American steel used in brake-pad backing plates is galvanized to prevent undue rust and corrosion, a standard not uniformly applied by manufacturers overseas. - Photo by Thomas via Flickr

American steel used in brake-pad backing plates is galvanized to prevent undue rust and corrosion, a standard not uniformly applied by manufacturers overseas.

Photo by Thomas via Flickr

Brakes are one of a vehicle’s most important safety features, yet hundreds of millions of vehicles on the road today are driving on compromised brakes, putting countless lives at risk. The reason is simple: rust.

Original equipment engineers design brake pads so they don’t separate from the steel and must wear out evenly over time — but the aftermarket doesn’t. Aftermarket brakes are highly susceptible to rust and premature failure.

Why doesn’t the aftermarket have to match OEM standards? Because according to the law, there are no standards.

It may surprise you to hear that automotive aftermarket brakes are not covered by any state or federal regulations. Nor are there any industry standards for brakes sold in the United States. This absence of regulations and standards allows manufacturers to use any materials they choose, leading to the use of subgrade, untreated steel from Asia.

These brake pads are painted so they look great on a retailer’s shelf, which creates the perception of a quality product. This conceals the fact that brake pads made from subgrade, untreated steel that rusts, and has the potential to fall apart.

Rust on the disc rotor is visible on rotating wheels and this surface rust will usually wipe away with just a few turns of the wheel. This is not a safety concern. The big safety concern is what you can’t see: brake pads rusting and rotting inside a caliper.

Inside Your Brake Pads

Brake pads are comprised of friction material and steel backing plates. Most brake pads are painted, which offers a nice look, but provides little protection against rust and corrosion that can lead to brake failure.

Untreated steel exposed to environmental conditions will rust and corrode. To protect against this, the backing plate steel must be treated since brake pads are exposed to very harsh environmental conditions, including extreme pressure and temperatures reaching over 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Friction material is a complex and sophisticated composite designed to wear out gradually with use over time. It is essential that this friction material be permanently fixed to the steel back plate in a very secure way to ensure that it completely wears out until it comes time for replacement.

The backing plate steel should not rust or deteriorate. It must maintain its form, shape, and composition until the friction material has worn out.

Brake failure due to rust can be avoided by using American galvanized steel. Galvanization is a process that coats the steel with zinc to protect it from rust and corrosion.

Your Customers Are Getting Ripped Off

Cars are increasingly more efficient and people are driving less. But vehicle owners in the U.S. and Canada are spending more of their hard-earned dollars on brake jobs. According to Frost and Sullivan, in 2014, there were 94 million brake jobs in North America, much more than the 70 million predicted. That’s 24 million unnecessary brake jobs.

Economic factors predict fewer brake jobs. Instead, there has been an increase, which I believe is due to premature brake failure caused by rust.

Based on these findings, with the average brake job costing about $400, North American consumers are spending unnecessarily over $9 billion per year in substandard brake jobs and parts — and worse, driving on rusty brake pads.

Any industry that lacks regulation is self-regulated. When manufacturers of safety equipment can essentially make whatever they want, without any specialized knowledge, a dangerous situation results. Domestic distributors of brake pads are severely compromising vehicle safety in an effort to compete with other offshore brake pads dumped into the U.S. market.

It is time for American lawmakers to create higher standards in the brake industry. Consumers need to insist on OEM standards for all brake pads and have access to important information about brakes to make an informed purchasing decision. The time is now to get off autopilot and create stronger standards to ensure road safety for all.

Mark Lavelle is a 20-year automotive industry veteran who serves as OEM specialist for the Global Brake Safety Council.