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Drum Brakes

An old style of brakes. They consist of shoes that are inside of a drum. The drum rotates around the shoes. In order to brake, the shoes are pressed outward into the inside surface of the drum.

For the 93-97 V6 F-bodies (rear disks were only available with RPO Y8Y those model years, an axle swap from a corresponding LT1 car is usually the easiest way to go from rear drums to four wheel disks.

Disc Brakes

Four wheel disc brakes are fitted to performance vehicles from the factory, and even some mainstream vehicles. They generally provide better braking under all conditions than do drums, while being easier to maintain. All V8 F-bodies, 98+ V6 F-bodies, and 93-97 V6 F-bodies with RPOY87 had four wheel disc brakes as factory equipment.


The pads are analogous to the shoes of drum brakes. These are the friction material that is applied to the disk in order to make the car stop. Pads are the single most important component of the disk brake system, and should be the first brake component to be upgraded if higher performance is wished. There are many different types of pad compounds available. Good everyday pads are usually semi-metallic. Ceramic pads can provide good stopping with minimal dusting. Many performance pads are “composites.” These are generalizations only, however.


The calipers provide the clamping force to apply the pads to the disks. The functional unit of the caliper is the piston. The piston is the part that directly presses on the pad. Calipers may have 1, 2, 4, or 6 pistons. The total piston area (along with the brake line pressure) determines how much clamping force can be applied to stop the car. Increasing piston area directly correlates with clamping force. Alternatively, some calipers may have slightly smaller pistons but accommodate a larger pad (C5 calipers for instance). Additionally, certain aftermarket calipers are machined from a single block of metal which makes them less likely to distort during clamping.


The discs (aka rotors) rotate with the wheel and are the surface upon which the pads are applied during braking. Disc type brakes are superior to drum brakes because there is a larger friction surface, giving them better resistance to fade. The best way to increase performance from changing discs is to go with a larger diameter vented blank, (although this may not be possible unless wheel sizes are increased). Larger diameter disks contain more mass, which will allow them to absorb more energy before reaching the same temperature as a smaller disc. The larger rotor can also apply slightly more braking torque to the wheel. However, both brake pads and tires are much more important determinants of braking power than are the discs. For F-bodies, a 12 inch rotor will fit under the 16 inch wheels, while 13 inch rotors will work with 17 inch wheels, although increasing disk diameter often means that a new caliper bracket will be needed. The factory discs on the F-bodies have a tendency to warp, so aftermarket disks of the same diameter can still be a good upgrade.

A solid disc is exactly what it sounds like. The simplest of discs, it is also the least performance oriented. While better than a drum brake, the lack of venting means that this type of disc is the least resistant to heat soak and therefore brake fade. Many nonperformance oriented vehicles with four wheel disc brakes have solid discs in the rear.

Vented discs have channels running through the middle which push air out from the center of the disc in order to cool them more quickly. Most factory vented discs are blank, in that the friction surface is smooth with no holes are grooves. These are the best all around type of discs for street or performance use. Vents may be straight or directional (for slightly improved cooling).

In the olden days of racing, pad material was not as good as it is now. During braking, a phenomenon known as “outgassing” would occur. This would decrease the stopping power of the brakes by creating a layer of gas between the pad and the disc. Drilling the discs was a band-aid solution created to stifle this problem. As carbon-metallic brake pads were developed, this problem was eradicated; hence the reason why race cars do not use drilled rotors anymore. Side effects of drilled rotors include decreased swept area of the rotor, decreased structural integrity (which can lead to cracking), and decreased mass (which lowers rotational inertia). Drilled rotors are best in street car applications which will see limited race use, and in which performance can be sacrificed for appearance.

Slotted rotors are an attempt to decrease problems arising from outgassing while retaining most of the structural integrity of blank discs. Slots are formed in the surface of the disc that allow gasses a place to sit until the pad clears that section of the rotor. The slots are usually arranged in manner such that gases are easily flung towards the outside of the disc. Slotted discs may marginally improve braking through taking a harsher bite of the pads, but will do so at the expense of pad life.

Do not buy a slotted disc if the slots run all the way to the outside edge of the disc, as it will likely develop stress cracks with use.

This type of disc combines cross drilling and slotting for the ultimate in disc appearance upgrades (that sounded just like an advertisement). They combine the risks and benefits of both slotted and drilled rotors.

These discs were created so that users could have a disc that looks like it was drilled, but is less likely to crack.

Brake Lines

The OEM brake lines are rubber pieces. These lines will expand slightly during application of the brakes (especially in hard braking) because of the hydraulic pressure within the lines. This will reduce the clamping force of the brake calipers. Additionally, the brake lines will eventually become slightly deformed after many braking cycles. At that time, the lines should be replaced with new ones. Alternatively, steel brake lines can be used. Steel lines do not deform during braking and therefore the hydraulic pressure is used exclusively to stop the car. The problem with steel lines is that when they fail, brake fluid will flow out of them much more rapidly than it will from a rubber line that has developed a hole.

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is an important component of the braking system to keep in mind. The fluid will accumulate water over time, and should be replaced if it looks dark. This may cause a mushy pedal feel. Under hard braking, the fluid may begin to boil, which can cause brake fade. There are several types of brake fluid ranging from conventional to synthetic and through different DOT numbers. DOT5 is silicone based, and is not a good fluid for use on the street (mostly because it cannot absorb water, which will accumulate close to the calipers within the lines). DOT3, 4, and 5.1 are glycol based fluids that are compatible with the original brake fluid, and are also hygroscopic. Boiling point increases with increasing DOT number. DOT5.1 has a boiling point that is as good as DOT5, while still being able to absorb water. For most everyday driving situations, the manufacturer recommended brake fluid listed in the owner’s manual is perfect.

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