Are aftermarket consumers getting what they pay for when they purchase premium brake products? The answer, apparently, is yes.
When a jobber recommends and sells quality, premium, or equivalently described brake components marketed by reputable major suppliers, the jobber’s customers will be getting superior products.
Despite a lack of mandated standards or testing for aftermarket brake components, suppliers indicate they are making significant efforts to ensure that their aftermarket products either meet or exceed OE brake component characteristics.
There are a number of issues involved with premium brake products, including the use of the terms “quality” and “premium”; quantitative differences in products, manufacturing standards, and testing; and the characteristics of brake components described as premium or quality.
Examining the question of whether premium products represent premium value, Cameron Young, sales and marketing manager, Robert Bosch Inc., Automotive Division, says that premium components do have better characteristics. “Not all pads are created equal,” he says. “The materials, formulas, design, and craftsmanship can be dramatically different in brake pads.”
Looking specifically at Bosch products just launched to the Canadian market, Young cites a number of examples of quality features, including designs and materials that reduce noise. “Bosch designs several features into their pads; for example, using the highest quality stainless steel for the pad shims. This provides the ultimate in corrosion resistance, durability, and reliability, which translates into longer, noise-free life.”
In addition, Young says, Bosch pads are slotted and chamfered for quiet operation and incorporate an underlayer that isolates and reduces noise.
Considering all of these quality features, how does Bosch regard the words “premium” or “quality” as an actual value designator? Pam Krebs, director of advertising for Bosch, says, “[We] strictly adhere to utilizing premium in reference to our products’ ‘premium performance attributes,’ which also translates into a product that sells at a more premium price. In other words, we would never utilize the premium designation for a value-line product.”
Suppliers repeatedly indicated that the materials used in brake components are a key factor in the premium or quality issue. Randy Mordue, director of aftermarket service parts operations for Akebono North America, says, “[Our] advanced ceramic brake pads, specified as original equipment on a growing number of vehicles and now available in the aftermarket, provide unmatched [noise, vibration, harshness] performance and reduced brake dusting versus traditional brake pads on the market today. OEMs now using NAO (non-asbestos-organic) ceramic brake pads have seen warranty costs reduced by as much as 90%.”
Mordue says there are measurable quantitative differences between premium brake components and other aftermarket components, in both stopping characteristics and wear.
Still, quantifiable properties associated with the word premium are not mandated by any standard. “There are no official performance standards in the North American aftermarket for any automotive brake friction materials,” says Mordue. “This has led to a degree of confusion among many distributors, installers and drivers. Simply put, all ceramic friction products are not created equal.”
In part because of the lack of mandated standards, the word premium has become a marketing word instead of a measure of quality and performance, in the view of Bill Taylor, brake product manager for ZF Sachs, North American distributor for Mintex brake pads. “My definition of premium defines not only what the brake friction material looks like, but how it performs on the vehicle,” says Taylor. “Premium brake pads should be positive molded, powder coated, and meet or exceed the performance of the original equipment brake pads. This would mean that the brake pad supplier would offer multiple (as many as eight to 10) formulations to cover the different brake sizes, vehicle weights, and varying brake bias.
“When a customer buys or a counterperson sells a premium brake pad set, they should have confidence that the car will stop as well or better than it did when it was new. I see pads identified as premium every day that will not make it through the [Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard] test that OE automobile manufacturers have to pass. Unfortunately, there is no mandatory test an aftermarket supplier has to pass to sell brake pads.” The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) tests are full-vehicle tests that vehicle manufacturers must pass to have their vehicles approved for use on the roads. Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) use the same tests. As stated, brake products are not subject to these or other mandatory tests.
Taylor contrasts this with Europe. “The European Union has instituted mandatory testing requirements that all friction material suppliers must pass before their product can be sold there. The test is called the Regulation 90 E Mark test. This is an on-the-car test, and the supplier’s friction material must perform within plus or minus 15% of the OE friction material on every stop to be certified.
“Without a standard, the word premium will never have much meaning in the marketplace.”
“Most of these components are manufactured using the same basic raw materials,” says Brian Moffatt of Inroble. “The differences occur relative to the quantity and quality of these materials or elements.” As an example of the measurable difference quality can make, Moffatt says, “Our cross-drilled and slotted Sport Rotors, when tested by police fleets, have shown improved heat-dissipating properties and a resultant improvement in braking performance.” Despite this, because of the lack of mandatory standards, Moffatt adds that “premium” or other quality-related references are subjective terms, used by manufacturers as an attempt to differentiate their products from those of their competitors.
According to Ian Braunstein at Satisfied Brakes, every decision–from R&D and D3EA testing through manufacturing and product design–is focused on adding value to its premium brake lineup. Satisfied’s manufacturing facilities, for example, boast ISO 9001:2000 quality registered manufacturing with a high level of automation and enhanced assembly procedures, says Braunstein.
“We know that every industry player, including the installer, is concerned about value, performance, customer satisfaction, and the ultimate safety of the brakes they sell.”
Satisfied was an early adopter of D3EA testing. In product development the company uses D3EA to benchmark OEM products against their own.
“We consider everything from real-world, vehicle platform-specific, heat dissipation parameters, to the comfort level attained with various components including ceramic, to attain a balance that mirrors and competes with OE quality.”
There are many adjectives that can be used to describe varying qualities of brake components. “Premium, Ultra, Regular, OE Replacement, Standard, Economy – all of these are typical adjectives used to either brand or describe automotive replacement parts, and for each of us they create unique images of what each term represents,” says Brian Fleming of Dana Brake and Chassis. “But I think that all of us would agree that the term ‘premium’ creates the impression of the highest quality brake parts that we can buy. To most of us, that means original equipment quality or better. It means the use of superior materials, longer life and quieter performance. It means meeting and exceeding all SAE and FMVSS standards to ensure safe, reliable braking.”
As part of its quality assurance efforts, Fleming says that Dana Brake and Chassis puts many of its products through independent testing such as D3EA and the newly created Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedure to ensure premium quality and safety. “Some of these tests have shown that our friction material can stop a car 20 or even 30 feet shorter than other brand materials,” says Fleming.
unfortunate that in most industries, descriptive words like ‘premium’ are often used loosely to create perceived value rather than to deliver value,” he adds. Fleming observes that if you are using the word “luxury” in describing two cars, one car traditionally in the lower price range and the other car traditionally in the luxury price range, it’s easy for the consumer to see that the two vehicles are at opposite ends of the spectrum. “With brake products, that is not always readily seen. That is why we feel it is important to educate the technicians, service writers, and counter staff on the features and benefits of true premium parts so that they will be able to tell the difference between economy and quality regardless of the descriptors.”
For Pete Murnen, director of marketing, Federal-Mogul Friction, premium quality for aftermarket brake products involves a number of factors. “What comes to mind for me is our engineering, our R&D, and our people’s experience. The same people are responsible for the OE products. They know how to make a quality aftermarket friction product.” One of the keys to maintaining quality, Murnen says, is vehicle testing. “Vehicle testing is an important type of test for us. We need to do vehicle testing because we must know that the aftermarket products are equal to our OE products, or as close to them as we can make them.”
Looking at the overall brake components market and the issue of premium or top quality, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” holds true. Jobbers can be secure in recommending premium products from reputable suppliers, because the quality is there.
Quality or premium products usually cost more than value or economy lines, and that is because reputable suppliers do make efforts to add value to their premium lines–efforts that have real world benefits, even if they’re not always visible in the product itself.
A TEST IS NOT A STANDARD
A new performance certification procedure, the Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedure (BEEP), may provide a clearer view of product quality, but it is important that not too much be asked of it.
BEEP chairman Walt Britland, who is also Federal-Mogul’s director of aftermarket engineering, emphasizes that BEEP in itself is “not a standard; it is a testing procedure.” Created by the Brake Manufacturers Council (BMC) of the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), this test procedure is based on SAE J2430 and resembles the main sections of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 105 and 135.
Britland observes that there really aren’t any mandatory North American aftermarket friction standards.
“There are two main elements to BEEP. The first is J2430, which is an SAE dynamometer test procedure; and the other is a software package that enables us to download the data from the test procedure to see if the product being tested complies,” Britland says. He notes that one of the important aspects of J2430 is that it is vehicle platform-specific, which is important because of the different factors involved from vehicle to vehicle.
He also says that the emphasis with BEEP is on stopping ability, and that there are different tests for other quality factors such as noise and wear.