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Performance brake pads are often presented as a clear upgrade over the stock pads that came with your vehicle. With such a wide variety of pad types out there, however, it’s important to understand how different pad compounds and designs can impact the way your vehicle drives on a daily basis, in addition to how well it might perform on a track or autocross course.

Here are a few brake pad basics so you can decide how to best improve your vehicle’s stopping power.

Breaking Them Down

Whereas most brand-new vehicles come with a non-asbestos organic (NAO) brake pad, performance brake pads are usually metallic or semi-metallic in terms of their construction (with the exception of very high-end carbon-ceramic designs).

Why the difference? While NAO pads are affordable, they don’t respond well to the kind of heat generated during high-speed driving. As these types of pads get hotter, they begin to fade and require increasingly long distances to slow your vehicle down from the same rate of travel. Metallic pads, on the other hand, dissipate heat much more effectively, which means that they can be used repeatedly on a race track without suffering from the same level of fade.

Testing One’s Metal

Metallic and semi-metallic performance brake pads are available in a variety of compounds, each offering a different balance of characteristics. Some pads are designed to offer exceptional initial bite — the strength with which they grab the rotor when you first tap the brake pedal — while others provide better durability over the long term.

Finally, there’s the question of temperature. The most aggressive performance brake pads are designed to operate at high temperatures all the time, which is ideal if you’re only going to drive on the race track. When cold, however, they’re almost useless. If you plan on using the same pads on the street and the track, you won’t have the luxury of a warm-up lap on the street, so you’ll need a pad that can stop your car or truck before it’s been warmed up by regular use.

Most brake pad manufacturers offer a range of different metallic compounds that take into account very specific driving scenarios and temperature profiles. Make sure that you choose the pad that best reflects your driving habits. If you really want to go all out, then switching out your street pads at the track for a race-worthy set is a better idea than trying to run race pads outside of a controlled course.

Don’t Go Squealing

It’s worth mentioning that due to their more robust design, metallic pads are often much noisier than NAO pads in daily use. The sound may lessen as the pads warm up, but it’s normal to hear a squeal when slowing to a stop using high-performance pads, so you’ll have to decide how much noise you can tolerate during your commute. The same goes for cleanliness: Metallic pads typically throw off much more dust than their NAO counterparts, as they wear out more quickly.

Performance pads offer exceptional stopping capability for not much more money than a traditional design, and are a worthy addition for anyone looking for an extra edge when it comes to braking.

Check out all the brake system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on performance brake pads, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

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