How Brake Pads Work

Organic Brake Pads
Organic brake pads create a lot of brake dust, which makes changing the pads a somewhat dirty job.
Organic brake pads create a lot of brake dust, which makes changing the pads a somewhat dirty job.
Lisa F. Young/iStockphoto

Brake pads were formerly manufactured using mainly asbestos as the friction material. That's because brake pads are exposed to a lot of friction, which generates a lot of heat. Asbestos is a good material for absorbing and dissipating heat. So what was the problem? When asbestos breaks down, it's creates dust that's dangerous to breathe -- and brake pads can create a lot of brake dust when they're slowing and stopping vehicles on the roads. Now, some brake pads and other brake parts are made from safer organic materials. 

Organic brake pads, sometimes called nonasbestos organic brake pads, are made from natural materials liked glass and rubber, as well as resins that can withstand high heat. In fact, the high heat helps to bind the brake pad materials together. Kevlar is also an important component in many organic brake pads. An advantage of organic brake pads, including Kevlar brake pads, is that they're made of materials that don't pollute as they wear and they're easier to dispose of, too. They're also softer than brake pads made of other materials, which means they're often quieter. The downside of organic brake pads is that, because they're softer, they typically wear faster. As they wear, they also create more dust than other types of brake pads.

Because of these considerations, organic brake pads aren't a good choice for heavy vehicles like trucks or for high performance cars that may need to stop quickly from top speed. Organic and Kevlar brake pads are best suited for small cars that don't typically do a lot of aggressive driving. The light weight of the car, as well as limited hard stops, keeps organic brake pads in good shape -- and that keeps the ride safe, too.

Next, we'll take a look at a set of brake pads that might leave you with an empty wallet.