Auto Service World
Feature   December 1, 2014   by Andrew Brooks

Better Braking

A booming market drives demand for new braking technologies, premium brands

It sounds like a paradox, but stopping is a growth market. Sales of brake parts in North America are through the roof, according to a Frost & Sullivan study that pegged the sales of brake pads in 2013 at almost 90 million units. Among the reasons: declining scrap rates and the increasing age of vehicles on the road.

Unsurprisingly, the level of demand is also spurring an increase in quality and the development of new technologies to increase the durability and efficiency of braking systems. But while most brake components now on the market exceed safety standards, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still meaningful variations in quality that directly affect the durability of components and driver safety.

Premium products are becoming more affordable, says Dean Weber, vice president of Proforce Automotive. “Now the jobber can buy our premium brand of ceramic that comes with an enhanced formulation, noise dampening shim, scorched-in material, complete with stainless steel hardware for under $20 for most numbers. Our premium rotor, which is fully Geomet [with] anti-rust coating, mill balanced with OE fins and weights, at up to 60 per cent less than original premium rotor prices.”

Kevin Fleury, sales director for Transbec, notes that there’s still enough of a price differential between premium and entry-level products that in many cases customers continue to resist the lure of top quality. To Fleury, this represents an opportunity. “There are certain areas where it’s ‘price, price, price,’ and the kind of brake pad doesn’t make much of a difference to the customer. Price does have a cost though, and that’s what a lot of people don’t realize. For pennies more, you can upsell your customer to something that will give them much more value for money and inevitably cost them less in the long run.”

Fleury says Transbec’s premium Bremsen line even offers an aesthetic advantage – something that can be used to help upsell customers. The coated rotors last longer and extend the life of the vehicle, he says. “The coating that we use is compatible with every type of friction out there,” he says. “You can use it with a ceramic pad, a semi-metallic pad; you can even – at the risk of dating myself – use it with an organic pad. If they still exist!”

While different brands are fully compatible with each other, Fleury sees a distinct advantage in using friction and rotors from the same brand. “From a marketing and branding standpoint, friction and rotors should be matched,” he says. “At the end of the day, that brake job’s going to cost $500 to $600 and the customer wants to know what they’re putting on their vehicle.”

There’s still a fair price differential between the top name lines and the rest of the market, says Ernie Fields, sales manager for ProMax Auto Parts Depot Ltd. “There are a lot more premium products on the market now, but some of them don’t have the same brand visibility.” Fields notes that there are still price discrepancies based on this brand recognition – “as in any market, the name brand is naturally going to cost more.”

ProMax sells three lines of friction: semi-metallic pads, ceramic pads and the same ceramic pads but with premium stainless-steel hardware included. Fields says the latter package is gaining traction as shops realize buying just the friction and getting hardware separately – or, worse, replacing only the friction and trying to clean up the existing hardware on the vehicle – is more expensive and takes more time than buying pads and hardware together.

For Bob Peters, chief engineer, friction material engineering, Akebono Brake Corp., the quality of replacement components is critical, and here premium products offer definite practical advantages. “The rotor is often overlooked and considered a commodity,” he says, “but the grade of cast iron used in the rotor and its surface finish do influence the output of the friction couple. Noise and roughness can also be influenced by rotor metallurgy and surface finish.” In summary, he says, yes, friction and rotors can be replaced with items from different manufacturers, but the quality and selection of the replacement parts should be carefully considered.

Peters believes that while shops may sometimes replace the friction only, in a bid to keep the cost down for the customer, it’s justifiable when the linings are being replaced due to wear and tear, and the rotor friction surface is still smooth and within the tolerance limits for both wear and thickness variation. “This is especially true if a quality ceramic material has been used, since these materials wear the rotor very little during normal use,” he says. “If there is some brake related issue such as noise or roughness, however, it is best to replace both elements of the friction couple – rotor and pads.”

Irina Mescheryakova, senior product manager, Bosch Brake Components LLC, Automotive Aftermarket Division, Robert Bosch LLC, warns of the danger of catering to price sensitivity by not doing as complete a job as might be needed. “The expense on the front end is less,” she says, “but doing the job properly can add 10,000 or 15,000 miles to the brake job. Therefore the complete brake job is less expensive.”

Mescheryakova also notes the importance of servicing brake fluid at the times recommended by the manufacturer. “I recommend flushing brake fluid with every complete brake service,” she says. The service interval listed by manufacturers for flushing brake fluid is generally about 30,000 miles or two years, while the average front pad life on many vehicles is close to this, so flushing at the same time makes sense.

If brake fluid is regularly serviced, the chance of corrosion occurring inside the brake system is minimal, Mescheryakova says. “The components that actually cause premature wear or unusual wear patterns regarding the brake pads are hardware and bracket condition. Hardware replacement and bracket service during a complete brake job will dramatically reduce unusual pad wear problems, increasing the service life of the pads.”

When replacing just the pads, Wally Marciniak, director technical service, Brake Parts Inc, says technicians need to make sure the rotor minimum thickness is within specifications and that the rotor surface is in good condition and there is no pedal pulsation during braking. “Personally, I like to start with a good flat surface on the rotor when installing new pads. I will either resurface or replace rotors, as needed.”

The water-absorbing properties of most brake fluid have the effect of lowering the boiling point and increasing the opportunity for corrosion to form within the brake system, says Bob Peters of Akebono. So changing brake fluid along with a lining change is beneficial, but Peters cautions that it has to be done carefully. Techs should ensure complete compatibility with the existing brake fluid type, and make sure the system is completely sealed and free of leaks when the job is done.

When replacing the calipers along with the friction, Proforce’s Dean Weber lays out the recommended steps. “Things to look for are uneven pad wear, and the vehicle pulling to the left or right when braking – these are signs the calipers need replacement. If the inboard pad is more worn than the outboard pad, the caliper may be seized. In addition, the caliper boot should not show any signs of fluid leakage nor should the caliper boot appear hardened or cracked.” Weber says the caliper and housing should be completely cleaned, the pins lubricated and hardware replaced as necessary.

Wally Marciniak says that few manufacturers recommend caliper replacement except by a caliper manufacturer. But he does have some suggestions for technicians who are taking this step. “They need to inspect the old pads for wear patterns, such as uneven wear inboard to outboard pads and taper wear of the pads. Make sure the caliper dust boots, pistons, and caliper slides and pins are in good condition. If any of these stand out, it is highly recommended to rebuild or replace the caliper. Properly operating calipers will help with the overall brake performance and extend the life of the brake pads.”