The Big Importance of Brakes

Perhaps even more important than making your car fast, is making your car stop.

Modifying a car always starts with increasing horsepower and torque. And then to handle the added muscle, we proceed to upgrade the suspension with more capable shocks and beefier springs. A wheel and tire package comes next for more contact patch. By now, we may have made Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car.

But then to make a turn so we won’t fall off a cliff, we need to upgrade the car’s brakes. And brakes aren’t just essential for our fast road cars, it is also a very important part of racing. Drag cars need strong brakes to not end up in a tree. Formula 1 even uses carbon fiber brakes to make sure the cars stop properly before taking the fast, sweeping chicanes at Imola.

Bigger is Better!

The ideology that comes with “bigger is better” isn’t always accurate.

Unless you have a wonderful chassis and suspension setup, bigger wheels and small tires will always result in a harsh ride. A large capacity engine might give you all the power that you need but it is very heavy and very thirsty. 

On the contrary, this idea might be accurate on a car’s braking system. Big cross-drilled brake rotors are more effective in stopping your modified car especially when paired with multi-piston calipers and big brake pads.

However, to have a more effective braking power, you need a more capable master cylinder and stronger steel-braided brake lines.

Mind you, because of small-ish wheels, Formula 1 cars only have 12- or 13-inch rotors. Tiny, yes, but made of carbon fiber which makes it cost more than a fully-optioned Ford Mustang Bullitt – and that’s only one disc. So Formula 1 brakes are big … in cost.

The Need for Speed … and Heat

Because we have established that fast cars need big brakes, the next gremlin we are about to tackle is heat.

As you probably know, most automotive braking systems use the friction of pads squeezed onto a rotor to slow the vehicle down. While this design works is really how brakes are supposed to work, it effectively turns all that rotational energy into heat.

Heat tends to break things. Most OEM brake systems are designed to deal with the heat from braking on the street and maybe a tiny bit of track usage, but they can quickly heat up to the point of becoming ineffective. We call this brake fade.

The heat is spread across the pad and the rotor, which means size changes how the system absorbs the heat. A larger rotor can absorb more heat than a smaller rotor, and the same goes for pads. The reason race cars use massive rotors is to deal with the insane amounts of heat more consistently braking very hard. As we have established earlier, when it comes to brake rotors, calipers, and pads, bigger is – and this can’t be argued – better.

When Should I Upgrade to Big Brakes?

There is not a definitive answer to this question, as every vehicle and owner is different, but there are some situations where a big brake kit could be considered necessary. If you plan on going to the track, chances are your stock brakes will not be able to keep up with the demand, so a big brake kit is a good idea. For AutoX racing, the racing is pretty short, so a big brake kit is not necessary, but is a good idea.

If you are towing a lot, a big brake kit can be a good idea, as the adding weight will force your brake to work harder, even with the trailer brakes set up properly. For street use, OEM brakes are fine as long as you haven’t massively increased power. Once you increase power, you will also be increasing the speeds, meaning your brakes need to work harder. Depending on how hard you drive, a big brake kit may be needed even on the streets.

You can click here to find more information about upgrading to big brakes or give one of our world-class professionals a call at 1-480-966-3040.