Increasing Your Stopping Power 101
Brakes are really important. As in really, really important - if only for being able to stop when someone else makes a mistake out on the roads and you have to stop in a hurry to avoid a collision... Just like the condition of your tyres, how healthy your brakes are is an important factor in either being able to slow down when you need to, or stop in a timely fashion!
The Theory Behind The Pedal
The braking system in the average car works by hydraulic pressure - when actuated by your foot depressing the brake pedal, hydraulic fluid moves pistons inside each brake calliper thereby squeezing the brake pads against the rotating brake disc rotor, slowing it (and thus the car) down by converting all that rotational energy into heat. Although all individual components of a car's braking system are subject to wear of some sort, the most common items that need replacing are the pads and the disc rotors (or shoes and drums if you own a classic car, for example!). Signs to look out for that may indicate something has gone awry with your braking system include squealing noises or a juddery brake pedal when applying the brakes, horrible metal-to-metal grinding noises in more extreme cases, or just a general decline in braking performance over a short period of time.
Uh-Oh, What's That Noise?
There comes a time in a brake disc rotor's life when it has had too much of its "meat" worn away by the brake pads and, when a rotor is simply too thin and thereby unsafe to use, the time for replacement has come. Similarly with brake pads, when there is not enough pad material left to be effective, the time has come to slot in some new items. If you are the type of commuter that sees regular roads and conventional conditions, then a high-quality new replacement brake pad and/or rotor that is suitable for your car - such as those stocked by Automotive Superstore - will help get your braking system back to full health. For those of us who drive their car in a "spirited" fashion, so to speak, partake in the occasional track day or any form of motorsport use, then the braking system needs more careful thought into the right combination of uprated components needed for more demanding conditions.
When To Make Improvements
When opting for uprated brake disc rotors and pads - fitment compatability aside - it's all about the operational temperature window the new components will be suited to. If you took a set of standard rotors and pads out onto the track, it won't be very long at all before the entire braking system can no longer convert rotational energy into heat any more as the standard parts just cannot cope; the pads are way too hot, the brake rotor isn't shedding heat fast enough and even the brake fluid itself can boil! This is where a set of brake pads that have a different optimum temperature working range come into play - if a brake pad can still remain effective at much higher temperatures than the stock pads, it will be able to keep on working and converting the disc rotors' rotational energy into heat. Likewise, if a brake disc rotor has a design which is better able to shed heat and is made of more durable materials, it will enable better braking performance for longer.
A Good Middle Ground
It's not just a simple matter of chucking in a set of race pads and super-duper fancy vented rotors, though, you need to take into account cold temperature operation, too. Super-aggressive race brake pads, for example, don't exactly work when they're cold and you need to build up (and maintain!) a degree of heat throughout the braking system before they'll work effectively; not exactly the kind of brake pads for use in a street car that needs to stop whilst reversing down a driveway or at the end of the street...! In other words, there's a middle ground that should be aimed for.
The Finer Details
It's not just pads and rotors, and there's always brake fluid, flexible lines and calliper rebuild kits that all contribute to a healthy braking system, too. And, as always, the safety of you, your passengers and other road users is paramount, so please consult a qualified mechanic for professional installation and setup information where necessary. New brake pads tend to need "bedding-in", for example, and it pays to follow certain procedures to ensure maximum performance and life from your new brake system upgrades!