When you first think about upgrading your car what generally comes to mind? Most likely a larger intake, louder exhaust, lower suspension, or cleaner wheels, but rarely do utilitarian brakes come into the picture. Often, brakes are at the bottom of people’s “future mod lists.” An afterthought once everything else gets done, the cherry on top. However, brakes are not just an aesthetic modification to complement your wheels at shows (although they will); instead they are an integral part of any full modification package. A good set of brakes will give your euro-auto more bite and a sportier feel. To achieve this goal there are three options available: brake pad upgrades, drilled and slotted rotors, and big brake kits. The question is which one is right for you?
"Generally stock wheels will not fit around the new big brake kit, and new wider wheels will have to be purchased making this an expensive and radical modification."
Brake pads are the simplest form of upgrade available. This mod entails switching out the pad that sits inside the caliper. The brake pad makes contact with the rotor, and upon braking causes friction and ultimately slows down the car. There are a lot of options as most manufactures have different levels of brake pads for different purposes. Most offer an OEM replacement, street, superstreet, track day, and race variation of their pads. It seems overwhelming at first, but it’s not hard to narrow down the options. The OEM replacement can be thrown out first, because we’re looking for a performance increase. Next, think about the power and weight of your car. A faster or heavier car will need more braking power to slow it down, requiring a better brake pad. EBC Brakes’ Greenstuff; a street style pad, will offer a 15% braking increase on a car with 200 hp or less like a Volkswagen Golf. If the car has over 200 hp or you’re making the plans to upgrade past that, a super street or track day pad will be in order. EBC’s superstreet equivalent called Redstuff will offer a 30% increase in breaking power compared to stock brake pads, on cars in the 200-300 hp range. Finally, track day pads such as EBC’s Yellowstuff are designed for racing applications and approved by many racing organizations while still being usable as a daily driver. These pads will provide even more bite than a superstreet and can withstand more heat for a longer period of time before getting a mushy feeling. Race pads are an option as well but are really designed for track use and often require a big brake kit to work properly.
So, you’ve had your upgraded brake pads on for a while and you’re ready for a little more stopping power. The next step would be to look at upgrading the car’s rotors. The stock rotors on a car are solid metal disks that rotate with the wheel and are the place where the pad makes contact during braking. This happening over and over again generates heat not noticeable on a daily drive, but will become an issue when speeding through the hills of Helen, Georgia at SoWo, during aggressive highway driving, or at a track day. The heat caused by constant high-speed breaking will leave the pads feeling mushy and be less responsive. This phenomenon can be seen in the orange glow behind race car wheels. So the question now becomes, how do I dispose of this unwanted heat? The answer: slotted and drilled rotors. These are the same size as the stock rotors, but they have breathable vents on the inside of the disk allowing for better cooling. Along with the vents, the rotors will have slotted grooves or drilled holes which provide additional cooling and keep them free of brake dust and fluids. Drilled rotors will run cooler and have a nicer aesthetic look, while slotted rotors work a bit better under extreme conditions, such as heavy towing and hard racing. Upgraded rotors with pads allow for much later breaking and a sportier feel without braking the bank. A full set of EBC rotors and brake pads will cost anywhere from $800-$1000 depending on the car, giving substantial brake improvement without the hassle of replacing the stock calipers or wheels.
Finally, at the top of the brake totem pole is the big brake kit. By far the most drastic modification, a big brake kit calls for a total replacement of the car’s brakes. Included in industry leading Stop Tech’s kit are calipers, slotted or drilled rotors, stainless steel brake lines, mounting brackets, and the appropriate brake pad. The rotors in these kits are still drilled or slotted, but also significantly larger than stock rotors, giving more surface area for braking with more bite but mainly better heat dispersion. Larger calipers and brake pads are included to accommodate the new larger sized rotors. Stainless steel brake lines cut down the lag between depression of the brake pedal and the actual deceleration of the car, creating a more responsive feel. This translates into the best possible braking performance for your euro-auto. When looking at these kits you will notice that they are sold in pairs much like the pads. However, in this case you do not need to purchase both the front and rear kits. Stoptech explains in scientific detail that almost all non-racecars will not see any significant benefit from adding a rear big brake kit. This is because the front brakes are responsible for 80-85% of the cars braking force and play a much more important role in maintaining braking bias. According to Stoptech’s website: “If there are no thermal concerns with the rear brakes (and on a front-engine street car there rarely are) then by installing a rear big-brake kit all you are doing is (a) spending money and (b) adding unsprung weight.” One thing to be careful of when looking at this upgrade is wheel fitment, or the space between the spokes of the wheel and caliper along with the diameter of the wheel itself. Generally stock wheels will not fit around the new big brake kit, and new wider wheels will have to be purchased making this an expensive and radical modification. A big brake kit from Stoptech will cost around $2,200 plus the potential added expense of new wheels; but the transformation will take any euro-auto to the next level with a solid racing look and even better feel.
No matter what level of brake you choose there will be an improvement from the factory brakes. Start small with a set of pads, work your way up to rotors and finally go big with the full brake kit. While opinions on stance, interior, and wheels change with the seasons, performance never goes out of style. A good set of brakes will make your euro-auto more satisfying to drive, safer and take one more step toward Achieving Rezolution.