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In this guide we take a look at brakes because, let’s face it, they are kind of a big deal. The brakes are not something that you can afford to skimp on, because when the worst happens you need to know that they are going to stop your vehicle quickly and safely.
At the same time, emergency stops make up only a tiny percentage of the brakes’ usage. Day to day you are using them to control the car safely. So, you want continued, useful operation with minimal squealing or other noises. The best brakes are the ones that do their job so unobtrusively that you rarely even have to think of them.
We’ve pulled together a list of the best aftermarket brakes on the market. We highlight the pros and cons of each system so you have all the information you need for this critical vehicle component.
The Best Car Brakes
There are a number of very useful looking features and design points on this product from PowerStop. First there is the disc rotor itself. It is both drilled and slotted to enable effective off gassing and fast cooling. That is really going to help keep the operating temperature down and keep the brakes functioning at their optimum. The rotor discs also boast silver zinc plating to help prevent rust and corrosion – and as a side effect they really make them look great and stay looking great.
The kit also comes with brake pads that are of ceramic carbon-fiber construction. They are off a dust-free construction and also designed to minimize brake noise. The fact they achieve all of this without affecting stopping power is testament to some excellent design and engineering by PowerStop.
Don’t overlook the fact that this is a complete kit. We have discs calibrated for front and rear axels as well as a very helpful bottle of High-Temperature lube to keep everything working nicely.
Overall this is a really well designed kit from PowerStop, who with this product are very much looking to live up to their name.
Drilled & Slotted Rotor Discs
Kit Includes Hi-Temperature Lubricant
- Weight74.8 lbs
This is another complete kit, though it is missing some extras, such as a high temperature lube. That does mean the price is a little lower, and you are still getting a new brake set that is crammed full of useful design points.
The rotor discs are the eye-catching centerpiece. They are cross-drilled and slotted to allow excellent off gassing and quick temperature cool off and also give the brake pads extra bite. Speaking of which, the pads are of ceramic construction, always a good feature if you are looking for everyday use brakes that won’t be putting out clouds of brake dust or ear shredding shrieks.
They are all ready to be installed too with no modifications required, making this a very well-designed and economical brake kit that, while it is missing some of the bells and whistles of truly premium products, is great value for money.
Ceramic Brake Pads
Cross Drilled & Diamond Slotted Rotors
- BrandPower Sport
- WeightRoughly 100-lbs
If you drive a Jeep then you know those rugged vehicles are packing more power (and weight) than a typical car. For that reason, R1 Concepts created this product specifically for Jeep vehicles.
In the design you see a lot of the features that make up one of the best car brakes on the market. We have a rotor disc design with pre-drilled holes and a diamond slotted surface. This keeps the brakes cooler while giving those ceramic pads something to really get their (figurative) teeth into.
Construction is nice and rugged as you would expect for something designed to stop a Jeep, and it’s a nice feature to see that the discs are silver zinc plated. That will help to avoid rusting and corrosion and is not normally a feature you always find on disc brakes kits from the lower end of the price range.
If you drive a Jeep and want to install high quality, bespoke designed brakes then you should take a look at this offering.
Jeep Specialized Product
Diamond Slotted for Extra Pad Bite
- BrandR1 Concepts
- Weight73 lbs
This kit has been especially designed for trucks. Not just any trucks, however – trucks that tow and/or haul. What we have here is drilled and slotted rotors with silver zinc plating to prevent corrosion. We have ceramic pads for outstanding stopping ability with no dust or noise. We even have hi-temp lubricant bundled into the kit.
When you tow or haul anything behind your vehicle it is going to affect the braking performance. You have all that weight being towed, so when the vehicle brakes, that weight is pushing against the vehicle, pushing its momentum against the braking direction and making stopping that much harder.
In those instances you need the extra stopping power that a product like this can provide. If you ever tow or haul loads you should take a close look at this specialist brake kit.
Especially Designed for Trucks that Tow/Haul
Drilled & Slotted Rotors
Extra Stopping Power
Complete Kit Including Hi Temp Lube
- BrandPower Stop
- Weight65 lbs
This is something of a more basic brake design from Callahan. That means that while it may be missing some of the bells and whistles that you find on premium models, it’s also missing that premium price tag. In fact, this product offers phenomenal value for money.
For the money you are getting a basic but robust rotor disc design. You’ll notice no slots or drilled holes here, though this is a rotor rather than solid design so it will still do a good job at heat dissipation. The included pads in this kit are metallic, so they are not the premium organic or ceramic pads you’ll find elsewhere.
It’s also worth noting that this is not a complete kit – these are front axel brakes only. Still, while it may not be the flashiest item on the list, and it may employ some more basic components, it is still a very well designed and engineered set of disc brakes with a very attractive price tag.
Great Value for Money
Basic, Solid Design
- Weight35.9 lbs
This is not a basic model by any stretch of the imagination, but it is quite clearly not a complete brake kit either. You should take note therefore that this product is sold as a solitary disc – not even a pair – and does not come with any pads. It should also be noted that it for the front axel brake system.
So now we know what it’s not, lets look at what it is – and it is a pretty premium product. It has been machine finished for smoother operation during braking – that clean surface is also designed to keep braking noise to a minimum. While it lacks drilled holes, it has a center split casting design that allows air through the disc for cooling.
The Black Electro-Coating is also pretty impressive, and it can survive up to 400 hours of saltwater submersion without rusting. That design feature is the cherry atop a very well designed and very well built brake disc. It’s also relatively good value, though of course do remember that you are only buying the disc itself.
Anti Corrosion Coating
Mill Balanced for Long Lasting Durability
Good Value for Money
Center Split for Heat Transfer
- Weight18.75 lbs
This is our third entry from Power Stop, which really highlights its dominance of this sector of products. After a premium level brake kit and truck & towing specialized kit, just what is it coming to the market with here?
Well, what we have here is more of an entry level brake kit, making it a little bit cheaper than the other products from this company. Don’t think that you’re getting ripped off here however, as this is still a great set of car brakes that are bristling with useful features.
The standout features are the drilled and slotted rotor and the ceramic pads that combine for a brake system designed to provide plenty of bite with little dust and noise. This kit is designed to be a serious upgrade on your typical, factory installed car brakes that your vehicle rolled out the factory with. There are not quite the high-end details of the premium products, but you also stand to save quite a bit of cash by selecting this brake kit.
Value for Money, Entry Level Kit
Cross Drilled and Slotted
- BrandPower Stop
- Weight58.3 lbs
One of the big features of this product is the fact that each rotor is individually X-Ray inspected before it leaves the factory. That, Max Advanced claims, leads to an industry leading less than one-percrent defect rate – that’s very impressive.
In terms of design and construction we have a number of useful features. Its constructed with tough grey iron. We have drilled holes to help get rid of excess heat, while rounded edge slots are carved into the rotor face to assist with pad biting.
All in all this is a very well designed, very well constructed set of brake discs. With none of the extras you get in other kits like high-temp lubricant, this is certainly toward the higher end of the price range. It’s hard to deny you’re getting a very premium product for your money, however.
2x Front Rotors
- BrandMax Advanced Brakes
- Weight41 lbs
Once again we have a complete kit that boasts a wide range of impressive features. It also has a price tag a little below some of the products from the premium end of the price range. So just what do you get?
There is a set of very nicely designed rotors that boast both drilled holes and slots. The kit also comes complete with a set of ceramic brake pads. It’s always great to see these in most kits, especially when they are bundled with brakes designed for everyday use.
The silver zinc finish to the rotor is also a nice design point, which will help to prolong product life span and stave off rust and corrosion. All in all, they may not quite boast the high-end styling or top-end build quality of the most premium models on the list – but they are very good examples that decent quality brake kits can still be picked up at the lower end of the price spectrum.
Full Kit – Front and Rear
Drilled & Slotted
Ready to Install, Direct Bolt on Design
- BrandHart Brakes
This kit boasts the features of premium Power Stop products. The rotors are drilled and slotted, it comes with ceramic pads, and it’s ready to install. The brakes are designed for everyday use, so they are a little different from products that are truck tow specific.
One difference with this kit is the fact that it is only a two disc set for front axle installation. That means that the price is significantly lower than a full kit, making this the better option for anyone who wants to invest in Power Stop quality without smashing a big old dent in their back account.
2x Front Rotors
Ready to Install
- BrandPower Stop
- Weight43.9 lbs
Best Car Brakes Buying Guide & FAQ
Brakes. Pretty cool actually, with a surprisingly long and interesting history behind their development. Frankly, modern cars would not be possible without modern brake systems, as they need to provide the stopping power appropriate for modern, high powered (and heavy!) vehicles.
They can also be quite an investment, with full kits running to several hundred dollars and even individual rotors can set you back around a hundred bucks or so. You need therefore to know the features of the various designs and materials then to make sure that you are selecting the best car brakes for you, for your specific needs and for your vehicle.
Related Post: Best Brake Bleeder Kits
Features to Consider When Buying Car Brakes
- Pad Material – Semi Metallic, Organic, Low Metallic and Ceramic. Each pad material has pros and cons. To us, for normal and everyday driving you can’t beat ceramic. It’s soft enough to generally avoid any brake screeching, it creates low levels of brake dust and it still has the strength to provide more than enough stopping power.
- Complete Set, Pair or Individual Brake – You will have see that some of these products are complete sets, some are pairs and some are individual rotors. A complete kit will be more expensive. On the other hand, it can be beneficial to change all the brakes at once, and at the very least you should replace the axel pairs together- i.e. replace both front axel brakes at the same time. This will help avoid uneven wear.
- Drilled Holes – First up drilled holes look cool, so they could be especially appealing if you have low profile tires that show off the brakes. They also help the brake rotor to cool of quicker, making them a good idea if you drive somewhere that has more brake use (like up in the hills or mountains or even an urban environment).
- Slots – As with holes, you don’t necessarily need slots. What they do is help the brake pads to “bite” the rotor surface. This provides more stopping power.
- Anti-Corrosion Protection – The rotors get wet and they get splashed with oil and other nasty stuff from the road surface. An anti corrosive protective layer, such as a silver zinc coating, can help to prevent rusting and corrosion. This extends the brakes life span and also keeps them looking nice and shiny for longer.
Brake Types & Styles
Broadly speaking there are two types of brake: Drum and Disk.
Drum – This is the more old fashioned style of brake, and sees what is essentially a metal drum mounted on the wheel. The brake pads in this instance push outwards against the drum to cause friction and slow the car. They are weaker than disc brakes and so are not generally seen on too many automobiles today. They are cheaper however, and so can still be found on some smaller and entry-level styles of cars – ones that don’t need a huge amount of braking force.
Disc – Almost all modern vehicles operate with disk brakes. Unlike a drum, the disc is mounted so that it runs through a pair of calipers, which are lined with brake pads. The calipers pinch the disc, with the brake pads coming into contact with the disc surface. By pinching instead of pushing, disc breaks generate a lot more stopping power. They also cool off much more quickly as they are not contained inside a metal drum.
Car Brakes Maintenance
Whilst the car brake system may seem complicated, it’s actually quite simple in many ways. Maintenance is also pretty easy, and performing these tips regularly will help to keep your brakes happy and healthy – and allow them to carry on stopping your car.
- Check the brake fluid. Look in your vehicle manual for instructions.
- Periodically change the brake fluid. When the fluid starts to look milky, it means that water has penetrated the system. Drain it and refill it with fresh fluid.
- Check the Pads and Rotors. Inspect both for signs of wear and replace the parts when their lifespan ends.
Best Car Brakes FAQ:
Q: How long do brake rotors last?
A: There are a number of factors that can affect the lifespan of brake rotors – you’re personal driving style can be one of them! Typically, they will have a lifespan of between 30,000 to 70,000 miles.
Q: When should I have my rotors turned?
A: Just to clarify here, turned does not mean turn the rotor around – it means having a very thin layer machined off. This can help to repair issues in your braking system such as if you feel a pulsation in the brake pedal when you press it down. This suggests the rotor has warped a little, and having it turned can remove that warp.
Q: What is brake fade?
A: Brake fade is when the vehicle brakes no longer generate enough friction (essentially stopping power) to slow down or stop the vehicle in the manner you want. This is usually due to wear on either the brake pad, the brake rotor or even both.
Q: My brakes squeak when I step on the pedal, is this a problem?
A: Only if your brakes are made of cheese. Get it? Because they might be full of mice? Never mind.
The answer is both Yes, and No. Some brakes do make a bit more noise than others. You could consider changing your brake pads to either an organic, Low –Metallic NAO or a ceramic style brake pad and see if that helps.
The most likely issue is that that the brake pad is wearing out however. Many manufactures work the compound of the pad so that it will start to make a lot of noise as it reaches the end of its lifespan.
Q: My brakes are noisy when I drive and quiet down when I step on the pedal. What’s wrong?
A: If you were experiencing a constant noise that goes away when you depress the brake pedal, it would be a good idea to check out the pads as the first stop in your investigation. This is because the noise is probably due to the brake wear indicator on the brake pad rubbing against the rotor, suggesting you need to invest in a new set of pads.
Don’t let this go on for too long by the way – the wear indictor is actually a small metal tab that protrudes from the brake pad. If this situation goes on too long it can cause some serious damage to the brake rotor, turning a simple fix (new brake pads) into a way more expensive one (new pads and new rotors!)
Q: Why does my brake pedal vibrate when I apply the brakes?
A: The most likely cause is that you haven’t broken in the new brakes yet. When new brakes are installed, they must be broken in. This involves a series of braking maneuvers at set speeds. This builds up a layer of materiel on the brake disc rotor which in turn helps the brake system to operate nice and smoothly.
It could also be that the rotor has warped a little, in which case turning the rotor could cure it (see above question/answer about when to turn your brake rotors).
Our Top Pick
Braking system requirements are going to differ from vehicle to vehicle, and change depending on your driving style, the environment you drive in and the functions of the vehicle. For that reason, our Top Pick is what we consider the best overall brake with the widest applications. If you need more of a specialty product, say if you are buying brakes for a truck that hauls a load, we recommend buying the product from the list that best suits your specialized needs.
For the owner of a normal, everyday car or SUV that is simply looking to upgrade their vehicle’s brakes though we’ve picked out the PowerStop K5828 Z23 Brake Kit as the top pick. For us it just ticked so many boxes – great materials used in construction, attractive design, easy fit, the fact is a complete kit with front & rear discs, the no noise and no dust formula brake pads – that is pretty much everything we were looking for in the best car brakes all packaged up into one kit with a very reasonable price tag.
- How Brakes Work - HowStuffWorks