The Nuances of Brakes and Upgrades

It is commonly echoed that when you modify a car's engine to go faster you should also modify the brakes to make it stop better, something I wholeheartedly agree with. You may be thinking, "What do brake upgrades entail, and what ones are right for me?". Well that's exactly what we're writing this blog post for!

Before we can get into what's out there and makes sense for your needs, we need to understand what components making up the braking system:

  • Brake pads - The brake pads are the most important component of the braking system and why I'm listing them first. They have the largest influence on how much friction is created, and thus how fast a the car will be stopped. There is a plethora of different compounds from various manufacturers, and for street use a mild pad makes the most sense, but for track use it gets more complicated. We have a great article going over most of the common brake pad compounds you'll see at a racetrack and what ones may be best for you. That article can be found HERE.
  • Rotors - The rotors are the other half of what creates friction to stop a vehicle. Most rotors you'll see are made from iron, high end exotic cars use rotors made from carbon, but we won't be covering that here. The main job of the rotor is the carry the heat that is generated with the pads, this is often referred to as thermal mass. More thermal mass means the rotor can carry more heat without experiencing a failure, and the best way to increase thermal mass is through either a larger diameter, or more thickness.
  • Calipers - The calipers are responsible for applying pressure to the brake pads and forcing them to generate heat and friction with the rotor. Calipers play a large role in brake pedal feel and response. Making sure the piston area is correct and the caliper is sufficiently stiff is paramount in having a proper feeling brake pedal.
  • Brake fluid - Brake fluid is required to transmit force from the brake pedal to the caliper. A seemingly small detail, and for street cars it really isn't a vital component, but couldn't be more vital for keeping your brakes functioning on track.
  • Brake lines - The brake lines job is to carry brake fluid pressure (aka force) to the caliper. The brake lines can also affect how the pedal feels and responds.

With all of that covered we can start looking at what upgrades are out there and what we recommend for each upgrade.

  • Pads and Rotors - Pads and rotors go a long way and should be your first consideration when thinking about upgrading your brakes. A good performing pad and high quality rotor are more than sufficient for daily driving, street use, and even drag racing. You don't always need to change out rotors when pads are needed but in most cases new pads will last longer if installed with new rotors because any grooves or irregularities in the old rotors will cause new pads to wear prematurely and often unevenly. Read our article linked above for pad recommendations for track use. For street use my top three pad preferences are EBC Redstuff, G-Loc GS-1, and Hawk Performance Ceramic. For rotors I almost always go with Centric or EBC blanks. For some cars Centric offers a high carbon blank, which is dimensionally the same as their standard blank, but differs metallurgically and can handle way more heat without cracking or warping than their standard blank, these benefits are really only seen on track though.

Honda Civic pad and rotor upgrades: LINK

  • 2 Piece Rotors - 2 piece rotors are a good way to shed rotational unsprung weight from your car, but that's not their only purpose. Many rotors are what's called floating rotors, we go into the details of that in our other article coming out soon, but the main takeaway is that they allow for more even thermal expansion resulting in more even brake pad wear. It doesn't make much of a difference on the street but it is very worthwhile for track use. Some of my preferred 2 piece brands are EBC, PFC, Girodisc, and Stoptech (for factory replacement 2 piece rotors).

Civic Type R 2 piece rotors: LINK

  • Braided Brake Lines - Factory brake lines are primarily made of rubber, which expands slightly when exposed to the high pressures generated in a braking system, this expansion gets further compounded when the lines are exposed to the heat generated by the brakes. Braided brake lines use an inner PTFE, Teflon, or similar tube with a stainless steel outer braiding. This construction reduces line expansion and handles the heat that brakes give off much better than a rubber factory line. Since the braided lines don't expand the brake pedal feel and response is improved because the brake fluid pressure isn't wasted by expanding the lines. Higher end braided lines will use a PVC coating to reduce abrasion damage from occurring to the line and make it more friendly to handle. Braided lines are something I recommend as and upgrade for all cars, whether they are a street driven daily driver or a dedicated track car. My preferred brands are Goodridge, EBC and Powerstop, but there are some other good options on the market as well depending on the car you have.

Honda Civic braided brake lines: LINK

  • Brake Caliper Bushings - Brake caliper bushings aren't available for all vehicles because some sliding caliper designs don't utilize bushings, but for the ones that do this is a great upgrade for any use case, just like braided brake lines. Factory caliper bushings are made of a soft rubber which supports the slide pins. Under hard brake applications the soft rubber deforms and the slide pins don't compress both pads evenly resulting in uneven brake pad wear. Wunderladen Racing offers brass bushings to replace the factory rubber units on the rear caliper of newer Civics. They utilize an o-ring seal to keep the grease retained and their rigid construction keeps the slide pins moving uniformly resulting in more even brake pad wear. If you don't own a Civic our partners over at Damond Motorsports also offer similar brass bushings for a variety of applications.

Honda Civic brake caliper bushings: LINK

  • High Temp Brake Fluid - Brake fluid is vital for ensuring that your brakes remain functioning under repeated heavy use. High temp fluid is necessary for track driving, but not necessary on the street for daily driving. My top two choices for fluid are Motul RBF600 and Castrol SRF. Motul RBF600 is not the be all end all fluid best brake fluid ever made but it is plenty sufficient for regular track use, reasonably priced, and relatively easy to find. Castrol SRF is commonly regarded as one of the best brake fluids on the market. You can't go wrong with it, but it is harder to find than Motul RBF600 and considerably more expensive. If you aren't regularly tracking your car it doesn't make that much sense to spend all that money on SRF. I will also note that Motul does make higher temp fluid, RBF660 and RBF700, but they're both less common and more expensive than RBF600. There are plenty of other options on the market too, so do extra research if you're interested.

Motul brake fluid: LINK

  • Titanium Pad Shims - Titanium pad shims go between the back of the brake pad and the caliper piston. Their purpose is to create a thermal barrier between these components to reduce how much heat goes to the pistons, dust boots, and brake fluid. Titanium has extremely poor thermal conductivity so it makes for a great choice for areas where you want to keep heat from spreading. Like high temp fluid, these mainly make sense if your tracking your car or doing autocross, where lots of brake heat is being made. Titanium shims are available for most common brake pad shapes from a few manufacturers such as Girodisc and EBC. My personal preference is EBC because the shims are bent to clip onto the pad so they stay aligned properly when installing them.

  • Big Brake Kit - Big brake kits are usually designed to improve nearly all of the components outlined in the previous section. The main appeal most people see in them is an improved caliper, but the braking system is just that, a system; it works best when all of the components are made to work with each other. We're not going to get into the nitty gritty science of big brake kits, because we have another upcoming blog post about that, but we generally recommend big brake kits for people who at minimum enjoy spirited driving, and strongly recommend them for track use. We offer our own big brake kits for the 8-11th generation Civics and are working on them for other platforms too, but there is a plethora of good big brake kits for most car platforms.

Honda Civic big brake kit: LINK

Front vs rear upgrades - All of what we've covered here will be most beneficial for front brake upgrades. For rear brakes 95% of the time all that is needed is some braided lines, good pads and rotors and caliper bushings (if you application uses that style caliper). For the other 5% sometimes a larger rotor is needed and rarely will a rear big brake kit offer notable performance increases in braking performance. The applications that typically see the most benefit from larger rear brake upgrades are high power RWD cars that use large rear tires.

That's it for this blog post, hopefully you were able to glean some useful information and have a better understanding of what brake upgrades make the most sense for your uses. Stay tuned for our next blog installment!

- Austin and the Wunderladen Racing team

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