Decisions, Decisions, Decisions...

Annie at Hawk


Heeding the call of that tell-tale squeak is the first step when your brake pads have hit the end of the road. Figuring out which replacements will give you the longest and strongest performance for your needs, and the safest solution for your driving conditions and style, is the essential next step. You've got choices when it comes to selecting the right brake pads, and not all are created equal. To make matters worse, they’re not all intended for the same uses, so just how do you make heads or tails of all those choices? Ask the folks who make them.

Let's Start at the Very Beginning: Street or Motorsports?

Approaching replacement brake products is easiest looked at as an organizational chart, starting with where you’ll be using your vehicle. On streets and highways? Or in a race or off road? Are you an aggressive driver in heavy traffic? Or are you preparing for a road trip with your truck and camper? Is it dirt circle track or drag racing on the agenda?

Daily Driving = Street Vehicles

Daily drivers out on streets and highways are used in many different ways and encounter many different situations, and that’s the next question to answer. Stop and go traffic or mountain driving suggest aggressive stopping power you can rely on in a pinch. Trailer towing and huge payloads in your full size pickup require heavy duty brakes that can compensate for that. Easy short distance driving might be better suited by a solution focused more on keeping things quiet and smooth, where the fast-paced action of street races probably demands an option that’s going to be noticeably noisier.

Every “street” car and truck can be used in a wide range of ways, and that, too, changes what the best options are. The same car kept under wraps except for “Sunday drives” vs. driven in all weathers, temperatures, and road conditions has a different idea of what is essential. A Jeep owner who drives to work during the week and hits the trails on the weekend definitely has a different set of requirements than a muscle car driver who gets into the occasional street race.

What Else?

Vehicle modifications should always be included in the equation, too. A fairly lightweight car that’s been loaded down with extra weight from an engine rebuild and body work and beefed up with extra large tires, can no longer be stopped with its lightweight brakes. Even seemingly innocuous upgrades make a difference, and no change or alteration to the original manufacturer specs should be overlooked, be they purely cosmetic or performance-related.

The Wide, Wide World of Motorsports

While there’s lots to consider with street vehicle brakes, on the flip side of the coin are all the different motorsports that push vehicles – and its brakes – to their limits. Thinking about how many different types of racing and motorsports out there in the wide world? While the underlying goal of “be the fastest and the best” might be the same, the conditions and environments and duration of all those events are as different as night and day. Even within a single category of racing, the experience level of the driver, the power of the car, and the type of track all play really important roles in the brake package selection process.

Step One: Car and Driver

The obvious first question to ask is what kind of vehicle is it? Light sports car? Drag racer? Trophy truck? Determining how much a vehicle weighs and how much power is under the hood is step two in ruling out brake compounds. Axle position and tire packages can further inform that elimination process. Some drivers choose to mix and match, pairing two different brake pad compounds on front and rear to maximize braking based on weight distribution and yaw.

The person behind the wheel plays an equally vital role in refining those choices. A beginner at the track who’s less confident in the corners is going to brake a little more often and a little more gently than a veteran who knows a track like the back of their hand and fires into those same corners, waiting to brake until the last possible second. The old saying goes, you’ve got to brake harder to go faster, but braking too hard and too fast – or not hard or fast enough – can have the opposite effect.

Let's Get Technical

The chemistry of it all comes into play, as well. All other things being equal, both drivers benefit from the same brake package only if they are operating their brakes within the optimal min/max temperature ranges. A seriously aggressive racing brake pad performs best at incredibly high temperatures, but never brought up to that peak operating temp array, and it acts more like sand paper on rotors. Conversely, the chemical makeups of other pads are simply not compatible with those same blast furnace-like temps, and will begin to fade as the materials soften from the heat.

Where and How

Race length and environment are key considerations when narrowing down those motorsports braking choices, too. Even if a brake pad compound is designed to excel within a specific temperature range, it may begin to underperform under extended stress and pressure from an endurance race for which it was not designed – be it a 24 hour race, or extreme desert racing conditions. Likewise, an insanely short, insanely fast drag race gives brakes zero chance of heating up – but demands they work without hesitation as soon as they’re applied.

More Confused Than Ever?

Given all those options and all that information, it’s probably more confusing than ever. Because trial and error can be costly and time consuming, the best recommendation is to trust your own experience and instincts, and the experience of those you trust. No question is a dumb question when it comes to figuring out how to stay safe behind the wheel, and there’s no such thing as too much information. On or off the track, there are folks with that go-to knowledge to be found, and your local shops, garages, and auto parts stores all are invested in fitting you and your ride with the best .

Hawk Customer and Technical Support is always on hand to answer your questions, too! Feel free to reach out any time to [email protected], or give us a jingle at 800.542.0972.