Brake Pads: OE vs. Aftermarket

DETROIT, Mich.–“The average person bases a brake job on price. They are looking at a $300 brake job⁠—which they are already kind of begrudging⁠—and they are saying, ‘Well, I could either buy $100 set of brakes or I could buy $75 set of brakes,’ not realizing that their safety is at risk,” says Scott Lambert, chairman of the Global Brake Safety Council (GBSC).

Lambert is one of the founding members of GBSC, a non-profit made up of individuals in the brake industry, with the common goal of making brake safety paramount, by educating the general public as well as installers and those within the automotive industry.

Most individuals outside of the industry, and a good number within, are under the assumption that aftermarket brake pads have all of the same safety and quality requirements that OE brake pads have, Lambert⁠ says. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. 

The government bodies in both the U.S and Canada⁠ have strong regulations for OE parts, they have to go through a series of testing that aftermarket parts do not.

Ratchet+Wrench sat down with Lambert to discuss more about how this affects the repair industry, what shop owners should look out for and how the GBSC works with the government to try and change the regulations.

Why is this something repair shop owners should be aware?

Firstly, it’s important to note that not all aftermarket brakes are poor quality. There are aftermarket companies that do a great job and consider safety to be paramount, but those companies are getting beat right now because of a lot of offshore offerings. Companies are manufacturing their brake pads and parts overseas from places with low safety standards and subpar materials⁠. As a result, that trickles down to the people who are buying it⁠, including repair shops.

There’s a Frost & Sullivan study that was done back in 2014, predicting the amount of brake jobs that would have to be done based on wear⁠ and we are greatly exceeding that. Ever since 2008, when the automotive industry started cutting back and a lot of manufacturers started moving operations offshore, Amercians are spending an extra $9 billion overall on brake jobs. This is because brake pads are wearing out much quicker than they should be.

What are some signs that shop owners can look for to ensure that they are getting their customers quality brake pads?

Shop owners should talk to their distributors and ask about the quality of the brake pads they are looking at. They should really work to understand the difference between aftermarket brake pads and OEs. 

I would go online and start looking at websites where other people are reviewing pads. If you were thinking about buying a brake pad from a specific company, look it up and see what kind of reviews it has. I would also definitely use parts made in North America, because we typically use better materials⁠—we have to for safety reasons. I would also look for parts that are galvanized or zinc-coated because they will survive⁠. The biggest killer for brakes is corrosion. 

Most OEs will be zinc-coated⁠—and I wouldn’t buy an aftermarket pad that isn’t either.

How should owners explain the higher prices of quality brake pads to their customers?

If you have a brake pad that had to be removed from another customer’s vehicle out back, show that to the customer and say, “Listen, I know you’re worried about cost, and I understand that, but this what a low quality brake pad looks like,” and explain to them the worst case scenarios of things you have pulled off of a car.  

Overall, a brake job might cost around $300⁠—depending on where your shop is⁠—and we’re talking about a brake pad cost difference of maybe $25–$30. You’re looking at 10 percent of your cost here and the difference between having something that is going to save the customer’s life and something that might not⁠. I would explain that to the customer.

What can the industry do to help the movement?

As an industry, we need to start making better choices⁠—it’s not just about the government. As an industry ourselves, we should do voluntarily testing to make sure our parts aren’t going to fail, and we should make sure to mandate ourselves to use the right materials that are going to make our pads last longer.

First, the shop owners themselves have to become educated. When putting a product on a car, that sort of becomes your product now, even if you’re buying it from somebody else. You better make sure that you’re using the best quality parts possible, even if there is a price difference. 

The public has a lot of power. If shop owners are going to their customers and really helping to educate them, and saying, “Listen, this is the single most important piece of equipment you’re going to put in your car,” they will start demanding higher quality. We need to start taking this a little more seriously as consumers and as shop owners.


The Brake Report
The Brake Report

The BRAKE Report is an online media platform dedicated to the automotive and commercial vehicle brake segments. Our mission is to provide the global brake community with the latest news & headlines from around the industry.