Brakes Market: Brake Rebuilders Have No Intention Of Slowing Down
By Ed Sunkin
Despite a few bumps in the aftermarket road
to success, brake rebuilders have no intention of slowing down.
Some brake industry professionals say that demand in the brake
rebuilding market is pretty consistent compared to last year.
"The market (in sales) seems to be following the same patterns
as last year," said Steve Suber, friction materials manager
for EIS Brake Parts, Manila, AR. Suber who also serves as chairman
of the Automotive Parts Rebuilders Association (APRA) said this
year could be a carbon copy of 1996. "We're not really seeing
any new trends," he said. "But in terms of where we're
heading, the same issues also continue to be with us."
One of those issues is the shift from the traditional three-step
distribution system to a two-step system. Joe Rhodes, president
of Util Automotive, Inc., Conyers, GA, a supplier of both used
shoes and new replacement shoes, said there's been a general erosion
of the various levels of distribution. "The industry used
to operate with a three-step distribution level," said Rhodes.
"Now we're often just down to two-step and sometimes even
one-step." There's also a lot of inventory being sold and
Joe Sawa, sales manager at Pennsylvania Brake Bonding Co., Philadelphia,
PA, agrees that the three-step distribution system is under siege.
Sawa said he sees an industry trend where the smaller rebuilders
are losing work to the big rebuilders who can fill the demands
of national chains and large volume accounts.
EIS' Suber says another issue that hasn't changed in the brake
market is that price remains the driving factor. "There's
still a lot of pricing pressure in the market, especially in the
second lines and low-end economy applications," he said.
Pennsylvania Brake Bonding's Sawa shares the same sentiment. "Rebuilders
are still having a hard time getting the proper pricing for their
work because of pricing pressures," he said. "A lot
of the brand name manufacturers are offering (lower cost) secondary
Paul Schuck a managing partner of Undercar Express, a Cleveland,
OH, brake caliper rebuilding business, said the issue of cost
containment is consistent with virtually any business today. "Today's
business environment is characterized by constant pressure to
reduce costs," Schuck said. "We rebuilders are often
faced with price increases from suppliers, and often at the same
time, mandatory price decreases from customers."
Util's Rhodes said vehicle improvements from the OEMs also impact
today's rebuilder. Rhodes said rear brake systems on vehicles
such as the Toyota Corolla and many GM cars are being designed
with thicker brake linings. "We're coming into the age of
the front-wheel drive vehicles where the rear axles are expected
to last a vehicle's lifetime," Rhodes said. "If you
buy into that concept, then during the lifetime of that vehicle,
it won't need a rear brake job."Because of these changes,
Rhodes and others in the industry believe the demand for shoes
is decreasing. "When it comes to brake shoes, we're definitely
being cut out of the arena," Rhodes said. Rhodes says the
market has already seen two sets of pads replaced before a vehicle's
shoes need replaced, adding the industry is closing in on a replacement
factor of three sets of pads per one set of shoes. "If a
set of front pads are lasting to 20,000 and beyond, you're looking
at more than 60,000 miles before the rear brakes need work,"
he said. "That's maybe four years before we even have the
opportunity to do a brake job on the rear."
Sawa said some industry estimates show 85% of the brake service
done on vehicles today is on front brakes. "We're already
seeing front brakes to rear brake replacement at a ratio of 3
to 1," he explained. "Yes, this definitely has some
negative connotations for rebuilders."
But rebuilders need not entirely despair. The latest report from
the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) predicts
that by the year 2000, a new car's expected useful vehicle life
(EUVL) will be just under 15 years. Frank Hampshire, director
of research for MEMA, said although OEM quality and technology
has added to the life span of modern vehicles, it also means less
trips to new car dealerships.
"Cars today definitely last longer than they used to,"
Hampshire said. "This has major implications not only for
our industry's vehicle makers and their suppliers, but also for
the aftermarket which services and maintains those cars and trucks."
And Sawa said the OEM's design trend of four-wheel disc brakes
on some luxury vehicles is making a U-turn back to rear brake
shoe applications. "There's been a bit of a comeback of having
rear brake shoes returned to some of these vehicles, which is
good news for rebuilders," he said, "although the anti-lock
braking systems (ABS) designs seem to work better with four-wheel
disc brake units."
Rhodes said the longer-life of today's vehicles, along with niche
markets and new opportunities for rebuilding ABS units, are helpful
to rebuilders. "Because I'm in this industry, I'm emotionally
partial to the market and I would like to state that the long
term brake market will improve," Rhodes explained. "If
we use history as any kind of indicator ñ and if using
history is even a valid measuring gauge anymore ñ I believe
the work will again come back to us. Once we get some age on these
cars out there today, that's when we'll get to work on them."
According to a 1997 brake installers survey provided by MarketScope®,
a market research division of Babcox Publications, the percentage
of rebuilt replacement brake parts installed by brake shops across
the country is 32.4%. This is a bit down from the 1996 survey
response of 33.5% of rebuilt brake parts installed on vehicles.
The 1995 response was 31.8%.
Changes in vehicle design, such as the introduction of front-wheel
drive back in the 1980s, has played an important role in the development
of friction materials used today. The shift to front-wheel drive
and downsized brake systems has required a new generation of high-temperature
friction materials such as semi-metallic. Semi-metallic disc brake
pads, with their high steel content and ability to absorb and
dissipate heat rapidly, have come into widespread use in the last
Sawa said small and large rebuilders each face the challenges
of changing friction material formulations. "Downsized automotive
braking systems on front-wheel drive cars have prompted the use
of semi-metallic and nonasbestos organic friction materials,"
Sawa said, adding that the development of new formulas of semi-metallics
and nonasbestos organics has created a proliferation of friction
Gil Laycock, executive director of the Friction Materials Standards
Institute, Inc. (FMSI) located in Monroe, CT, which catalogs disc
applications, said the number of disc brake total identities assigned
has grown immensely. "So far this year there are up to 732
identities assigned by FMSI," Laycock said. "That number
has nearly doubled from the 387 identities through 1988."
Laycock said as friction material changes, so too does the designs
of the pads. "Rebuilders continue to be faced with the issue
of integrally molded (IM) brakes," Laycock said. "The
problem we see for rebuilders is the growing amount of integrally
molded OE brakes. A lot of rebuilders don't have the capabilities
to make replacement parts."
Laycock said nearly all imports today utilize IM brakes, which
are designed to be used at higher temperatures for better stopping
power. "More and more of the domestics are going with the
integrally molded designs," Laycock said. "You obviously
can't rebuild or reassemble these because there's no holes in
Most industry professionals know that the Environmental Protection
Agency's (EPA) proposed ban on asbestos was another factor that
played a role in the development of today's new friction materials.
Announced in 1986, the ban would have required all new vehicles
to have nonasbestos brakes by September, 1993. The aftermarket
would have had until 1996 to change over to nonasbestos materials.
The EPA's proposed ban never materialized because it was overturned
in federal court ó but not before it set in motion a large
scale shift away from asbestos by most friction material suppliers
and vehicle manufacturers. New nonasbestos organic (NAO) friction
materials were introduced to replace asbestos, and were quickly
adopted by vehicle manufacturers.
But in the aftermarket, asbestos is still used in friction material,
though its applications have been greatly reduced. One reason
it's still around is because it's an economical fiber for low
temperature brake applications. Pennsylvania Brake Bonding's Sawa
said his brake rebuilding business is about 85% asbestos free.
"We don't use asbestos in the disc pads anymore," Sawa
said. "But we do still use it in brake shoe linings because
in some cases it's still a competitive issue."
Sawa said most of the asbestos linings in the rebuilding market
are for older vehicles such as pickup trucks and rear-wheel drive
cars that came originally equipped with asbestos shoes and/or
"There's still a lot of good things to say about asbestos,"
Sawa said. "In the shoes, it's very forgiving to the drums
and in the disc pads, asbestos is kind to rotors. These relatively
new materials such as Kevlar® and much of the semi-metallic
materials aren't as kind to the brake parts."
Sawa said even though nonasbestos materials have replaced asbestos
in most standard and premium grade linings, economy grade asbestos
pads and shoes are still available from a number of aftermarket
According to the same Babcox MarketScope report, a survey of brake
installers found semi-metallic friction products are the material
of choice when it comes to brake repair/installation work. Semi-metallic
material was installed by technicians 72.4% of the time this year,
up from 69% in 1996 and 67.4% in 1995.
Use of non-asbestos and asbestos friction materials continued
to drop, according to survey respondents. Non-asbestos materials
were installed in 20.8% of the brake jobs in 1997, down from 23%
in 1996, and 23.1% in 1995. Asbestos materials were installed
in only 6.8% of brake jobs in 1997, down from 8% in 1996 and 9.5%
Leave a mark
One current problem that continues to plague
rebuilders is the issue of tagging or marking brake pads. Many
rebuilders argue that tagging or marking would allow a rebuilder
or installer to easily know if the friction materials contained
asbestos, thus enabling them to know how to properly dispose of
the material. Earlier this year, APRA appealed to brake lining
manufacturers for a universal code system for all non-asbestos
lining so they could be properly disposed of, thereby cutting
down on the high cost of asbestos disposal for rebuilders.
Mike Conlon, Washington legal counsel for APRA, said the FMSI,
too, is looking into a universal marking system. "There have
been attempts to get the friction materials manufacturers to provide
some sort of marking system for the handling and disposal of asbestos
and nonasbestos materials, but nothing yet has been adopted in
the industry," Conlon said.
Conlon explained tagging or marking could aid in any special disposal
requirements for nonasbestoes materials. Conlon warned some of
the asbestos replacement materials may have toxicity problems,
too. "There's speculation that the EPA could come up with
requirements for disposing of semi-metallic materials down the
road," said Conlon. "With a materials marking system
already in place, adhering to material disposal requirements wouldn't
be as difficult to do."
Installers, too, look for codes to make sure they're replacing
a set of pads or shoes with ones that have the same friction characteristics.
Though edge codes are not an absolute standard for comparing one
friction material to another, these markings will tell something
about the hot and cold friction characteristics of the linings.
But the markings are based on a simple "Chase" test
performed with a one-inch square sample of material using a special
laboratory procedure. Edge codes alone don't give the whole picture
because the actual performance characteristics of two different
brands of brake linings with identical edge code ratings may perform
quite differently when actually installed on the same vehicle.
The industry has been working on this issue for a number of years
now, and may have developed a solution. According to the Brake
Manufacturers Council, Fort Lee, NJ, the Society of Automotive
Engineers (SAE) has developed a dyno test procedure (J1652) that
correlates disc brake friction performance to a 1992 Chevy Caprice.
The testing specifications have been published by SAE. A similar
test (J1653) is still being developed through SAE that would do
the same thing for the rear brake shoes.
The SAE dyno tests are designed to make "real world"
comparisons between friction materials possible so replacement
linings can be more closely matched to OE linings. But the current
SAE J1652 dyno test has only been verified for one particular
vehicle application. Some question whether this same test will
generate good data for other vehicle applications, or whether
new test procedures will have to be developed for different types
of vehicles and brake systems. Some industry leaders believe that
if it takes more than a couple of basic test procedures to generate
accurate real world comparisons between friction materials, the
chance of a new edge code rating system being developed and adopted
The Brake Manufacturer's Council has been studying this issue
in hopes that a new edge code rating system will elevate the overall
level of friction performance in the aftermarket. Some in the
industry argue such a rating system is needed because there are
no safety regulations that apply to aftermarket brake linings
today. Brake linings in new vehicles must pass a federal performance
test ñ Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 135
ñ which requires burnished brakes to bring a vehicle to
a halt within 204 feet from 60 mph. The FMVSS 135 was developed
in 1995 in an effort to harmonize U.S. brake standards with international
standards for those vehicles.
Sam Daniel of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) said at this point there are no comparable standards for
aftermarket linings. "These standards do not have any jurisdiction
over rebuilt or remanufactured brake parts or linings," he
The NHTSA has tested aftermarket brake linings and found that
most friction materials are acceptable. But NHTSA has also voiced
concerns that need to be addressed if regulations are to be avoided.
The development of a new rating system would allow the industry
to police itself and identify friction materials that are marginal
or fail to meet minimum performance standards.
One way aftermarket brake manufacturers can verify if their products
are consistent with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards is
through a Dual Dynamometer Differential Effectiveness Analysis
(D3EA) developed by Greening Testing Laboratories, Detroit,
MI. According to Greening Testing Laboratories' Charles Greening,
Jr., the D3EA protocol evaluates brake friction materials
in vehicle specific hardware and test conditions. "By applying
criteria based upon D3EA, friction material performance
can be compared to the full system performance requirements of
FMVSS 105 or FMVSS 135," Greening said.
Dr. Thomas Flaim, who created the D3EA testing technology,
said it is an analytical process that translates the performance
provisions of FMVSS into effectiveness limits which can be applied
to the laboratory tests. "Vehicles can have different effectiveness
requirements, so it is essential to have several platform configurations
available," Flaim said. "To make the challenge even
more interesting, the same friction material can produce different
effectiveness levels in various vehicle brake systems. D3EA allows
the user to identify friction materials suitable for use in the
Greening said a certification seal will be applied to replacement
materials meeting the platform specific criteria. McHenry, IL-based
Brake Parts, Inc., manufacturer of Raybestos brakes is the first
aftermarket brake supplier to adopt D3EA validations; D3EA validations
are available to any friction material manufacturer.
Undercar Express' Schuck said with the average
age of vehicles on today's roads continuing to increase, the remanufactured
caliper market has a bright future. Schuck explained Undercar
Express' Road Ready remanufactured brake caliper line includes
such features as phenolic pistons, new rubber parts and bleeders
and noise suppression shims.
Schuck said the idea of a complete, ready-for-installation caliper
is already popular on the West Coast. "It's really taken
off like crazy out there; we're also seeing a lot of interest
in it on the East Coast and in the Midwest," he said.
Schuck said his new company is rebuilding about 4,000 Road Ready
calipers a month. "We expect this product to be about 90%
to 95% of our total sales," he said.
Schuck said he believes the reason for the popularity of this
niche market is the time savings it provides to installers. "These
types of calipers may cost more money, but the installer gets
more value for that cost because they can reduce service bay time
as much as 50%," said Schuck.
"This is important to the installer who can use his bays
more efficiently. We're seeing a trend where the number of service
station and garage bays are getting smaller, while at the same
time, there's a growing number of older cars on the road."
Schuck said parts proliferation concerns also are prominent in
the caliper rebuilding market. "Parts proliferation continues
to be a critical issue in brake parts rebuilding," he said.
"With a rebuilt product such as a caliper, much of the time
used by the installer to look up and order parts from a catalog
has been eliminated. These calipers are ready to hang." Schuck
used the example of the Honda Accord, which features many different
"There's differences in the caliper for the Japanese-built
Accords compared to those built in the U.S., said Schuck. "And
the two-door version caliper is different than the four-door version.
For instance, the piston in the two-door vehicle may be 2mm smaller.
There's so many versions of calipers for the Accord that when
we get an order for one, we'll joke and ask, 'what color is the
Thomas Moalli, vice president of TEK-MOTIVE, Inc., East Haven,
CT, said there seems to be more attention being directed toward
severe-duty brakes and application specific materials. Moalli,
whose company manufactures disc brake pads for severe-duty vehicles
such as police cruisers, ambulances and taxis, said these applications
could provide a high-quality niche market opportunity for rebuilders.
"Because of how these emergency vehicles are used and what
they are used for, higher speeds and heavy stop-and-go-driving,
a lot of these vehicles are being installed with higher-quality
braking materials," he said. "There's more of a concern
that these vehicles be equipped with braking systems that can
handle more aggressive driving."
Moalli said the market for severe-duty brakes has been around
for quite a while, but it was never given that much attention.
"Severe-duty applications have always been there, but only
now are they being addressed by the people in marketing throughout
our industry," said Moalli. "The information about severe-duty
applications is even being directed at the general public now,
to those who may want these performance materials for their own
Other disc brake pad manufactures, such as Forodo America, Inc.,
have used the application specific market to their advantage.
Bill Humphrey, Ferodo America's vice president of aftermarket
sales and marketing, said Ferodo America's SpectraOne line,
originally introduced in 1994, was the first true application
specific disc pad offered. Forodo recently expanded its SpectraOne
application line to include HyperMet pads, a specially-formulated,
high-heat, semi-metallic compound that was developed for severe-duty
For a complete list of brake components and friction material
manufacturers, see Automotive Rebuilder's January 1997 Automotive/Truck
Earlier this year, APRA also made available a report on the economics
and feasibility of remanufacturing ABS brakes. The project was
completed through the Rochester Institute of Technology and funded
by APRA. Bill Gager, president of APRA said the report shows there
are opportunities in ABS for rebuilders.
"We are very pleased with the report published by the College
of Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology,"
Gager said. "The work done by Dr. Nabil Nasr and his team
will be very helpful to members of the rebuilding industry as
they evaluate whether or not to rebuild ABS units."
Gager said those who order a copy of the report will also be able
to telephone Nasr and his team to get answers to questions they
may have. For more information on the report, contact APRA at