Traction control brake pad use isn’t something you’ll typically ever have a conversation about with your mechanic — unless, of course, you get involved in high-performance driving.
Whether it’s autocross, lapping, a driver instruction event or a skid school, any environment where you are asking your vehicle to provide maximum traction or corner quickly can activate the electronic systems designed to enhance your driving experience. Once this happens, brake pad wear can start to accelerate in ways you might not have anticipated.
Let’s take a closer look at how your brakes and traction control system interact.
How Does It Work?
As computer systems became more sophisticated in the 1990s, electronic traction control began to trickle down from the luxury segment and into a greater number of cars. Instead of relying on a mechanical system for preventing wheel spin on the drive axle — such as Torsen gearing or a clutch-type limited-slip design — electronic systems used speed sensors to detect when one wheel was moving faster than the other. Analyzing that sensor data, the electronic traction control would then gently apply individual brakes through the anti-lock braking system in order to reduce the spinning.
There’s a key difference here between mechanical and electronic traction systems. While the mechanical model distributes power to the wheel that has grip, the electronic system merely reduces wheel spin. This can be helpful in maintaining stability, but it’s not quite as effective at improving forward momentum.
How Does It Affect Brake Pads?
In a high-performance environment, traction control brake pad use becomes more of a concern. Primarily, it’s an issue of heat and wear. Since a traction control system will be regularly tapping the brakes on a race track or autocross course in order to deal with the near-constant wheel spin that comes with rapidly accelerating while changing direction, this can build significant heat on the wheels that spin the most. When the time comes to use your brakes to stop, that heat can cause brake fade that reduces the effectiveness of the system.
A secondary issue is wear. If you regularly drive in a high-performance environment with your traction control system activated, your brakes will see significantly more use. This can wear down the pads and rotors much more quickly than they would normally on the street.
What Can You Do About It?
The easiest way to preserve your braking performance on the track, as well as reduce wear, is to limit traction control brake pad use by switching the system off while driving quickly.
While that’s simple to say, in reality, the problem is a little more complicated. For beginners, it can be intimidating to drive aggressively without electronic assistance, and some vehicles even rely on the brake pads as part of their traction management systems to the point where turning it off can compromise acceleration and handling.
Some vehicles will allow you to dial back intervention to the minimum when driving in a controlled environment. This is usually called “track” mode, and it will only kick the traction control in when things really get out of hand. If that’s not possible, however, you’ll have to keep a close eye on your brake temperatures, especially toward the end of a session.
Check out all the brake system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on traction control brake pad use, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.