Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2008   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Making the sale with brakes

Brake formulations are a complex science, but a simple way to make extra profit

When a customer comes into your shop, how often have you heard this: “I don’t know what all these formulations mean? Just give me some brakes and let me get back on the road.”

For many, the complex mixtures of materials that go into making a modern automotive brake pad is about as understandable as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Sure, everyone knows that a brake pad is a critical component of a vehicle, helping stop a car in both normal and emergency situations. But beyond that, it is like Einstein’s famous theorem of E=MC2. Everyone knows it, but all the rest of the complex equations and mathematics leading to it are as unfathomable as ancient Sumerian script.

While a service writer or technician really does not need to know the exact chemical mechanisms and material formulations of how a particular brake’s friction material is made (and really, why should they), what they do need to understand is what the differences between different kinds of formulations means for a customer and their driving and braking experience. Knowing why a premium grade brake designation is better than a generic formulation or the difference in the braking characteristics of semi-metallic and carbon ceramic materials are useful for the service writer and technician when helping a driver make the right decision about which aftermarket brake replacement product they will finally buy.

How important are those formulations?

Kenneth Selinger, director of marketing and product development with the aftermarket and OES division of Akebono Brake Corp., North America says brake friction material formula- tions are one of the industry’s closest held secrets. Each manufacturer of aftermarket friction material spends large amounts of monies fine-tuning their formulations.

Akebono, for instance, has over 20 different raw materials that go into making a brake friction material. How these components are combined and in what percentages determine the performance characteristics of the brake pad.

“The reason we take this approach is to fine-tune the performance of the friction material for the application they will be used for,” says Selinger. “Why the shop technician should be concerned about formulations is that from a replacement standpoint, particularly when he looks to the aftermarket (for a brake replacement), is that the technician wants to try to emulate as closely as possible what came originally with the customer’s vehicle.”

Charles Pariano, manager for North American aftermarket sales with Aisin World Corp. of America agrees that today’s customers are more demanding and are very sensitive to wanting their aftermarket replacement brakes and friction materials to match the feel and performance of the original brakes when they first drove the car off the lot.

Anything less will result in the customer driving the vehicle back to the shop and demanding the brakes to be replaced because they don’t feel or sound right to them. This leaves both the customer and the technician frustrated.

But making that perfect match is not as easy as it sounds. First of all, because there are so many different kinds of brake friction materials to decide from, you can’t really reduce things to a simple “Good, Better and Best” equation. In fact, what many aftermarket brake friction specialists say is that the first question a service writer or technician should be asking is not “What kind of brakes do you want?” but “What are your driving habits?”

How you drive can determine your brake choice

“A lot of people ask me which is the best (friction material) and I always like to say that there is no ‘best’ friction,” says Eric Dussault, vice-president of Alco Brakes Inc. “Instead, the question has to be ‘What is the best friction for your vehicle and your driving habits.’ If you drive on average 30,000 or more kilometers a year, you really don’t need the same kind of friction as you would if you only drove about 5,000 kilometers a year on average.”

To put it in a better context, Dussault gives the example of someone who has a pickup truck that originally came with ceramic-based brakes. But the service writer discovers that the driver happens to be regularly pulling a 15,000-pound trailer.

“If you have such a customer, you will need to go with something else, not a ceramic (brake), but possibly a carbon-metallic or a heavy-duty brake pad,” he continues. “You have to always keep this in mind: there is no one-size-fits-all replacement aftermarket brake. As a technician, you really have to ask your customer what they are planning to do with their vehicle, what their driving habits are and what they might want to do in the future with the vehicle.”

Peter Murnen, global marketing director for braking with Federal- Mogul makes a similar point as Dussault about correctly matching brake friction choices.

“Ceramic is a great formula and when an OE designs a braking system for ceramic you should replace with a ceramic,” he adds. “But if a system is made for a semi-metallic you should replace with a semi-metallic because to put on a ceramic will cause more problems than it fixes.”

Murnen says putting the wrong friction material on a vehicle will change the friction co-efficient and how the system handles the heat produced by braking. For example, if you take a vehicle that needs to use semi-metallic brakes and put on ceramics, the driver will experience a lot of fade and rotor wear and warp because the heat produced by braking is not handled well. As well, higher-end European vehicles often come with semi-metallic brakes and do so because of very specific reasons.

“Semi-metallic and low-metallic brakes are both good products for high-speed stops,” Murnen says. “If you look at European cars they are fitted with low-met pads because they are designed for the Autobahn and have to stop on a dime.”

That is not to say that ceramics should be avoided. In fact, ceramic friction materials in aftermarket brakes are very popular and consumers are taken by them because they offer several key selling points. Premium ceramics are made to provide less wear on rotors and handle most high temperatures very well, and produce little dust, which is popular choice with those who have fancy rims on their car.

Akebono’s Selinger adds technicians must pay attention to three key points when deciding on an aftermarket brake: noise, vibration and harshness. Premium aftermarket brakes need and do meet all three of those points. Cheaper, lower-quality aftermarket brakes will often match only one key point and drop the ball on the others.

“If you try to cut corners and not use the right materials, you may get great performance on one performance measure, such as noise, but you have terrible performance on abrasiveness to the rotor or you get pedal pulsation,” he says.

Because braking systems are becoming more complex as well, many aftermarket brake manufacturers are working on developing brakes that can work with these lighter, leaner braking systems. For example, Federal-Mogul last year launched the Wagner Edge. The Wagner Edge is made to optimize the interaction between the rotor, pad and caliper and technicians will notice that the pad itself is shaped in such a way to help reduce vibration and noise. As well, the system is made to more accurately transfer force from the caliper during braking.

Don’t forget. Braking systems are more than just the pads

If there is anything that all manufactures of aftermarket brake products recommend is once a technician has a vehicle up on the hoist, it is an excellent chance to have a look at the whole braking system. Sometimes tell-tale signs on the pads can signal other problems.

For example, cracked linings can be a sign that excessive heat is created because the caliper or caliper piston is hanging and causing constant friction or the rear brakes are not working well and the front brakes have to wor
k harder to stop the vehicle. Signs of tapered wear could mean the caliper bushings are worn and need to be replaced. Grooves on the surface of the friction material means the technician should have a closer look at the rotor as they need to be replaced or turned.

“On thing that is often overlooked and really should be checked more often when doing a brake replacement is the brake hoses,” says Dussault. “Sometimes mechanics think that if the driver says the brakes feel ‘sticky’ then it is a problem with the calipers. But sometimes it is a problem with the (brake) hose, with it not allowing the pressure to be released correctly for the caliper to let go. So they should take a look to see if there is any wear or damage that could be causing this problem.”

Charles Pariano, manager of North American aftermarket sales with Aisin World Corp. says technicians should take the opportunity to not only replace the brake pads, but the calipers and other parts to make sure that the whole braking system works properly. In fact, Aisin’s Advics line of premium brake products come as complete kits, having all the parts needed to do an effective brake replacement and includes shims, grease packs.

Akebono’s popular ProAct and Euro brake products also come with all a technician will need to do the job of an effective brake replacement.

Affinia Group, makers of the Raybestos line of aftermarket brake products, announced that a new program which should further simplify a technician’s job with brake replacement. Calling it a 1-2-3 approach, Affina has streamlined the lines for hydraulics, rotors and friction. The hydraulic line has been reduced from two lines to one and now includes axel kits for disc brakes and disc brake abutment clip kits. A simplified branding hierarchy is now is place for Raybestos’ rotor lines and the brake lines have been simplified as well with a 3-tier branding hierarchy: Black for the Raybestos’ advanced brake technology, Blue for is professional grade and Red for its service grade.

Add your knowledge, expertise and experience.

Reference List:

Affinia Group raybestos

Aisin World Corp. of America

Akebono Brake Corp.

Alco Brakes

Federal-Mogul Corp.

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