Are Big Brake Kits Worth It? Performance vs. Cost Debate

If you drive your vehicle hard and have noticed brake fade or poor braking performance, upgrading to big brakes may be worth considering. Big brake kits replace stock brake components like rotors, calipers and pads with larger versions to significantly improve stopping power. But are these upgrades really necessary for your vehicle? Let’s take a detailed look at what big brake kits entail and whether investing in one is worthwhile.

Here’s a quick answer: For drivers who demand maximum braking performance, big brake kits are often worth the investment. Upgrading to larger rotors, calipers and pads significantly improves stopping power, brake feel and fade resistance during repeated hard stops. Big brakes provide better control at speed and can be crucial for safe track or performance driving.

What is a Big Brake Kit?

A big brake kit consists of larger-than-stock brake components engineered to provide stronger stopping power. The upgraded parts work together to dissipate heat, improve pedal feel, and resist brake fade during repeated hard stops.

The centerpiece of any big brake kit are the larger rotors and multi-piston calipers. Oversized brake rotors have increased thickness and diameter compared to factory rotors. This provides greater surface area for the brake pads to contact. Rotors may be one-piece or two-piece directional vaned rotors designed for optimal airflow cooling as heat builds up during heavy braking.

Big brake kits also include powerful multi-piston calipers to evenly clamp down on the larger rotors. More pistons allow the caliper to apply braking force across the entire rotor surface area. Stainless steel brake lines offer minimal expansion under pressure for consistent, firm pedal feel capable of precise modulation.

Of course, high-performance brake pads are included to match the larger rotors and calipers. Advanced materials like carbon fiber or ceramic provide maximum bite and heat resistance.

Why Upgrade to Big Brakes?

Here are the main reasons you may want to upgrade your brakes:

  • Better stopping power – Larger rotors, calipers and pads significantly improve braking force for shorter stopping distances.
  • Reduced brake fade – Increased thermal capacity and airflow dissipates heat better to resist fade during repeated hard stops.
  • Consistent pedal feel – Stainless lines and high-temp fluid maintain good pedal feel lap after lap.
  • Balanced braking – Matching front to rear brakes improves overall control under hard braking.
  • Safety at high speeds – Stronger brakes inspire confidence when driving fast by providing greater control.

So in activities like track days, autocross and road racing, the enhanced performance of big brakes makes them well worth it. Big brakes are also useful for towing heavy loads which require longer stopping distances.

Do You Really Need Them?

Upgrading your brakes is not always necessary. Many stock brake systems are robust enough for everyday driving needs. Big brake kits are mainly beneficial for enthusiasts who push their vehicles to the limit and demand maximum braking performance.

Carefully evaluate if your current brakes are limiting your driving experience before investing in a big brake upgrade. Signs you may benefit from increased stopping power include:

  • Brake fade occurs during repeated hard stops
  • Long stopping distances compared to similar vehicles
  • Excessive brake dust from stock pads wearing quickly
  • “Mushy” pedal feel from fluid overheating
  • Front-end dives excessively under hard braking
  • Wheels lock up easily with stock brakes

If you aren’t experiencing these issues, you can likely stick with stock brake components or simpler solutions like performance brake pads. Big brake kits are mainly for enthusiasts who drive aggressively and are looking to maximize braking performance.

Big Brake Kit Brands

If you decide to upgrade, go with a reputable big brake kit brand engineered specifically for your vehicle. Here are some top options:

BremboItalian brand offering Gran Turismo kits for street use with minimal noise and dust.
StopTechBalanced kits ideal for track and aggressive driving. Multiple rotor and caliper options.
WilwoodAmerican brand with dynapro kits for ultimate track use. Wide range of customization.
EBCWell-priced kits with unique slotted and dimpled rotors to dissipate gases and minimize pad glazing.

Installing Big Brakes

While it is possible to install a big brake kit yourself, the job requires mechanical skill and auto knowledge. Removing the stock brakes, matching components and adjusting the proportioning valve for proper braking bias can be tricky.

For most, having a professional mechanic install the big brake kit is recommended. You’ll pay about $800-1200 for a shop to install front and rear big brakes. This ensures proper installation and testing for safe operation.

Always bed-in new performance brake pads and rotors properly after install. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended procedure to transfer an even layer of friction material for maximum braking effectiveness.

Big Brake Kit Cost

A complete big brake kit with front and rear upgrades can range from $2000 up to $5000 depending on the vehicle and options selected. Generally, you can expect to pay:

  • Entry-level kit – $2000-$2500
  • Mid-range kit – $3000-$4000
  • High-end kit – $4000-$5000

Kits for lighter vehicles tend to be less expensive than those for heavy trucks and SUVs which require larger hardware. You can reduce costs by only doing front brakes, but this may introduce braking imbalance.

While not cheap, the sizable improvement in braking performance is well worth the investment for many drivers. And quality big brake components can last many years, paying dividends down the road.

Big Brake Kit Maintenance

Proper maintenance is key to getting the most from your big brakes. Here are some tips:

  • Check brake fluid monthly and change every 2 years. Use high-temp DOT 4 fluid.
  • Clean caliper pistons and lubricate pins annually to prevent sticking.
  • Check brake pads every 5,000 miles. Aggressive drivers may need new pads every 15,000-20,000 miles.
  • Resurface or replace rotors when installing new pads.
  • Flush brake lines every 3 years and bleed the system to remove air.
  • Immediately stop driving if brake pedal goes to the floor as pads may be completely worn.

Follow the pad manufacturer’s bed-in procedure to maintain maximum braking friction. Avoid constantly riding the brakes when not needed so they stay cool.

Are Big Brakes Worth It: Final Verdict

While pricey, a properly engineered big brake kit can vastly improve braking performance if your driving demands it. The enhanced stopping power and resistance to fade provides better control and safely at speed.

Carefully consider if your brakes are limiting your vehicle’s potential and research quality big brake upgrade options before committing. Proper installation and ongoing maintenance is crucial. For many hard-core enthusiasts, the benefits of big brakes outweigh the cost.

Frequently Asked Questions

What vehicles need big brake kits?

High-performance sports cars and vehicles used for track days, autocross, road racing or towing heavy loads benefit most from big brake kits. Heavier trucks, SUVs and muscle cars also often need upgraded brakes.

Is it better to buy a pre-made kit or individual components?

Pre-made kits ensure all the parts work together properly and are balanced front to rear. Buying individual pieces risks compatibility issues.

Can I install big brakes myself?

While possible for mechanically inclined DIYers, most people are better off having a professional shop do the install to ensure correct configuration.

Will bigger brakes make my car stop faster?

Yes, properly installed big brakes can significantly reduce stopping distances thanks to stronger clamping force and friction. But tires play a big role too.

How long do big brake kits last?

A quality big brake kit can last 50,000 miles or more, but pad life comes down to driving style. Aggressive drivers may need new pads every 15,000-20,000 miles.

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