Thoughts on Big Brake KitsS

Many think that if you want better stopping power you need massive brake rotors and 4+ piston calipers. Besides the enormous cost to many of these big brake kit solutions I see a couple of caveats that may be overlooked.

First, look at the number of production cars released that have factory Brembo or similar brakes that simply can not hold up to more than a handful of laps on the track. Let's name a few. The 350Z Track, 370Z Track, BMW 135i (BMW Performance 6 POTS), Mustang GT (Track Package), Camaro SS.

The other thing to note with a big brake kit is the additional weight. Aluminum calipers may weigh less than single piston cast calipers but have you held up a 355mm rotor before? Those large rotors weighs a lot more than a factory rotor and those larger rotors add weight where you really don't want it - spinning. In the end a big brake kit could potentially add 20 pounds of rotational mass. Of course you could always invest in a nice set of forged wheels to offset the additional rotational mass added by the brake rotors. Because RACECAR?

WHOA WHOA WHOA. I'm not made of money.

Me neither. So what's a guy to do?

I've laid out several common complaints when it comes to braking performance. Identify the real reason your brakes aren't cutting it and and save those hard earned dollars.

Spongy or Mushy Brake Pedal
When you press the brake pedal you are actually pushing hydraulic fluid through a hose that in turn pushes against pistons in your brake calipers. As brake fluid ages it becomes more prone to absorbing moisture. This changes the fluid's compression mechanics and results in a mushy feeling brake pedal, or worse, a brake pedal that goes all the way to the floor.

  • Solution 1: Replace the brake fluid. In the automotive performance world, Motul600 and Ate TYP 200 (Ate SuperBlue alternative) are popular choices that take well to high temperatures where condensation may be absorbed in to the brake lines.
  • Solution 2: If you are certain that your brake fluid is good, consider replacing the factory rubber brake lines with stainless steel brake lines. The stainless steel wrapping will prevent the rubber from expanding when the brake lines pressure increases. If your brake lines are bubbling like a balloon then they need to be replaced before a catastrophe occurs.

Thoughts on Big Brake KitsS

Brake Fade
A couple laps at the track and the brakes don't feel like they are biting? If the brake pedal is still firm then you likely have overheated the rotors or pads. Brake pads that come on most vehicles are designed for longevity. The pads bite well at lower braking temperatures observed during everyday commuting but do not fare well when subjected to higher heat ranges. The job of the brake rotor is more than simply providing a surface for the rotors to grip. Rotors promote heat transfer from the pad to the cooler material of the rotor. Thermodynamics say that if the rotor gets too hot the heat from the pad will no longer transfer. An extremely hot rotor is also more prone to warping and causing vibrations. So to help keep the rotor cool manufactures create hollow veins allowing air to flow through the internal passages. Rotors which overheat may show signed of hairline fractures, cracking or worse, fall apart at speed destroying much more than your brakes.

  • Solution 1: Add ducts to channel cool air to your brake rotors. This is a remedy that can be found on just about any race car world wide. Even cars with large rotor and fancy calipers such as Alcon or Brembo still require additional cooling when subjected to race conditions. It is also cost effective.
  • Solution 2: Upgrade the pads to a compound which is rated at a higher temperature. The caveat to this is that performance pads may introduce squeal when braking at slow speeds or when cold. These pads often produce more brake dust meaning your wheels won't stay shiny as long as they would with factory pads.
  • Solution 3: Upgrade the rotors. This does not necessarily mean increasing the size. Brake rotors are available with various faced surfaces. Solid faced rotors are most common while slotted or drilled or a combination provide additional cooling capabilities at the expense of not being able to be resurfaced. Aftermarket rotors may have larger or different shaped veins which enhance cooling characteristics. Rotors may be offered in 2 pieces rather than 1 solid to reduce weight. Rotors may come in different materials that have better heat transfer and cooling properties.
  • Solution 4: If solutions 1 through 3 don't resolve brake fade then it may be time to look into larger rotors and calipers. Larger rotors provide more surface area and can absorb more heat. Calipers such as Alcon and Brembo allow for larger sized pads with greater surface area. Additionally calipers such as these generally make changing pads a breeze as pads are held in place with locking pins so the pads can be easily pulled out from the top.

Vibration Under Braking
If your steering wheel shudders and vibrates under braking its likely that the rotors have uneven deposits of pad material. To prevent warping its recommended to drive the car for several minutes without using the brakes to allow the rotors to cool. Avoid using the parking brake or applying brake pressure when the car is stopped if possible as this can transfer pad material to that spot of the rotor. If pad material is uneven throughout the surface vibrations may be felt.

  • Solution: Luckily you don't have to replace the rotors. If the vibrations have just begun then it might be fixed by scrubbing the rotor surface with garnet paper. If that doesn't do it, change your brake pads to a good semi-metallic compound and follow a hard break-in procedure. That should clean the old pad material right off.

Thoughts on Big Brake KitsS

Uneven Pad Wear
Unevenly worn brake pads are common with brake systems that use floating calipers. A caliper's piston applies pressure from one side in order to squeeze the two pads together against the rotor. The caliper slides, essentially on a rail, to compress the outside pad. The floating caliper allows for slight amounts of lateral movement on the rail which equates to uneven pad pressure against the rotor.

  • Solution 1: Aftermarket floating caliper bracket inserts. These are generally sleeves that minimize play to keep the calipers squeezing action in line and even. These are popular for the BMW 3 series.
  • Solution 2: Upgrade to a fixed caliper solution from a company such as AP Racing, Alcon, Brembo, StopTech, Rotora, Wilwood, etc

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