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Tips for Improving the Brakes on Your Truck

Posted in How To on December 1, 2001
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Contributors: The ManufacturersTrent Riddle
Photographers: The Manufacturers
Brake lines are a vital component of your truck’s brake system. Not only should the lines be in top shape, they also must be of the correct size to ensure proper fluid flow and pressure. If you upgrade your brake system, consider hard lines and braided-steel flex lines. A reinforced flex line, like this one from Classic Tube, will expand under pressure less than a standard rubber line would, thus allowing for more pressure at the brake pads. Brake lines are a vital component of your truck’s brake system. Not only should the lines be in top shape, they also must be of the correct size to ensure proper fluid flow and pressure. If you upgrade your brake system, consider hard lines and braided-steel flex lines. A reinforced flex line, like this one from Classic Tube, will expand under pressure less than a standard rubber line would, thus allowing for more pressure at the brake pads.
The easiest method by which to improve your truck’s braking performance is to upgrade to a higher-quality brake-pad material. Pads such as these HPS (high-performance street) pads from Hawk Performance are said to offer better stopping under repetitive heavy breaking situations. The easiest method by which to improve your truck’s braking performance is to upgrade to a higher-quality brake-pad material. Pads such as these HPS (high-performance street) pads from Hawk Performance are said to offer better stopping under repetitive heavy breaking situations.
Cross-drilled or slotted rotors (seen here) are another way to improve braking. The fact is that as you apply the brakes,   the pads break down and generate dust, and the heat buildup generates a thin layer of hot gases between the pad and rotor. Venting the rotor surface allows dust and gas to quickly escape from between the pads and rotor. Cross-drilled or slotted rotors (seen here) are another way to improve braking. The fact is that as you apply the brakes, the pads break down and generate dust, and the heat buildup generates a thin layer of hot gases between the pad and rotor. Venting the rotor surface allows dust and gas to quickly escape from between the pads and rotor.
Owners of Toyota trucks can upgrade to Ultra Cool cross-drilled rotors from Northwest Off-Road Specialists. These rotors are said to run 40-percent cooler than stock. The rotors come standard with a set of Northwest’s premium semi-metallic pads. Owners of Toyota trucks can upgrade to Ultra Cool cross-drilled rotors from Northwest Off-Road Specialists. These rotors are said to run 40-percent cooler than stock. The rotors come standard with a set of Northwest’s premium semi-metallic pads.
An adjustable brake proportioning valve should be installed in your brake system when making upgrades so that you can dial in the proper front-to-rear brake balance. Lifted trucks with stock brakes may need one of these vital components, as the weight transfer is greater on a lifted rig. This means you may need more front brake pressure, and a little less on the rear, to help you stop better. An adjustable brake proportioning valve should be installed in your brake system when making upgrades so that you can dial in the proper front-to-rear brake balance. Lifted trucks with stock brakes may need one of these vital components, as the weight transfer is greater on a lifted rig. This means you may need more front brake pressure, and a little less on the rear, to help you stop better.
Here you see an example of a cross-drilled and slotted rotor. This unit from Baer is a larger-than-stock rotor that increases the leverage and surface area of the brake system. These 14-inch rotors are a direct replacement for late-model GM 1/2-ton trucks but will require a 20-inch or larger wheel. Here you see an example of a cross-drilled and slotted rotor. This unit from Baer is a larger-than-stock rotor that increases the leverage and surface area of the brake system. These 14-inch rotors are a direct replacement for late-model GM 1/2-ton trucks but will require a 20-inch or larger wheel.
Owners of late-model 4x4 trucks can upgrade to a set of cross-drilled rotors and metal-matrix pads from Stillen Motorsports. These rotors and pads are for 3/4-ton trucks and are a direct replacement for the stock application. Owners of late-model 4x4 trucks can upgrade to a set of cross-drilled rotors and metal-matrix pads from Stillen Motorsports. These rotors and pads are for 3/4-ton trucks and are a direct replacement for the stock application.
Another way to increase your truck’s stopping ability is to increase the fluid line pressure at the brakes. Late-model trucks usually have a dual-diaphragm vacuum booster that effectively doubles the line pressure at the calipers. In addition to doubling the diaphragm pressure, increasing the booster diameter to the maximum that will fit also helps increase fluid-line pressure. Here you see a dual-diaphragm booster and master combination from Master Power Brakes. Another way to increase your truck’s stopping ability is to increase the fluid line pressure at the brakes. Late-model trucks usually have a dual-diaphragm vacuum booster that effectively doubles the line pressure at the calipers. In addition to doubling the diaphragm pressure, increasing the booster diameter to the maximum that will fit also helps increase fluid-line pressure. Here you see a dual-diaphragm booster and master combination from Master Power Brakes.
If it’s done right, upgrading from rear drum brakes to discs will also help your truck’s stopping ability. Kits are usually the best way to go for a rear disc upgrade. Here you see a rear disc kit for 9-inch Ford rearends from Currie Enterprises. If it’s done right, upgrading from rear drum brakes to discs will also help your truck’s stopping ability. Kits are usually the best way to go for a rear disc upgrade. Here you see a rear disc kit for 9-inch Ford rearends from Currie Enterprises.
As we all know, power discs stop much better than manual drums. If you have an older 4x4 you will definitely benefit by upgrading your truck’s front drums to a disc system. Seen here is a drum-to-disc conversion from Wild Horses 4x4. This kit is the perfect way to begin a brake system upgrade on an early Bronco. Wild Horses also offers rear disc-brake conversion kits. As we all know, power discs stop much better than manual drums. If you have an older 4x4 you will definitely benefit by upgrading your truck’s front drums to a disc system. Seen here is a drum-to-disc conversion from Wild Horses 4x4. This kit is the perfect way to begin a brake system upgrade on an early Bronco. Wild Horses also offers rear disc-brake conversion kits.
One-ton-and-up trucks, and most diesel vehicles, use the Hydroboost brake system to deliver more pressure than a mere vacuum booster can provide. In this type of system the boost comes from the power-steering pump. If you have a fullsize truck you can look for a system from a heavier-class truck of the same era. The Four X Doctor offers a bolt-in system for Jeep CJs, YJs, and classic Broncos. The company is developing a kit for Land Cruiser FJ40s. One-ton-and-up trucks, and most diesel vehicles, use the Hydroboost brake system to deliver more pressure than a mere vacuum booster can provide. In this type of system the boost comes from the power-steering pump. If you have a fullsize truck you can look for a system from a heavier-class truck of the same era. The Four X Doctor offers a bolt-in system for Jeep CJs, YJs, and classic Broncos. The company is developing a kit for Land Cruiser FJ40s.
TSM offers owners of 3/4- and 1-ton GM and Ford trucks the ability to upgrade to a rear disc-brake kit like the one seen here. TSM offers owners of 3/4- and 1-ton GM and Ford trucks the ability to upgrade to a rear disc-brake kit like the one seen here.
Here you see a two-wheel-drive big-brake kit from Stainless Steel Brakes. Stainless Steel Brakes also offers big-brake kits for owners of Ford, GM, and Jeep 4x4 vehicles. Care should be taken whenever considering a bigger-than-stock brake upgrade, as use of larger brake parts may require larger-diameter wheels. Here you see a two-wheel-drive big-brake kit from Stainless Steel Brakes. Stainless Steel Brakes also offers big-brake kits for owners of Ford, GM, and Jeep 4x4 vehicles. Care should be taken whenever considering a bigger-than-stock brake upgrade, as use of larger brake parts may require larger-diameter wheels.
Here you see that a 15-inch wheel will not fit on an ’02 Ram 1500 front-brake system. This front disc-brake setup was designed from the factory to use 17-inch or larger wheels. You may have this same problem when upgrading to an aftermarket big-brake kit. Here you see that a 15-inch wheel will not fit on an ’02 Ram 1500 front-brake system. This front disc-brake setup was designed from the factory to use 17-inch or larger wheels. You may have this same problem when upgrading to an aftermarket big-brake kit.
The lifeblood of your brake system is the fluid. A brake system generates a lot of heat, so your truck’s brake fluid must be able to withstand high temperatures. Wilwood’s Hi-Temp racing brake fluid has a dry boiling point of 600 degrees Fahrenheit, low viscosity, and low compressibility. All these factors contribute to make it a superior brake fluid for severe-duty use. The lifeblood of your brake system is the fluid. A brake system generates a lot of heat, so your truck’s brake fluid must be able to withstand high temperatures. Wilwood’s Hi-Temp racing brake fluid has a dry boiling point of 600 degrees Fahrenheit, low viscosity, and low compressibility. All these factors contribute to make it a superior brake fluid for severe-duty use.

Stock trucks stop fairly well. But add a lift, bigger tires, and several hundred pounds in bumpers, tools, and a winch, and your stopping distances increase dramatically. The reasons for this increased stopping distance involves the added weight of your truck’s wheels, tires, and other gear, along with the increased rotational inertia of those bigger, heavier tires, and the greater weight transfer your lift has created.

First, about that rotational inertia. Did you ever play with tops when you were a kid? If so, you may have noticed that larger tops, those that weigh more, would tend to spin for a longer time than smaller ones. Your bigger, heavier tires act the same way. They want to keep spinning, or rotating, rather than come to a stop when you want them to.

Now, weight transfer: The taller your truck, the more weight is shifted to the front suspension, and thus to the front brakes, when you attempt to stop. At some point, your truck’s front brakes are working to their limit and its rear brakes are just along for the ride. Improving your truck’s braking system is something that is easy to do in small steps, and you can expect small gains from each small upgrade. Or, if you prefer, you can make one large leap and install a completely new brake system that will allow your truck to stop better than it ever did when it was stock.

The first step in improving your brake system, assuming that it is in good condition to start with, is to upgrade the brake pads and shoes. The compounds, or friction materials, that a brake pad or shoe is made from have a dramatic effect on how your truck will stop. Friction materials generally come in four types: organic, semi-metallic, metallic, and composite compounds. Organic compounds are the cheapest to make but have some drawbacks when used for severe-duty applications. Organic compounds tend to heat up easily and glaze over. When the surface of the compound has glazed, braking forces are greatly reduced. Metallic compounds usually are composed of iron or copper compounds.

They offer great heat resistance, low glazing tendencies, and long life, but often accelerate wear of the rotors or drums. In the case of semi-metallic pads, the metal is blended with organic friction materials to improve stopping while reducing the abrasive qualities of the metal component in the friction material. Composite-friction materials are just making their way into the marketplace. They offer the best properties of metallic and organic friction materials but are expensive and hard to find. The bottom line with friction materials is to try different types until you find the one that works the best for your driving needs. In most cases they are relatively inexpensive and are, especially in the case of pads for disc brakes, easy to install.

The next step after upgrading your pads is to upgrade your truck’s brake rotors. By installing slotted or cross-drilled rotors, you increase the cooling of the front brake system. A cooler brake is a more efficient brake. Besides upgrading your rotors, you also can upsize them. Brake kits that offer larger-than-stock rotors, calipers, and even rear drums all contribute to better braking. The idea is simple: The more area a brake pad covers, the more pressure it can apply to the rotor; and the more pressure it applies, the faster it can slow your truck. The larger surface area will offer a larger friction surface and a larger area in which to dissipate the heat generated by braking. In addition to more surface area, a larger-diameter brake rotor or drum has more leverage to help the stopping process. Care should be taken when considering a big-brake kit upgrade, however. Many of the bigger systems require a 17-inch or larger wheel to fit the massive rotors and calipers.

In addition to upgrading to larger rotors and calipers, you also can upgrade to multi-piston calipers. Oftentimes, the calipers in stock brake systems use just a single piston. These are called floating calipers, and exert pressure on both sides of the rotor, even though they have a piston on just one side of the caliper. They work by applying pressure directly to a pad on one side of the rotor, and indirectly to the pad on the other side, through the caliper’s floating design. You can upgrade to two-, four- or six-piston calipers. Many of the latter are non-floating designs and, by virtue of that distinction, apply full brake-line pressure to the pistons on both sides of the caliper. Floating calipers don’t do that.

By increasing the number of pistons, you increase pressure applied to the brake pad. Another way to increase the pressure at the wheels is to increase the size of the brake booster. The larger the diameter of the booster, the more pressure it will apply to the brakes. Dual-diaphragm brake boosters effectively double the booster’s internal surface area and output pressure without increasing its diameter. If you find that even the biggest vacuum booster isn’t enough for your needs, you can upgrade to even more assist by installing a Hydroboost system. With this system, the power steering pump is used to help increase brake pressure.

One final thing to consider is upgrading to a booster or disc brakes if you don’t already have them. Owners of older trucks often can swap on the factory brakes from a later-year model truck by the same manufacturer.

Additionally, there are many aftermarket disc-brake conversion kits available, both for the front and rear axles. The options you have for brake system upgrades are almost unlimited, but one thing is certain: No matter what you do to make your truck stop better, you’ll be glad you did.

Sources

Four X Doctor
Burbank, CA 91502
818-845-2194
http://www.fourxdoctor.com
Currie Enterprises
Corona, CA 92880
714-528-6957
http://www.currieenterprises.com
Stillen
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
800-891-1058
http://www.stillen.com
Summit Racing
Akron, OH
800-230-3030
SummitRacing.com
Wilwood Engineering
Camarillo, CA 93012
805-388-1188
www.wilwood.com
Brembo
Plymouth, MI 48170
http://www.brembo.com/US
Master Power Brakes
Mooresville, NC 28117
888-351-8785
http://www.mpbrakes.com
Inline Tube
Shelby Township, MI 48315
800-385-9452
www.inlinetube.com
Classic Tube
Lancaster, NY
800-882-3711
http://www.classictube.com
Drivetrain Warehouse
Compton, CA 90220
877-474-4821
http://www.drivetrainwarehouse.com
James Duff Enterprises
Knoxville, TN 37921
865-938-6696
www.jamesduff.com
4Wheel Parts
800-421-1050
www.4wheelparts.com
Wild Horses
www.wildhorses4x4.com
Downey Off Road
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670-3221
www.downeyoff-road.com
Russell Performance Products
Daytona Beach, FL 32114
904-253-8980
www.russellperformance.com
Stainless Steel Brakes
Clarence, NY
800-448-7722
ssbrakes.com
Baer Inc.
Phoenix, AZ 85017
Power Performance Group Inc.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Praise Dyno Brake
Royse City, TX 75189

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