By Mark Lavelle
Courtesy of the Global Brake Safety Council
Did you know that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 22% of car crashes are brake-related? The truth is that many of these accidents are preventable, but most people don’t know there is a serious problem lurking in their own car: the quality of their most recent brake replacement.
Original equipment brakes, the ones that come with your car at the time of purchase, have strict safety standards per the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, which empowered the federal government to set safety standards for vehicles and road safety. There is a high amount of regulation around the quality and performance of an OE brake, along with all parts of a new vehicle. Rightly so; vehicles are often driven hundreds of thousands of miles over many years, in a variety of weather conditions, carrying precious cargo. But brake pad replacement—or aftermarket brakes—have zero state or federal standards to live up to.
There are some very good reasons to specify quality brake parts: ones that are not made of black steel. They may cost more, but they are worth it in reduced liability, improved road safety, and greater customer satisfaction. Offshore manufacturers, many of whom have no automotive knowledge or experience, are making cheaper brake pads by the millions using black steel. Due to industry self-regulation and in effort to increase profit margins, domestic automotive service retailers are compromising vehicle safety with unregulated brake pads imported from overseas low-cost countries.
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As a result, consumers are purchasing these poor-quality parts, which are painted to look identical to other brake pads at retail and do not meet the same FMVSS standards as OEM brake pads. The result is an identical-looking painted variety of brake pads to choose from, where the consumer has no way to distinguish one from another, other than price. The consumer or their mechanic often picks the cheapest one, without realizing the considerable danger of black steel brake pads. Who can blame them? They are unaware of the dangers of black steel aftermarket brakes – by virtue of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) neglecting to cover to brake pad replacements.
As the FMVSS apply to new vehicles only, offshore manufacturers are selling brake pads made of black steel—steel that hasn’t been treated from all of the surface impurities such as rust and scaling through acid washing known as “pickling and oiling.” These impurities are a cancer imbedded into your brake pads that can cause the friction to break away instead of evenly wearing down. Further, black steel brake pads are significantly more prone to rust and failure when exposed to bad weather conditions and salt. According to Environment Canada, up to nine million tons of salt are distributed every winter across Canadian roads. This causes increased stopping distance and the inability to stop in time or at all. Rusty brake pads are a safety hazard, a very dangerous risk to take to save a few dollars.
Consumers need to understand what they are buying. This is a challenge; with no standards in the industry, aftermarket suppliers can say and do whatever they want. It is imperative—and truthfully a matter of life and death—to educate consumers on what to request for brake replacement: galvanized steel brake pads. Made from steel that has been “pickled and oiled” and galvanized or zinc, galvanized steel brake pads protect steel from rust, secure the friction material, and support an effective overall braking system.
In a retail setting, paint covers up imperfections in a brake pad. Without the paint, you can see the quality of the steel, but once the brake pads are painted, paint covers up the imperfections, and all brake pads look identical at retail.
While brakes were once lasting around the 50,000-mile mark, aftermarket pads being put in today typically last a mere 10,000 to 20,000 miles, according to the Global Brake Safety Council (GBSC). Consumers are spending more than ever before on unnecessary brake jobs and worse, driving in a car on unsafe brakes likely to fail. The GBSC estimates that the U.S. consumer spends $9.9 billion a year on unnecessary brake jobs—not to mention the immense safety risks of driving on rusty brakes, potentially leading to deaths caused by brake failure.It’s not just passenger vehicles: earlier this year, nearly 1,600 commercial motor vehicles in the US and Canada—approximately 13.8 percent of vehicles examined—were removed from roadways on an unannounced Brake Safety Day for brake violations.
Anybody that’s questioning the integrity of brake pads can go to their local garage and ask to see used brake pads. You will see used brake pads typically covered with rust, with broken friction material, meaning a severely reduced ability to stop. Do you feel safe knowing these are very likely the brake pads protecting you and your family? Take the brake pads off your own car and see for yourself. All you have to do is look.
Brake pads made from American galvanized steel on the other hand maintain their integrity. For a few extra dollars, galvanized steel brake pads can mean the difference between brake failure and success.
As a critical safety item, aftermarket brakes need immediate attention. Our government needs to implement regulation and manufacturing standards to improve consumer safety and ultimately save lives. In the meantime, consumers should request galvanized steel brake pads to increase road safety for all.
Global Brake Safety Council