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The Sea to Sky highway near Squamish, B.C. (File photo) (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/Globe and Mail)
The Sea to Sky highway near Squamish, B.C. (File photo) (JOHN LEHMANN/John Lehmann/Globe and Mail)

Rob's Garage

The best car brakes if you live on a mountain Add to ...

Rob, I work at Simon Fraser University and live on Thermal Drive in Coquitlam, B.C. SFU is atop Burnaby Mountain with a strictly enforced 60 km/h speed limit on the hill. Thermal Drive was the steepest incline Rick Hansen encountered on his Man in Motion Tour around the globe; the speed limit is 30 km/h.

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I go through a lot of brakes. I drive a 2010 Chevy Traverse and a 2003 Volvo S40. I’m wondering if there is a type of brake I should be using, or is there a method I should use to reduce frying my rotors and wearing the pads to nubs so often. I try to gently pump the brakes to let them cool as much as possible, but you pick up speed quickly on both hills as they are both quite steep.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated, Rob

Ooh boy, do I have empathy for you Rob; I too live on the side of a mountain and two things that really bug me when driving are: brake dust and brake wear.

By their very nature, brake pads and shoes (the friction parts), are sacrificial. That is, they are designed for self-destruction, and with this comes wear and dust. While brake part wear is inevitable and expected, there are ways to mitigate the damage.

The best way to reduce the wear of friction materials is to convert to ceramic brake pads. Both of your vehicles use front and rear disc brakes, so availability of this newer technology will be good. Most ceramic brake pads are not fully ceramic. Instead, ceramic and copper fibres are used in the brew when the friction materials are being moulded.

Brakes used to be made primarily from asbestos. It’s still is use today, but not in the same concentrations. The addition of steel fibres helped with heat dispersion and minimized dust creation, but at the expense of the rotors. Adding ceramic and copper reduces these issues and creates responsive pedal feel with faster recovery from overheating, which is what you’re trying to lessen by pumping your brakes.

Have your repair shop install is a set of ceramic fibre disc brake pads. Ask for options. There are many brands and price points on the market that will suit your needs.

Oh, and as for warranty requirements; ceramic brake pads meet or exceeds manufacturer specifications. This information is usually found on the packaging of reputable brake parts.

Send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to Rob MacGregor at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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