The modern premises of Italian brake giant Brembo.
In contrast, these scenes from a foundry in China show the primitive conditions in which the brake discs are made
OF the essential items that vehicles need replacing on a regular basis, brakes don’t get much press.
Tyres, we are constantly reminded, should be checked all the time. Oil needs looking at every week. And even wiper blades should get attention at this time of year.
Good brakes are fundamental, especially as cars get heavier and require more stopping power, yet they often get overlooked. Perhaps it is because they are hard to get at. But even if your discs are checked regularly, that may not be enough.
There are increasing concerns that simply putting on a new brake disc from a reputable manufacturer may be a risky business.
Italian brake giant Brembo is campaigning for a change in European legislation after its tests revealed a worryingly high level of defective aftermarket and replacement parts on sale across Europe, including the UK.
Andrea Taschini, aftermarket business unit director for Brembo, says: ‘People are importing braking products from all over the world without any quality control. The European community never thought to make a law regarding brake discs.’
TESTING, 1, 2, 3
HE says: ‘People were asking why they could buy discs for 30% less from developing countries so we went out and bought a number of competitors’ discs that we felt were jeopardising the market.’ Brembo collected more than 5,000 brake discs at random from stores across Europe, from approximately 10 brands, and evaluated them at its brake disc testing centre in Italy.
Each disc was tested for safety, comfort and mounting (how the disc fits the hub it is designed for).
The results were startling, claimed Brembo. Some 40% of the discs tested had a serious defect and 5% of them were faulty from a safety point of view.
Poor-quality metal and workmanship meant the channel between the disc surface and the hub was often weak. Several examples were cracked or warped.
Taschini blames disc manufacturers in developing countries such as China, Brazil and India. ‘There is a low cost of work that means they can reproduce more or less whatever they want,’ he says. ‘But the difference between a real disc and a fake one is enormous.’
Taschini says primitive foundries are at the heart of the problem – dangerous places where workers toil manually around boiling metal, with none of the safety or automated systems enjoyed by more affluent countries.
As a result, the mix of ingredients is not at the standard required for optimum safety. Often, the metal is too soft, with too low a carbon content and air bubbles or sand in the metal, which weakens its overall structure. As well as safety issues, Brembo found numerous problems that would affect the performance of the disc.
An uneven disc with poor hole marking for mounting on to the hub will vibrate under braking. Taschini says: ‘There is widespread bad production quality, scant quality control and a failure to correspond with manufacturer criteria.’
Bill Duffy, chief operating officer for Nationwide Autocentres, said he was aware of lower-quality products on the market but added: ‘For our network of over 200 service and repair centres, we only buy brake discs that are manufactured to the highest standards and tolerances.
‘Generally, we source aftermarket brake components from our main supply partner Unipart Automotive or the manufacturer’s dealers.
‘We demand that these supplies use OE-specification materials regardless of whether this is cast material or carbon fibre and that these have the correct disc thickness variation (DTV) and disc run-out spec and dimensions. This is vitally important to avoid the main causes of brake problems, brake judder and squealing and premature wear.
‘We regard our customers’ safety to be paramount and in line with our guarantee to only fit quality components.
‘Since 2001, there has been an E-marking requirement on car brake pads and we understand that such a scheme is being considered for discs but we don’t know when or if this will happen.’ A spokesman for Kwik-Fit said: ‘Kwik-Fit only sources quality brake components from trusted accredited suppliers who provide manufacturing origin and quality assurance of braking components.
‘Prior-to-fitment visual checks establish that the replacement is free from obvious defects and that it matches the brake component being removed.’
Brembo believes the law in Europe must be changed to make disc suppliers more accountable for their products. Such legislation exists in the US, where every disc is traceable back to its source – but this is not the case in Europe.
Brembo claims to be the only brake supplier that makes its own discs rather than buying them in and is lobbying the European Community for a change in the law.
But Taschini believes this is unlikely to happen until 2015 at the earliest and is now targeting fleets, the general public and mechanics to try to hammer home the message.
In Switzerland, the firm visited more than 1,000 mechanics and discovered that 18% had found new discs with faults in them.
The message to fleets is that because of the influx of discs from third-world countries, it may not be enough to ensure replacement discs are from a reputable brand.
Taschini says maintenance suppliers should ensure that discs are checked by mechanics before being fixed to a car.
He fears that unless action is taken, some suppliers may be tempted to cut costs by buying brake parts from cheap sources.