Brakes on the Cheap
Everyone seems to think they need to upgrade their calipers to improve their braking performance. “Hey man, know where I can pick up a set of Brembos?” You may not need that though. When you get to track those big brakes have real utility, repeated 90%+ stops are what those big brake kits are designed to handle. For street use, up to occasional autocross, light track duty, and trips down the strip you may have almost everything you need right under your nose. The following considerations are simple methods to seriously increase your brake system performance without “braking” the bank.
1.) High performance pads: They will either be unbelievably dirty or squeal, but it could be both. Clean quiet pads are generally not high performance pads. Read reviews. If you’re like me, brake squeal will put you out of your mind in a heartbeat. Review will tell you if they squeal or if they’re dirty. Personally I run StopTech Street Performance pads and I couldn’t be happier, but there are certainly other great options on the market depending on your application.
2.) Fresh fluid: Bleed your lines in the appropriate order and have someone add new fluid until you see the color change at the bleeder. Make sure you’ve got enough fluid to do it and make sure you’re using high quality fluids. Brake fluid is hygroscopic; it absorbs water, so at some interval you should be fully replacing the fluid in every vehicle. Here again, some research to determine what is best for your application may be required. Please dispose of your used fluid properly.
3.) Swap your flexible lines for braided stainless lines. Ballooning in the rubber flex lines hurts pedal feel. Pedal feel relates to precision in braking performance. When you do this, don’t even start unless you have a set of tubing wrenches. Stripping the fittings is a real possibility and a PITA to fix.
4.) Install a master cylinder brace: This will help eliminate the flex in the firewall that provides a mushy pedal feel. Installs for these are often a giant pain. Generally speaking the better braces have more mounting points. The more mounting points, the harder the install, so be warned it may take some effort.
5.) You may also want to swap rotors. Napa’s blanks are some of the thickest you can get, but i wouldn’t swap them unless it’s time. If your rotors aren’t worn smoothly or evenly, you have extreme vibration from pad deposits, your rotors are almost out of wear life, it might be time to replace them
6.) Use an appropriate bedding procedure for your brakes, from the pad manufacturer. Consider lightly sanding your rotor surfaces prior to installing the new pads, this will help eliminate the material on the rotors from the old pads and give you a better shot at them bedding well. Sanding is absolutely not necessary, simply a technique others have used to some suggested end. At a very minimum, remove the rotors from the car and give them a good scrub with brake cleaner before reinstalling.
I followed this procedure for my car, and I know others have as well. It’s a great way to maximize the performance of your factory system and you’ll likely be pleased with the precision you can achieve in braking force by making these changes to eliminate the expansion and displacement in the system between the pedal and the pad.
Bonus Content: All of these things apply for cars that already have Brembos! That’s right, even if you have those pretty calipers your system could be better.