The boffins at British company EBC Brakes have a passion for stopping. You can tell by their refusal to rest on their current products, their obsessive diligence with research and development, and the excitement they express when discussing things like aramid fibers and purging volatiles. And what do you get when you give people like this enough time and resources? A very special product.
Their colorful brake pads are something more than the ha’penny variety down at the parts store. They’re engineered for performance, the result of countless hours of trial and retrial in EBC’s 7-dyno Bristol testing facility. Here’s a quick rundown on EBC’s mad science, and a few words on picking the right color EBC pad for your own uses.
EBC’s secret is the aramid. No, that’s not a character from A Game of Thrones. Aramids, short for “aromatic polyamides” are materials found in things like body armor and fireproofing. EBC relies heavily on aramids and processes them very carefully.
Aramid fibers begin as a spun, wooly substance, something like a cotton ball, but tougher and yellow. (Be sure not to confuse them with cotton balls.) To this fluffy substance ceramic powders are added for further grip and heat resistance.
Most manufacturers rush this part, leading to an uneven distribution. This causes pockets of one material or another to form in the compound, and that means uneven wear, a “low spot” in the pad surface. Since the resulting surface area is no longer as large, it heats more quickly when pressed against the rotor, and heat means faster wear. EBC avoids this with slow and careful ceramics distribution throughout the fibers.
Unfortunately, most companies don’t mess with aramids quite so much, opting instead for cheap, ubiquitous steel fibers instead. Many brake pads are made up of as much as 50% steel. But steel wears out faster, and that’s not the worst of it.
As it is heated, steel is blackened and flies free of pads in the form of that hideous brake dust you’re always trying to get rid of. When you do get rid of it, you might notice the finish on your rims has faded. This happens when whole fibers pull free of their pads and stick, hot and heavy, to rims, etching their presence in history. EBC stays above such base and scurrilous practices by keeping steel fibers completely out of most of their pads.
Steel fibers aren’t the only things on EBC’s blacklist. They also set out to banish brake fade. But what causes brake fade? We’re glad you asked. Bonding resins, when heated, expel gasses, or “volatiles” (spit here), which end up creating a buffer between pads and rotors. Those gases can be purged ahead of time through baking and scoring, but most manufacturers pick one or the other. EBC bakes and scores every single pad that leaves their hands.
With all of this universal treatment, it might be tough to pick one brilliantly designed product over the other. But EBC pads can’t really be distinguished in terms of quality. It’s application that will help you decide. What kind of vehicle do you drive, and how do you drive it? Here’s how that works:
With every pad EBC designs, they strike a balance between wear and coefficient of friction. Picture a piece of plastic, perhaps the mouse you’re using right now. You could
probably slide it across your desk rather easily. Now heat it, almost to melting point, and you’ll find that it doesn’t slide so easily. (Don’t actually try this. You’ll make a mess and an odor.) Heat, therefore, improves friction. Unfortunately, it also increases wear.
EBC’s top-secret blends are individually designed to increase friction while reducing wear, but physics have laws that can’t be broken, so if you pull on the friction end of that string, eventually the wear end will follow. But how far do you need to pull it? Lighter, lower horsepower cars don’t generate as much heat as heavy-duty trucks or performance SUVs.
Each color has a use. Here’s your guide to choosing your color.
Ultimax: These “Black Stuff” pads are EBC’s OEM replacements. If you’re restrained enough to keep your pedal-stomping on the track and only want something for your tame and casual daily driver, these are your pads. This doesn’t mean, however, that they’re not an improvement over the factory pads. Remember those steel fibers we discussed above? You’ll find them in Ultimax pads, but only if you look closely enough. Where many pads contain up to 50% steel fibers, Ultimax have no more than 4%. Not 40, not 14. Four. That means a better grip, longer rotor life, and less corrosive dust.
Green Stuff: One step up from OEM, you might call Green Stuff pads a performance street formula. Not at home on the track, they’re polite, best suited for aggressive daily drivers, offering a softer pedal feel and low to medium dust. They come in three varieties: 2000 Series, for small, lightweight, low-hp vehicles that generate less heat; 6000 Series, for commuting SUVs and light trucks; and 7000 Series, a higher-end version of the 6000.
Red Stuff: This is EBC’s flagship pad, probably because it’s so versatile. This is the best pad for larger, heavier cars, and those with more than 200 hp. If you own a muscle car, drive it aggressively, and occasionally take it to the track, this is probably your pad. Red Stuff pads do have a slight bedding period, after which they’ll be more than quiet enough for the street, and they generate almost no dust, being completely free of steel fibers.
Yellow Stuff: Here EBC pulled the friction and wear string a little further along. Yellow Stuff pads are designed to get hotter and work better at those temperatures. Remember, heat makes friction. There are two variations of Yellow Stuff, one for cars up to truck weight, and one for Trucks and SUVs. Yellow Stuff pads, in either variety, are formulated to heat faster, so they’re perfect for the track, but tackle the street well, too. They’re a favorite among British police.
Blue Stuff: EBC calls their Blue Stuff pads a track pad that can be used for the street. They follow the same model as the Yellow Stuff, with more friction and more wear. These are ideal for the heavy, no nonsense rigors of the track. EBC has also found them to be extremely effective on performance SUVs such as the Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5. James Hallet, EBC’s vice president, even uses them on his Lexus SUV, and found them a massive improvement over the OE pads. EBC is quick to point out that Blue Stuff pads may not work well with older, single caliper systems, and is much better suited to a racing setup. Unfortunately, we don’t offer Blue Stuff at the moment, but check back often.
Now that you know your Stuff, you can arm your vehicle with exactly what it needs to keep stopping. Choose wisely, and enjoy your late braking, long rotor life, and the time you could have spent scrubbing dust from your wheels.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.