about function, types of disc brake pads, and what you should look for when shopping.

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Brake pads come in packs of four: two pads for each wheel. Front-wheel brake pads frequently differ from rear-wheel pads, so check the specs carefully if you’re replacing the pads on all four wheels.

How disc brakes work

People often think of disc brakes as complicated mechanisms, but in essence they’re quite simple.

  • Visualise the brake on a bike tire. When you squeeze the hand brake, a caliper (like an upside down U in cross section) squeezes against each side of the tire, slowing the bike.

  • In a car, a disc called a rotor is attached to the axle and the wheel hub. Like the bike tire, the rotor also has a caliper wrapping over the top edge, with brake pads on the surfaces that contact the rotor.

  • Long story short, when you press on the brake pedal, you squeeze the caliper (and the brake pads) against the rotor. The resulting friction stops the rotor – and the car’s wheel – from rotating. That friction inevitably causes wear, so the brake pads – and eventually the rotor – need to be changed periodically.

Brake pad features to consider

Vehicle model

Obviously, you need to find brake pads that fit your vehicle, but people sometimes forget that it’s vital to know the correct model and year. With automotive makers, things can change quickly. What fits a 2015 model doesn’t necessarily fit either the 2014 or 2016. Sending stuff back gets frustrating, so check carefully before ordering.


The other main difference is what the brake pads are made of: ceramic or semi-metallic.

Ceramic brake pads

When somebody mentions ceramics, you might think of clay pots or dinner plates, and you aren’t far off. Ceramic brake pads are basically a fired clay product. Historically, copper fibres were added to these pads for increased friction, but this is changing. Environmental issues have led to legislation that will ban copper in brake pads by 2025. As a result, many manufacturers are already using alloys instead of copper.


  • Good for town, city, highway driving under normal conditions.
  • Quiet.
  • Less brake dust.
  • Low wear on rotors.
  • Cheaper.


  • Not as good in the cold or wet.
  • Not recommended for towing or trucks carrying heavy loads.

Semi-metallic brake pads

These brake pads are an amalgam of copper, steel, and iron, with mineral or organic fillers that bind everything together. There’s also graphite that provides lubrication without reducing braking effect. Manufacturers keep the actual composition secret. “High-performance” and “street performance” brake pads are invariably semi-metallic.


  • Good for heavy braking, high-mileage, sporting situations.
  • More efficient in varied conditions.
  • Absorb heat, reducing brake fade.
  • Last longer.


  • Can be noisier.
  • More brake dust.
  • More expensive.
  • Tougher on rotors.

Other brake pad considerations

With aftermarket brake pads, you get more choices. You can go for the budget option (usually ceramic), or you can go for better stopping power (usually semi-metallic). Much of the rest of the description you’ll read, while not incorrect, can sometimes get more attention than it deserves. In the final analysis, your choice largely depends on whether you’re looking for brake pads for the family car (and family driving) or something for the more enthusiastic driver, where the ability to brake hard in varying weather conditions is demanded.


This is a method used to accelerate the bedding-in process, so your brake pads are near optimum performance straight out of the box. It might not make a great deal of difference to most vehicle owners, but it can be of benefit to stop-and-go drivers like commercial travellers or delivery drivers.


Manufacturers use the letters OE a lot to suggest their products are as good as “original equipment.” It truth, the brake pads probably are, though it’s just the manufacturer saying so, rather than an independent view.


“Multi-layer” shims, slots, and chamfers also sounds impressive. All it really means is that it fits like the original! That’s no bad thing, of course, but it doesn’t do much to differentiate one set from another, except budget brands may not pay so much attention to those details.


The premium brands that you’ll probably recognise almost always produce a better-quality product. These brake pads last longer and give better stopping power. But budget brands do a perfectly adequate job. There’s no suggestion that these brake pads are unsafe. In a panic stop situation, they still get the job done, but you do get what you pay for.

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Did you know?
Many modern vehicles have sensors to alert you to brake pad wear. If yours doesn’t, check them regularly – either when you get an oil change, or every 16,000 kilometres. Worn brake pads not only provide poor stopping performance, they can damage the brake rotor, doubling or trebling your replacement costs.

Brake pad prices

We usually try to provide a range of prices in our reviews to help you with your buying decision. The sheer number of vehicles and brake pad manufacturers makes that impractical.

However, we can make a few generalisations. (And these really are generalisations. The price of brake pads for specific vehicles – particularly old or unusual ones – could well be different.)

  • Ceramic brake pads: You can pay between $30 and $50 for a pair of ceramic brake pads. Good budget ceramic brake pads at around $30 per pair will fit a surprisingly wide selection of vehicles, from compacts to family sedans and small pickups, though finding the right ones for your vehicle could be frustrating. Spend between $40 and $50 and you’re likelier to find what you need. These more expensive brake pads will probably last longer and have marginally shorter stopping distances, particularly in the rain.

  • Semi-metallic brake pads: If you want “street performance” or “high performance,” you’ll be paying more to buy semi-metallic pads, about $60 to $100. The vast majority of people say braking is noticeably better with these pads, but it comes at the cost of more wear on brake rotors.

When it comes to high-performance sedans, sports cars, and RVs, the price is even higher, but perhaps not by as much as you’d think. We looked at Bentley, Pontiac GTO, and Winnebago brake pads, and all could be found for $110 to $150 a pair.


  • You should always change the brake pads for both wheels on the same axle at the same time. However, it isn’t always necessary to change the brake pads on all four wheels at the same time,

  • Get your brakes checked immediately if you experience juddering or excessive vibration when braking. These are sure signs of wear, damage, or misalignment of the wheels, rotors, or brakes.

  • Check your tire treads, too. Your tires are an important part of your braking system. If you replace your brake pads but your tire treads are shot, you’re not going to get the stopping power you need.
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Always use the correct hydraulic fluid. Don’t be tempted by cheap alternatives. Differences in viscosity will reduce braking efficiency and can cause excess wear in the braking system components.


Q. Do I need to change the rotors when I change the brake pads?

A. Normally, metal of the rotor is harder than brake pads, so it doesn’t need changing as often. That’s not always the case, though. The pads used in NASCAR, for example, are so hard that the rotors, not the pads, need changing after every race! Squeaking or scraping noises coming from your brakes, or vibration when you brake, could indicate that the rotors need changing. When you’re changing the brake pads, it’s an ideal time to check the rotors, too.

Q. What does OEM mean, and is it important for my brake pads?

A. OEM means original equipment manufacturer. In other words, an OEM product is what was fitted to your car when it was new. Companies like Ford and Nissan don’t actually make brake pads – they buy the pads from another manufacturer. These are the OEM brands.

You can usually save money by buying aftermarket (non-OEM) replacements, and those manufacturers often claim their products are as good as or better than OEM. You might also gain superior braking. An OEM product is generally chosen for all-round economy and performance. However, if your vehicle is still within warranty, you need to check carefully. Using aftermarket items of any kind may invalidate the warranty.

Q. Should I swap out the standard rotors and pads for a “big brake” kit?

A. It isn’t something we would recommend. Things like rotor diameter, material, construction, and the surface area of the pads are all carefully calculated by the vehicle manufacturer to give optimum performance in a wide variety of conditions. In theory, big brake kits can reduce stopping distances, but the weight change could affect tire wear, suspension, and steering. If you’re doing a full custom build, it’s an option. If you’re simply replacing worn components, stick with the standard sizes.

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