Tuning Session 101: Let’s Take a Brake, and Improve It

Lift rear wheel under heavy braking 8 photos
Photo: Honda
911_gt2_rs_clubsport_sloted rotorsBrake pumpTry your brakes in a secure areaBrembo racing brakesReplacing brakes on a standUnder hard braking, the rear wheels looses tractionSloted brake discs
For my first skiing lesson, the trainer told me that you can't gain confidence in sliding before knowing how to stop, and I still owe him a few drinks for that. It's the same situation with a tuned car: you can't get confidence in it if you don't know that it will stop on a dime.
All vehicles need stopping power. The harder the car pulls, the better the brakes have to be, and, moreover, nobody wants to see boiling braking fluids or flames on the discs. Red-hot ones are ok, but fire is definitely a bad sign that something is not good.

While most street vehicles are built to withstand repeated braking at speeds up to 60 mph (97 kph), they are not so good when the driver needs to stop from twice that value. They will heat up and, eventually, they will stop working correctly. Even a few hot-hatches had some problems with their standard system, even though it was a Brembo kit.

Some people asked me why do I recommend braking after suspension in the tuning process. Since I'm more into circuit racing than in straight-line acceleration, I think that this is the correct order, but I admit that I might be wrong at some point. Yet, I never saw, on any kind of tuned car, a stock suspension.

When talking about brakes, we need to talk about the whole system. First of all, let's understand a few facts. Car manufacturers can fit any kind of advanced braking system on a car. But who would pay for a $10,000 carbo-ceramic braking system on an econobox? That's right, nobody. The carmakers are installing a balanced system that will ensure decent stopping power for a reasonable price. Here, you have room for improvement.

Brembo racing brakes
Photo: Honda
First, completely replace the braking fluid. Every three years, you should do that for any street-use vehicle, or more often if that car is raced. Due to high costs, carmakers don't put high-performance braking lines on regular cars, but you can do that. Instead, go for the braided, metallic ones. You can do that at home, but you already need some advanced mechanics and, sometimes, even a computer with dedicated software depending on the car. If it's a first-gen Impala, all you need is a tool kit, a friend to help, and a six-pack of Miller's (that's my choice, but you can go for Bud).

Changing the brake discs with vented and cross-drilled ones will help them cool faster. They are better on the highway and regular use. Slotted rotors are also excellent, but mainly on the track. But, again, if you are not racing your car, then just go for the former and leave the latter for when you'll go for lap times.

Brake pads and rotors have to go together like shocks and dampers. Sometimes, it is better to go with different brands such as Brembo discs and Ferodo pads. And yes, ditch those drum brakes on the rear axle. They're nasty-looking and worthless for stopping power. For this step, though, I would strongly recommend a certified technician.

Like in many situations, cheap and sound doesn't exist. Sure, you might find someone who's selling a used braking kit. However, while you can buy a brake caliper or brake pump and refurbish it, you can't do that with rotors and pads. So instead, go for brand new ones and choose something like Willwood, Brembo, StopTech, or even OEM.

If you have a Civic base version, you can still upgrade it to a TypeR or TypeS spec sheet. Also, many carmakers offer special braking kits such as M-Performance for BMW, TRD for Toyota, etc. The big advantage of these setups is that they are already calibrated for your car.

911_gt2_rs_clubsport_sloted rotors
Photo: McKenna.collection/BaT
When shopping for a braking system, choose wisely. Use extensive research on forums and other sources. First of all, the front discs are usually bigger than the rear ones for a reason. Most cars are heavier on the nose. If you want to tune your Porsche or other mid-engine Corvette, then it's a different story. Along with the discs, you have to ensure that your stock brake pump is strong enough to withstand the effort. Usually, though, it isn't, so you have to replace that as well.

For now, we focused only on handling and stopping power. More to come, but stay tuned since there is a long way to engine upgrades. Meanwhile, you can check what other specialized tuners like Brabus did with the already high-spec Mercs.
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About the author: Tudor Serban
Tudor Serban profile photo

Tudor started his automotive career in 1996, writing for a magazine while working on his journalism degree. From Pikes Peaks to the Moroccan desert to the Laguna Seca, he's seen and done it all.
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