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Brake parts: OEM versus high performance


In car maintenance, one area where you never want to compromise on quality is your car’s brake system. So when it comes time to repair your car’s worn brakes, give some thought to the brake tune up parts you or your chosen mechanic will install.

OEM brakes: second verse, same as the first

OEM (original equipment manufacturer’s) replacement parts are made by the same company that made your car (for example, replacement parts made by Audi or Dodge) or by one of their subsidiaries or contractors (sometimes called aftermarket parts). OEM brakes intended for use as replacement parts are engineered and built to the same standards as the original ones that were on the vehicle when you purchased it new.

For many drivers and vehicles, there’s no reason to use anything else, and if you enjoyed driving your car, truck, or SUV when it was new, OEM brakes should serve your needs. But if you or the type of driving you perform are hard on brakes, then you should consider upgrading to a system utilizing higher-quality parts designed to meet those needs.

“In brakes, choosing between OEM and high performance,” says Chris Grosso of PartsGeek LLC, “is a choice between brakes that last as long as possible and brakes that can stop a car traveling at high speeds or one that’s towing a heavy load. Most drivers don’t need such stopping power, but you should carefully consider your driving patterns before deciding against high performance brakes.”

High performance rotors: stepping up

Brake fading, or loss of stopping ability, can occur in situations where drivers make heavy use of their brakes, such as riding the brakes in stop and go traffic. It can be aggravated by other factors such as driving at high speeds, carrying heavy weights, towing, or driving down a long, steep slope. Because brake fading is caused by built-up heat within the system, if you often drive under these conditions, your vehicle and your safety may benefit by an upgrade to high performance brake rotors, such as those manufactured by Zimmermann and Brembo.

Cross drilled brake rotors have holes drilled through the metal or ceramic disc. During use, this allows heat to dissipate rather than build up, preventing or minimizing brake fade. Cross drilling also allows water residue to run off after driving through puddles, which can also hinder braking performance. Under very high performance conditions such as racing or towing, cross drilled brake rotors can develop stress cracks, but this is unlikely to happen under normal driving conditions.

Slotted brake rotors, on the other hand, have grooves scored into the surface of the disc. This also allows heat and water residue to dissipate, preserving braking performance and preventing brake fade, without risking stress cracks through the metal or ceramic. However, slotted brake rotors can be rough on brake pads, wearing them out more quickly than OEM rotors or cross drilled ones, and so are usually not considered suitable for normal driving conditions, where drivers want their brakes to last as long as safely possible. Instead, their use is generally restricted to racing or towing vehicles, where high performance brakes are truly required.

Other brake tune up parts

Of course, selecting the most appropriate rotors for your vehicle and driving needs is only half of what’s necessary for a brake tune up. Consideration should also be given to selecting the best brake pads.

“High performance brake pads made of softer materials provide more stopping power,” says Grosso of PartsGeek LLC, “but they don’t last as long as more standard OEM brake pads made of harder materials. Cars prone to brake fade may benefit from high performance pads, but they may not perform as well until they warm up. Again, it’s a tradeoff and the decision should be based on each driver’s needs.”

Before purchasing brake pads, check your car manufacturer’s recommendations regarding materials, operating temperatures and tune up parts. Some brake pads are now made with ceramic, providing superior stopping power and longevity with less noise, dust, and brake fade. They’re available from manufacturers such as Akebono, EBC, and others. Other pads contain metallic components, which help siphon heat away from the rotors and increase braking power. But they can be noisy and wear rotors more quickly.

“Most brake pads now also include wear sensors,” says Grosso. “These alert drivers when their brakes need replacing, either by a grinding noise or switching on a dashboard light. So don’t ignore your car’s idiot light when it says your brakes need attention—that’s just asking for trouble!”