Safety has always been at the forefront of European vehicle design. When you hear the word “safety”, one tends to think of the passive safety features such as seatbelts or airbags, or the newer active safety features such as lane-departure warning and traction or stability control. But hands down the most important safety system on a car is the braking system. The disc brake system on a modern car relies on a complex system of hydraulics, electrics, electronics, and of course human input to safely bring a vehicle to a stop every time. But the most fundamental pieces of the braking system are the mechanical bits that do the actual stopping, the brake pads and rotors. These components convert the kinetic energy of a vehicle in motion into heat energy, using nothing more than simple friction.
Brake pads and rotors are of course a wear item on any vehicle. Depending on driving style and other factors, these components may have a longer or shorter lifespan, but on any car they will eventually need to be replaced. When shopping for brake pads and rotors for your vehicle you will find a confusing array of parts to choose from. There are different compounds of pads from semi-metallic to organic to ceramic. Rotors can be high-carbon, coated, drilled or slotted. How is a consumer to know what the best choice for their vehicle is?
Regardless of what pad compound or type of rotor you choose, a good place to start when shopping for brakes on a European vehicle is to choose a manufacturer that offers pads and rotors that are certified to meet ECE R90 regulations.What is ECE R90? The Economic Commission for Europe, or ECE, is a body that regulates certain aspects of vehicle design throughout Europe and has been adopted in many other regions around the world. Regulation 90, or R90 as it is commonly known, specifies that a certified pad or rotor must pass several rigorous tests to verify both the braking performance and physical characters of the part do not widely deviate from the OEM parts that originally came with the vehicle. The standard was developed in response to the rise of low-cost or counterfeit aftermarket brake pads and rotors that did not always perform properly. This of course is a major safety hazard to all drivers on the road and the ECE decided to implement this strict set of rules for replacement brake pads and rotors beginning in November of 2016. While in the US it is not a requirement for vehicles to be fitted with replacement parts that meet the ECE R90 spec, it is highly advised.
How do you tell if a part is certified as meeting ECE R90? All parts will be physically marked with a code that looks like this: , followed by a unique set of approval numbers. This mark ensures that you are installing a part that meets or exceeds the requirements the OEM originally specified during development of the vehicle. To reduce the likelihood of counterfeit products entering the market falsely claiming to meet R90, packaging will typically be sealed by the manufacturer and many times also includes holograms or other security features that are difficult to duplicate. This is an additional layer of security that ensures the consumer is purchasing a safe, quality product.
A leading US automotive publication was recently conducting a performance test of several vehicles. One vehicle, outfitted with brakes for the US market, exhibited very poor stopping performance while on track and was pulled from the test. The manufacturer subsequently supplied a vehicle with replacement pads from the European model, which would be certified as meeting ECE R90. Further testing on the track showed much improved braking performance, simply by changing to a better-quality pad. Many US consumers are concerned about reducing brake dust and/or noise, but ask yourself this question: when the safety of you and your family is on the line does it matter if your wheels are slightly dirtier or you hear a squeak from time to time? Wheels can be cleaned, but lives cannot be replaced.