We all dream of that shiny red big-brake kit. But let’s be real – that can be a considerable expense that takes time to happen. And a lot of times your money could honestly be more effectively spent over a few different areas – rather than ALL on brakes. On the other side of the spectrum, ‘doing nothing’ about brake upgrades is not the solution either. I cringe when I see all of the focus on wheel fitment, and none of the focus on what’s behind the wheels. Switching to a bigger OEM application on older models, like GSR brakes on a Civic hatch, or 300zx brakes on a 240 can be great bang for the buck, and definitely get you more squeeze from the calipers. But even with more squeeze, the materials in those OEM rotors and pads are just not made for repetitive high performance.
They are designed to work within a lower temperature range. The reason for that is: they will achieve a longer life span – and that’s what the masses are most into (no maintenance). Most OE brake systems are designed for stop & go street applications. Probably even a relatively short burst of spirited driving. But when you put your braking system outside of that routine element and demand more for longer, you’re going to build heat fast. If the system can’t operate at that more extreme temperature, and it can’t dissipate the higher heat fast enough… then you will pretty quickly exceed the temperature capabilities of that system, and will not be able to get friction. This is called brake fade.
A lot of people think that brake fade has to do with the pads. And that’s true – it does. But it also has a lot to do with the rotors becoming heat-soaked.
A larger diameter ‘big brake kit’ will give you an advantage in leverage. Meaning – if you’re trying to stop spinning bicycle wheel with your bare hands (and it had a smooth surface instead of spokes), it would be easier if you clamp your hands together on the outer part of the wheel, rather than in-close to the center around the hub. The 2nd advantage to a big brake kit is thermal mass. Meaning – just the fact that it’s physically ‘bigger’, means that it can handle more heat. But other than that – a good set of QUALITY replacement aftermarket rotors, pads, and stainless steel lines will make a night & day difference in your braking system. It will give you 90% of the gains of a big brake kit, at 25% of the price. And it will make your braking system ready for anything that track days are going to throw at it.
Let’s start with stainless steel brake lines. They’re not so much of a ‘heat-soak’ solution. But the reason people upgrade to stainless steel, is to get rid of the OEM rubber lines. When you squeeze the brake pedal & push brake fluid through a rubber line, that rubber line will naturally expand/bulge outward a bit. So the fluid will move through the line, but since it’s under pressure, it will also expand OUT in diameter as it moves through the line – wasting efficiency. This effect will get worse as the rubber ages and loses strength. A hard line, on the other hand, will force the fluid straight through without allowing expansion… giving you a more immediate and stronger response.
A good set of brake rotors, like DBA, are designed to hold up to extreme heat. But just as importantly – they will cool much quicker, because they dissipate heat more efficiently. DBA rotors will cool the entire system better, which will take stress off the other components, and reduce brake fade.
What makes rotors different?
1) Material choice: DBA injects EXTRA carbon to make the alloy more stable across extreme temperatures. That’s science talk – but just know that the extra injections in DBA allow less expansion & contraction of the rotor – leading to better performance, and less warping. Basically – injecting ‘a little’ carbon into iron is like dissolving a little sugar into hot coffee. It’s easy. And that’s where a lot of performance rotor manufacturers stop. But imagine trying to dissolve a cup of sugar into a cup of coffee. It get’s difficult. But that’s what DBA does. And the higher levels of carbon make their rotor the most durable.
2) Design: DBA’s Kangaroo Paw design gives their rotors more surface area between the rotor faces. Adding surface area allows the kangaroo paws to absorb more heat from the rotor faces more quickly – thus allowing the intense-heat rotor surface to cool more quickly. It’s also a stronger design – because it distributes the brake-squeeze pressure more evenly from one face to another. Those pads squeeze hard. And having more material spread out between the faces equals less distortion in the rotor – which equals less warp & fade.
3) Machining & Finish: The reason for slots in performance rotors, are so that gasses can escape. Without slots – building heat-gasses will put counteracting press-back on the squeezing pads, and will negatively effect the performance of a hot brake system. DBA uses a curved slot. The curved slot allows for out-gassing just like a straight slot does. But the ‘curve’ doesn’t shave as much material off the pad each time. A little shaving is good for performance – because it cleans the pad as it out-gasses… but it also eats the pad, and shortens pad life. The curved slot allows for longer pad life & quieter operation.
Cross-drilled rotors are less ideal than slots. With rotor heat, there is expanding & contracting. And the rotors will heat & cool at a different rate around the cross- drilled holes. For the street, it is fine. But for serious track use… having different heat/cool rates around the holes can cause cracking in the rotor around the holes. Slotting is harder to accomplish, and it requires more machining work.
People tend to have misconceptions with rotor weights. They tend to want a lightweight rotor – because they think it yields less rotational mass (like a heavy wheel vs light race wheel). But the weight of a rotor is too close to the hub center for rotational mass to come into play. So all you’re really saving is ‘overall’ vehicle weight… not rotating weight. And there HAS to be a certain amount of weight/mass involved in a performance rotor, in order for it to handle & dissipate the heat properly. It is a better trade-off to take on a little more weight in the rotor, and have a better operating braking system.
When choosing the actual pads, you gotta be honest with yourself, because you have to choose a pad that is in sync with your driving styles/conditions. When it comes to modifying cars, we all want to automatically go for the all-out race versions – because race car duh. But when it comes to brakes, you really need a pad that’s in the sweet spot for your driving habits. So you have to honestly consider your daily driving style, the types of roads you drive on, the weight of the car, etc. A full race pad is NOT a better pad – if you’re not constantly keeping extreme heat in it. Because without a lot of heat built up in it, it will not function as well as a performance street pad. And you’ll be all sorts of surprised when you’ve been cruising the freeway for 15 minutes, then go to jump on the brakes and there’s nothing there. A lot of guys will swap pads for track days, and then swap back to a performance street pad for the drive home.