Great stopping power provided by an effective brake setup isn’t exactly going to win you any traffic light drags or get you crowd approval as you scrape upon entry at the stance meet. Neither is it the most aesthetically pleasing mod.
It’s no wonder then that upgrading a brake setup usually sits at the bottom of everyone’s performance modification list – more power, more grip and more stance are bigger priorities right?
Throughout my never ending journey with Pearl (my Nissan S15) and the Honda EP3, I’ve come to terms with just how crucial a decent brake setup is on both the street and track. Simply put, solid and dependable braking does wonders to driver confidence which we all know directly improves overall performance.
So what makes an effective brake setup?
Utilising one or more pistons, calipers are responsible for pushing the brake pad against the brake rotor (disc) thus increasing friction in order to slow you down.
“Newton’s Law of Motion anyone?“
Increased number of pistons (and bigger) tend to be better as they provide stronger force and are needed for bigger and wider pads for even force distribution. Don’t discount your factory single pot offerings though, paired up with the correct friction material they can perform quite well.
There are many off the shelf big brake caliper kits from the likes of AP Racing, Alcon, etc. which do a great job if you’re willing to spend the coin. However being the modifiers that we are, there is always a more cost effective option like using the factory calipers from other models such as the common Mitsubishi Evolution Lancer Brembo 4 piston (pot) calipers and mating them onto the S-chassis via corresponding adaptors. If that still isn’t enough you can now get the bigger 6 pot Brembo caliper from the R35 GTR/Cadillac CTS-V! Be prepared to run some big wheels to accommodate these!
Before you consider upgrading your caliper, tick off the other lower costing and highly effective braking components first as caliper setups aren’t cheap!
Factory rubber brake lines have the tendency to expand when sufficient braking pressure is applied, resulting in inconsistent pedal feel and slower braking response. For less than $150, braided brakes lines are an easy and effective upgrade to combat this problem as it reduces, if not eliminates any deformation of the brake line under extreme braking conditions.
Personally I haven’t felt too much difference between stock and braided lines but the theory makes sense and it’s a good bang for buck upgrade!
HEL & Goodridge are the popular brands around.
If you’ve got your foot to the floor and not slowing down as quickly as you should then your brake fluid is probably cooked and the one to blame (or your brake pads have disintegrated). Brake fluid is heated up during extreme braking condition as the caliper itself absorbs heat from the process of slowing down the car. This heat is then transferred into the brake fluid and affects the viscosity of the brake fluid. As brake fluid heats up, the fluid is in a less dense state resulting in changes in the braking capabilities and especially the brake pedal articulation. Having a brake fluid that can maintain its viscosity (thickness) at high temperatures is a must in order to maintain pedal pressure. The thinner the fluid gets, the more pedal effort is required.
Most commonly used and recommended are the Motul RB600F (now RB660F) and ATE Super Blue for their proven track ability and high temperature tolerance. Remember to always do a full flush and a proper bleed to remove any air pockets!
Providing a mating surface for the brake pad so that you can slow down is one thing, but the other important role the rotor has is to dissipate heat quickly and efficiently for optimal use of your brake pad.
Pads work best and last longer within their optimal temperature range which is usually at the middle of their temperature rating. When constantly pushed to the higher end of the spectrum not only is stopping power (a.k.a coefficient or torque) lower, the possibility of the compound overheating and crumbling becomes very likely.
Again and again I’ve seen OEM and “street” spec rotors under perform and lead to other complications at the track so if you’re even remotely thinking about hitting the track, go for a track oriented rotor.
Slotted, cross drilled, curved vane, straight vane, carbon metallic, two-piece – there’s plenty of options out there.
Work off your budget and purpose but on a performance car I wouldn’t go anything less than the DBA T3 4000’s which is pretty standard these days.
No other braking component has such a profound affect on braking performance than the humble brake pad. If you were allowed just one upgrade to your braking system then this is it.
To the unlearned, factory or cheap no frills pads seem to be good enough as they provide the same outcome of stopping your car. That perception is swiftly buried into the ground after experiencing some performance pads though, there’s no turning back as the difference is night and day in every aspect of braking performance.
In the defense of OEM (factory) pads though, noise, dust and longevity are a much bigger priority than outright performance.
These basic pads and those aimed purely for street use will be a full ceramic compound meaning they are gentle on rotors, long lasting and most importantly quiet; the trade-off being high wear, fade and diminished stopping power in demanding driving scenarios.
Does that mean good performance ceramic pads don’t exist? Or is it possible to have your cake and eat it too?
Well to an extent yes, there are just a few full ceramic pads out there (like the Intima SR) that can hold their own in a demanding driving situation such as a twisties run or casual track day whilst still providing desired street ability and manners.
The main downfall being the higher wear as the compound simply can’t handle high the rotor temperatures.
That’s where carbon metallic compounds come into play.
With much better resilience to heat, the metallic based compound addresses the main shortcoming of the ceramic pad – longevity.
This is two fold though: longevity in the sense of wear rate but more importantly longevity in the delivery of performance.
Even when rotor temps border on the higher end of the scale, torque can remain consistent and continuous whilst brake fade takes much longer to occur.
In exchange for whiplash braking performance though, be prepared to turn heads at every traffic light as brake squeal can be quite horrendous. Who drives their racecar on the street anyway? We do… #becauseracecar
Flipping through product catalogues or browsing through manufacturer websites; fade resistance, torque/coefficient, bite, temperature threshold are the important metrics you will need to heed attention to. Ideally you want all of those at the top but the higher you go the more money you’re going to need to fork out.
Expect to pay anywhere between $250 to $550+ for a front/rear set of performance track pads. There’s a huge selection out there so figure out your budget and purpose, do some research and ask around for people’s real world experience. Even then it still might not be the one!
All about trial and error, trust us we know.
Reinforcing the previous section, make sure you match your pads to a good rotor! No point having a great performing pad if it is constantly at boiling point withering away.
Hope this simple guide sheds some light on the underrated world of braking. Now get out there and give your braking setup some attention, you may surprise yourself.
It’s one thing to stop but another to stop well.
Don’t forget we can help you with your braking needs, email us at [email protected]!