Do I really need a performance brake kit?

There are those that say "naaah, you don't need a big brake kit… just get more aggressive pads for your original brakes, and you'll be fine. Big brakes are a waste of money!"

But is this really accurate? The answer is a clear "There are indeed many compelling reasons that a performance brake kit may be right for you.".

The advantages of a brake kit are readily apparent with just a little bit of analysis:

1. More disk and pad area/thickness equals better functionality without aggressive pads.

This means that with the same pads, the brake system can go through the energy conversion cycle (kinetic energy to heat energy, and then dissipate the heat energy) of braking much more efficiently. The "aggressive pads" of shortsighted recommendations means "dusty" or "squealing" pads for street use, or "chews through rotors" or "does not work well when cold" for track use. In this one aspect, a big brake kit gives the functionality of the "aggressive pads" with the benefits of a milder pad.

2. Repeatability of performance

Besides the general idea of better heat management, heat issues affect other aspects of the braking system. In addition to simply being able to withstand harder use, a performance brake kit will be able to deliver the performance over and over without overheating. While a standard brake setup may be able to accomplish a "hero" stop from high speed once, the performance brake kit will do it again and again without overheating the pads, rotors, calipers, or fluid.

3. Lighter weight.

The majority of brake kits use some type of cast aluminum caliper. With some (not all), the total weight of the new calipers and new rotors is less than the original brakes, which use an inexpensive but heavy cast iron design. Depending on the exact model, the UUC/Wilwood brake kits save up to 25lbs of unsprung weight at each axle. For a racecar, this is a huge amount of weight. For a street car, it is still significant enough for sensitive drivers to notice. For more details on brake weight reduction, please click here.

4. Better pedal feel and feedback.

The key to a good relationship is communication. For the relationship between driver and car that makes for good performance driving, "talking" is equally critical. The difference between a performance brake kit's calipers and the standard calipers is a fundamental change in the basic design. A performance brake kit uses a "fixed" caliper that is rigidly mounted, the only moving part being the pistons that clamp the pads against the rotors. In contrast, the standard calipers use a "floating" design for economy that moves the entire caliper to clamp the rotor. The caliper itself moves on rubber-isolated guide pins, and the flex and looseness of these rubber guide bushings is what gives the standard calipers a soft or mushy feel which is also affected by heat and wear. As such, the difference in performance driving (where the brakes will expectedly get hot) is dramatically apparent. The performance brake kit is capable of much finer modulation and control. Good performance brakes "talk" to the driver. The analogy can be made that performance brakes are like playing the piano normally, compared to standard brakes as playing the piano while wearing gloves.

5. Lower operating costs.

This may seem counter-intuitive, that once the initial price hurdle is overcome, using a performance brake kit can be cheaper than using standard brakes. First of all, the oversized components last longer because they are less stressed than the standard components. Secondly, in the UUC/Wilwood kit, consumables such as pads are usually less expensive than the standard equivalents by 15%-30%. For a comparative analysis of the UUC/Wilwood brake kit versus competing brands, please click here.

Looking further at the simplistic "say "naaah, you don't need a big brake kit" statement, let's consider what we do with our cars and what it is that the performance driver actually needs.

Does your car need stickier tires, performance suspension, or motor upgrades?

You don't need any of this if all you are doing is using the car as basic transportation. You don't need a BMW at all when a basic Chevy Cobalt will comfortably and reliably transport five adults anywhere you like. For comparison, pure "performance cars" such as Porsches and Ferraris always have standard equipment brakes of the same type as aftermarket brake kits offered for BMW. Those manufacturers are not making any concessions, they are simply delivering performance. Unfortunately, as BMWs have to appeal to a broader customer base, some without performance needs, we BMW owners get shorted in that category.

But you buy a BMW for a reason. Hopefully it's the good "I enjoy a performance car" reason. And in generally, those that have sought a performance car also continue to seek ways to get more performance. "Wanting better" is an ongoing quest, not a destination.

Maybe not everyone needs brakes with a higher level of capability, but enthusiasts, performance drivers, and racecar drivers who honestly evaluate the benefits usually realize that they do need performance brakes. Except for the racing classes that require standard brakes, the racers that consistently win are quite happily "wasting money" on a performance brake kit. For the UUC/Wilwood kit, this is represented as an ongoing series of class wins in various venues such as BMW CCA, NASA, and SCCA racing and autocross.


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