One doesn’t need a race car to appreciate the safety factor that high performance brakes can impart on a car. Knowing that you can stop your car on the proverbial dime gives the driver an increased sense of control that can spell the difference between driving through an accident or being part of it.
But let’s say it from the start. Practically all modern cars have adequate braking systems for cars that are driven as daily-driven commuters. If that’s all that you do with your daily driver, ensuring that you stick to the manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedule will give you serviceable brakes for the life of your car. It’s safe to say that all major manufacturers have done tens of thousands of miles of simulation and road testing to arrive at the combination of safety, reliability and longevity that will satisfy today’s expectations.
However, you wouldn’t be reading through this article if you weren’t thinking of brake upgrades for your car. The range of brake upgrades run the gamut of just bleeding and changing fluids to replacing the pads, calipers and rotors with a carbon-ceramic matrix kit.
As part of normal maintenance, manufacturers actually require that you change your brake fluid every one or two years. The reason for this the deterioration of the hydraulic fluid in system over time. It can be the gradual absorption of moisture in the air or the accumulation of grit in the system. If your car doesn’t use it yet, using a DOT 5.1 specification fluid will yield noticeable benefits in terms of better brake modulation and a more solid-feeling pedal. Next step up is replacing the factory rubber hoses with high-performance brake lines. These lines replace the short flexible hoses with steel braided ones that resist expansion, resulting in a more solid and direct feel.
Pads are a popular choice when upgrading brakes, and many enthusiasts do this first before replacing the flexible lines. Pad choice can be bewildering, and can be a compromise between better initial bite, fade resistance and shorter rotor life. So far, all these choices are not very expensive, and can even be regarded as premium replacement parts. Not so when you decide to spend for a big brake kit, where the rotor and caliper are replaced with multi-piston and larger-diameter ventilated rotors. These are recommended for cars that see regular track use, or only track use.
Perhaps the ultimate brake upgrade nowadays for the street/track car are carbon-ceramic brakes. Aside from carbon-ceramic rotors and multi-piston calipers, the brake pads are also made from matching carbon composite materials. Even the brake fluid used is one for very high temp applications. Such brake systems are the ones used in the McLaren MP4-12C and the Koenigsegg hypercar. Not to mention being standard fare in Formula 1. As an upgrade, this is a very expensive proposition. Many other options exist to upgrade your brake system and even if you race or track your car all the time, a big brake kit may be all you need for serious braking power.