Our Guide to Vehicle Braking Systems

Arguably the mostly overlooked upgrade is braking, as most new performance or hot hatch cars come with decent stoppers or project builders focus on power. However, we often find ourselves in a false sense of belief that the brakes will remain awesome, even though we are upgrading the cars power or hitting the track. There is some truth to the saying, power is nothing unless it can be harnessed correctly; in other worlds, you can build a fast car, but unless it stops well and handles well….. it will end up cuddling a tree or if on track, in the kitty litter at best.

This article is aimed at providing insight into the various braking upgrades that can be applied to a current project or to compliment a modern day vehicle.

Brake System Components

With all types of car, the manufacturer will have specified a system that is best matched to the OEM power of the car and general use on the road, some may even offer desirable upgrade options or for some sport cars/hot hatches, may even over specify for the occasional spirited drive. 

So why do you need upgrades? What impacts the braking performance? Before you can look to upgrade your braking system, you need to understand that excessive heat is the main failure for brakes. The higher the speed, vehicle weight or urgency to stop can all cause an increase in heat within the braking components, by upgrading components the excessive heat can be managed within tolerances depending on the desired purpose of the vehicle (road, spirited, track, race car). 

Street / Fast Road - Basic Upgrades

Uprated Brake Pads

You may have noticed that after a couple of miles into a spirited drive through the twisties, that your OEM pads have started to feel a little spongy or not as great as they did when you set off. The reason for this is that normal road pads have a relatively low heat tolerance, this is to ensure that through day to day driving, you will have braking performance from the moment you set off and throughout your journey. This is also up for interpretation, as with road pads there are various manufacturers of pads across a spectrum of budget, that some will perform better than others. 

That aside; If you are one for some spirited driving or have mildly upped the power, then it’s time to look at Fast Road alternatives. Fast Road pads are designed work from the moment you drive off, but with the added benefit of being able to cope with higher temps. This means they will give you greater performance in regard to how long they take to fade in comparison to OEM/Road pads. In my experience, I have found that the fast road pads need a little bit of heat in them before they work to their optimum, but are a good basic upgrade over road pads and are perfectly good for road use should you wish (Use your own judgement, this is purely at your own risk). 

A good starting point would be to look at EBC ‘Green Stuff’, available from most aftermarket outlets. 

Grooved Brake Discs

Apart from looking cosmetically appealing, as a nice addition behind your alloy wheels. Drilled and/or grooved discs offer better performance over OEM discs and are nicely complimented when using uprated pads. The main killer of brake performance is heat, these discs have groove/drilled designs on the face to improve the dispersion of heat and also to help deglaze the pads (after being heat cycled, the pads may form a glaze on them after cooling – this will affect the initial braking performance). 

Uprated discs are available from most outlets – We would recommend that you start by looking at EBC or Tarox. 

Fast Road / Track Day - Intermediate Upgrades

Uprated Brake Pads - Track Use

On track you will find that road/OEM pads will not perform and you will need to come back to the pits every 5 minutes to cool them down; Fast Road pads will offer more performance and time on the track compared to road pads. However, if you are a regular track day goer and running significant power, then it would be advisable to look towards pads that are focused more towards the higher end of fast road / track performance pads. These pads will offer a level of braking for the road (use at your own risk) and offer a decent heat tolerance, less time in the pits awaiting cool down.

With these types of pads, you will find that they do require heat in them before they will actually work to their optimum performance. A number of the compare parts team run Ferodo DS range pads, 2500 offer a good fast road/ track balance, but those running greater levels of power or participate in regular track days, the 3000 range would better suit. There are other makes that are worth looking into, such as Mintex, EBC, Pagid. 

Uprated Brake Lines

Brake lines are often overlooked but play a massive part in the braking performance. The majority of vehicles that roll off the production line will have rubber hoses that connect the copper hard pipes to the callipers. Through increased braking pressure from upgrades or over time the rubber hoses lose their ability not to expand under pressure, by using braided aftermarket lines, performance is maintained as the lines cannot expand. By changing the rubber lines to braided, you will manage to unlock substantial braking improvement.

There are several companies and vendors that produce braided lines, some of which are HELL, EARL’s, etc.  

Uprated Brake Kits

Heading towards the more expensive side of the brake upgrade scale are the uprated brake kits. Most aftermarket brake kits are formed of larger more advanced discs, larger callipers, adaptor mounting brackets and braided lines. This upgrade is seen as almost a direct replacement for the OEM setup and can provide huge improvement over the OEM package, depending on the variance of kit that you have gone with. Brake kits can offer 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 pot callipers that can be paired with larger discs, the idea behind this is that you are increasing the braking surface by increasing the disc and calliper size, but also through using bigger brakes the heat can be dispersed more efficiently. Uprated brake kits are perfectly fine to use on the road providing they are used with suitable pads installed. One thing to check, is that the kit will actually fit under the wheels you have on the vehicle. 

Kits are available for most hot hatches and more commonly tuned/raced performance or sports cars. There are lots of reputable manufacturers that range substantially in pricing. As a benchmark, aftermarket brake kits tend to start from £900 GBP upwards and are split between front and rear applications. Example makes include KSport, Yellow Racing, Stoptech, Brembo, AP, Willwood, Endless, to name a few. 

Master Cylinder Brace

If ever you want to scare yourself, get a buddy to press hard on the brake pedal whilst you watch the OEM master cylinder flex on the bulkhead. The reason for this is that the bulkhead, although quite thick, cannot handle the amount of hydraulic pressure that is being applied as part of the braking system to the Master Cylinder. This will be more visible if you haven’t ABS or you have removed this. 

The master cylinder brace mounts on the strut tower in front of the master cylinder and then the screw is screwed in or out until the red plate securely pushes against the end of the master cylinder (do not go too mad, just enough to securely press against the cylinder to stop it flexing). By removing the flex, you are removing the wasted braking pressure and in turn applying more direct braking force to the callipers/discs. Braces are relatively cheap and available online. 

High Performance / Motorsport - Advanced Upgrades

Carbon Ceramic Brake Discs/Kits

If you’re looking at carbon ceramic brakes, then you either have deep pockets, a professional race outlet or in need of replacement discs for your Lambo. Ceramic discs and brake kits are derived from racing and often seen on many of the exotic super/hyper cars, due to their superior braking performance and extreme heat tolerances over the more common steel-based kits. The drawback, you need to re-mortgage your house in order to purchase the upgrade kits or replacement parts. 

These are an upgrade designed more towards the exotic super/hyper cars and professional race outfits. For these types of application, you are best seeking sales support from the manufacturer directly (e.g. Brembo, Willwood, AP, etc)

Motorsport Pads

Not suited for road use! These are the coldest of 3 pad applications mentioned (Hot – Road, Medium – Fast Road, Mild – Fast Road/Track, Cold – Motorsport Only), as these require substantial warmup before they will work. The reason for this is that the heat tolerance is a lot higher and designed towards excessive, frequent bursts of heat generated from racing around the track at a competition level. This is why when watching the BTCC on TV, you will see the guys accelerating and braking to heat up various components in/on the car, including the brakes. Unlike the fast road and track pads, the Motorsport pads should not encounter brake fade under normal racing circumstances. 

Makes to check out would be Ferodo, AP, Pagid. 

Brake Bias Switching / Line Lock

In order to hone the behaviour of the car under braking and amount of braking force applied to the front or rear, a brake bias valve can be used. This allows for the amount of pressure applied to the brakes to be independently set. For example, a standard car may have a 60/40 bias towards the front, this can be reduced or increased depending on the desired outcome. 

Other supporting components can be added to the braking system, such as Line Lock. This is an inline valve that allows the driver the ability to lock the brakes on or off for the front or rear of the car. By doing this, it enables the driver to lock a set of wheels whilst performing burnouts or other tyre warming techniques (Mainly used in drag racing). 

Both valves can be obtained from any aftermarket / motorsport outlet – Demontweeks is a good place to start. 

ABS Removal

On the road ABS is your friend and at some point we have all relied on it to save us from a bum twitching moment, however for motorsport use, most if not all will remove the OEM ABS unit and look towards a programable Motorsport focused ABS unit or remove it all together and rely solely on mechanic adjustment. By removing the ABS, the driver receives a more direct feel and control over what the brakes are doing without the feeling of something else intervening. Motorsport ABS units are often electronically controlled/programmed and are adjusted to compliment the driver input, rather than take control like an OEM unit seen on road cars. 

It’s recommended that you seek professional support completing this modification, unless of course you are a professional racing outfit. ABS delete kits and Motorsport ABS units are available through motorsport orientated outlets. 

Motorsport Brake Fluid

Being on track under intense racing conditions can take its toll on all components within the race car, most of which is the fluid. Braking relies heavily on hydraulic brake fluid and its viscosity in order to maintain the braking performance required and the feeling in the pedal towards the driver. Under race conditions normal 4.1 road fluid would become too hot, resulting in the degradation of the fluids viscosity and operating properties; This is why in motorsport, specialist 5.1 fluid is used as this has a higher tolerance of heat and enhanced operational properties to ensure optimum braking – a must for motorsport cars of all levels. 

Motorsport 5.1 Fluid is available from a wide variety of manufacturers, here at Compare Parts, our team have used both Motul and Millers versions, both were seen to show good results. 

Hydraulic Handbrake - 'Wand'

Now you may have seen one of these in number of lifestyler or ghetto spec rear wheel drive cars down the local meet or in the local car part superstore, but don’t be fooled that these are gimmicks to throw the car around in a desperate attempt to wow the girls. Hydraulic handbrakes or wands as they are more commonly known these days, are derived from Rallying and more recently incorporated as an integral hardware upgrade for Drifting. 

The purpose of a hydraulic handbrake is to allow the driver to briefly lock up the rear wheels when required (either to get around a tight bend or in drift terms, to initiate the angle of the drift), these aren’t designed to lock in place like the OEM handbrake, and also utilise hydraulic fluid over the OEM handbrake’s cable type. In a high level approach, its like having a separate foot brake, controlled by your hand to apply brake pressure to the rear of the car. 

These are available from a wide variety of outlets; However, you will see versions that offer a locking pin mechanism to lock the hydro into a fixed position as a means to replicate the OEM handbrake – these will not pass an MOT if used on the road.

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