Piston Slap: Frank Talk About Brake Dust

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

TTAC snark-master Frank Williams writes,

My A4s both have a really bad problem with brake dust on the front wheels. Sometimes the wheels look almost like they’re black chrome instead of alloy. I’ve seen advertisements for dust shields that fit between the brake and the wheel that are supposed to keep the wheels clean (Kleen Wheels is one brand). I’ve always been wary of these, as I feared they might impede brake cooling and could result in damage to the rotors or even brake failure. Have you or any of the readers had any experience with these? Do they really work, and are my fears of brake damage unfounded? And most importantly, do they look dorky – the automotive equivalent of a pocket protector?

Sajeev replies:

I do not recommend dust shields simply because they look dorky. Newer shields are vented and are likely to withstand the rigors of mundane driving without cooking your pads and rotors, so I can’t whine about that. But that’s just a guess.

My point: dust shields look terrible because we are conditioned to see nothing between the wheel and the brakes. Its just a matter of time (the next rainy day?) before cleaning the shields is needed to keep them invisible, and I suspect that defeats the purpose entirely.

My solution: replace your pads. I’ve noticed many German cars come with unbelievably dusty stoppers. The (small) amount of brake dust from Performance Friction pads works for me, and they have plenty of bite and almost no brake squeal. There are other aftermarket alternatives, but after one day of 130 miles of open tracking on my (daily driven) land yacht I am pretty happy with these pads in every respect.

Best and Brightest, what do you think?

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

More by Sajeev Mehta

Join the conversation
4 of 44 comments
  • Mitchim Mitchim on Jul 07, 2009

    This is a geat topic. I have often wondered why EVERY time I get out of the car wash with my Sti that I have to put my foot through the floor to break even at parking lot speeds This may have to do with being too cold? I know not to hit hot breaks with cold water. This is called thermal shock. These breaks must have a huge penalty for being wet and cold. This always applys to the first stop then the bremco's work like a charm. As for the dust when I bought my Subaru new it was really bad. IMO more breaking=more break dust. I prefer using gears. Cheers

  • Kowsnofskia Kowsnofskia on Jul 07, 2009
    A lot of commenters want to change the pads for pads that produce less dust. OK. But it seems that we have here a lot of people knowing more about brakes than the Audi engineers. Changing the pads for another type, changes the braking performance. Sometimes for the better, but in most cases for the worst. And if you are on a twisty mountain road, going downwards and your brakes give up, only because you wanted less dust, are you still that happy? Wrong assumptions. IMHO, OEM consumables (i.e., tires, brake pads, shocks, etc) are usually pure garbage that the automaker in question has attempted to procure as cheaply as possible. The stock pads and rotors on my 06 Honda Accord fade like crazy, give shitty pedal feel, etc. Switching to Akebono ProACT pads with Baer rotors shortened stopping distances dramatically and stopped the fade.
  • Redwood Redwood on Jul 07, 2009

    I'm not sure which year/model of A4, but Akebono makes ceramic pads and I've had good luck with Hawk HP Street pads in the past. Those won't be quite as dust free as the ceramics (still MUCH better than stock German car pads), but they'll have better stopping power. Do NOT use brake dust shields. Try the new pads on the front first since those typically generate the most dust. Don't forget to put anti-squeal compound on the back of the pads if you do it yourself.

  • Toasty Toasty on Jul 09, 2009

    On a related note, don't forget to change your brake fluid. A good bleeder makes doing annual brake and clutch fluid changes very easy, reduces fade, and prolongs the lives of both systems. OE Honda pads have been horrible, but they hardly dust at all. JD Power Performance must be more important to Honda than braking performance. I use Axxis Ultimate ceramic pads on my '06 Civic Si, and will be upgrading the pads of my Fit soon. The Si stops dramatically better, especially in rain. The OE pads on my '04 Accord were annoyingly bad, leaving an uneven layer of crud deposited on the rotors after a year...but very little dust! Aftermarket pads made everything better, and knowing I could stop made cleaning the wheels a satisfying experience.