Category: Brakes

By on November 13, 2007

rolex.jpgBMW, Mercedes, Audi and other performance-oriented manufacturers all place a high premium on providing their customers with massive stopping power, with minimal noise. To that end, they fit relatively soft brake pads. The Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) brake pads are fabricated from a combination of high tech and simple materials: carbon fibers, metal filings and a powerful adhesive to hold the pad material together. These soft brake pads help the machines achieve astounding predictability, power and control but they do make your expensive wheels look like crap.

As soft brake pads press against the brake discs, they release copious amounts of brake dust. The harder and more frequently you press on the stop pedal, the greater the schmutz. Pistonheads love hard braking and abhor schmutz. If it’s hands-up for OCD clean wheelology, you have a number of options for keeping your expensive wheels a schmutz-free zone.

For example, you can wax the wheels’ interior (to make cleaning the dust easier) or fit Kleen Wheels’ brake shield inside the wheel to contain the schmutz. Or you can fit low dust brake pads. There are plenty of aftermarket companies tantalizing pistonheads with the prospect of wheel cleaning liberation: EBC, Hawk, AXXIS, Rotex and more. I tested the gold standard: Rotex Gold brake pads. I fitted the pads on a 2000 BMW with 17” alloy wheels.

Rotex Gold brake pads are made from Kevlar®, metallic soft steel wire and powdered sponge iron (for maximum heat transfer), and silver virgin graphite. Kevlar® is a lightweight synthetic fiber that’s five time stronger than steel (famous for stopping bullets). More to the point, Rotex claims their premium quality silver virgin graphite greatly reduces noise and virtually eliminates brake dust.

Installing the Rotex pads was a non-issue; the process is no different from OEM pad fitment. The Rotex pads are slotted and chamfered just like the standard stuff. They’re designed to work with conventional rotors as well as the more advanced slotted or drilled rotors often found on higher end automobiles.

Once installed, the brakes require approximately 150 miles to seat. Again, the conditioning process is standard operating procedure for all brake pads, designed to assure maximum braking performance. Once properly seated, I tested the Rotex pads in a variety of driving conditions.

First up: simulated panic stops in an open parking lot. The Rotex pads delivered a good strong bite, easily stopping the Bimmer. I repeated the test twenty times in rapid succession. The Rotex pads were NOT completely fade free. Braking performance didn’t degrade significantly, but there was SOME diminution in performance. If you’re looking for brake pads that you can use on both street and the occasional track day, these ain’t it.

On the positive side, brake feel remained consistent over time. And while we didn’t make any objective scientific measurements, a seat-of-the-pants subjective assessment says the Rotex provided equal if not better performance over the OEM kit (which is also not up to the rigors of vigorous track use) in “normal” use.  

The next test was less demanding: real world street driving, including bumper-to-bumper traffic and highway braking maneuvers. The Rotex pads performed flawlessly, providing smooth braking in all conditions. 

Thanks to the large amounts of rain in the fall in our South Florida test kitchen, I was also able to trial the Rotex pads’ wet weather braking abilities. Obviously, tires are a major factor in inclement weather stopping performance. The Rotex pads were able to slough off massive amounts of water quickly– even after powering through fairly deep water.

Noise issues are a common complaint for all new brake pads. The quality of installation of the rotors and calipers can greatly affect the resulting decibels. Again, no science here, but I reckon our test installation had no impact on brake noise. The Rotex pads were just as quiet as the OEM pads.

Last but by no means least: brake dust. Rotex claims a virtually dust-free brake pad. Our test didn’t bear this out. That said, the Rotex’ dust production was substantially less than the Bimmer’s original pads. And the OEM pads produced a thicker, darker dust covering versus the Rotex pads’ lighter, thinner grey covering. But the amount of brake dust generated by the Rotex pads during regular (if strenuous) driving was still significant. To maintain a proper shine, a Rotex-equipped driver must still wax and clean their wheels on a weekly basis.

Rotex Gold pads cost $75 for the front set, $60 for the rears. That’s a competitive price vis-à-vis OEM pads. Given the Rotex pads’ equivalent or better performance, potentially longer life (the jury is still out) and the lower quantity of dust produced, we can recommend these brake pads as an alternative. But Rotex gold pads are no substitute for waxing, brake dust shields and/or good old fashioned elbow grease. 

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