When it comes to buying brake pads, the choice often comes down to this: OEM or aftermarket? Both types offer great features, but there are some key differences that put one above the other, depending on your needs.
OEM vs. Aftermarket
OEM stands for "original equipment manufacturer". In other words, OEM replacement brake pads have the exact same design, quality, and fitment as the brake pads originally installed on your Volkswagen. Aftermarket is a broad term because it applies to all kinds of brake pads that are not offered by your automaker, ranging from super cheap generic brake pads to premium performance brake pads.
So, instead of thinking about brake pads in terms of "OEM vs aftermarket", it might be better to think about them in the following five ways: Quality, Warranty, Fitment, Cost, and Driving Style. Let’s take a closer look at each of these five factors.
Quality should be one of the top factors in selecting brake pads for your VW. Brake pad quality usually shows up in the following ways:
- Brake pad performance, in terms of stopping distance and brake fade
- Dust output (higher quality = less dust)
- Noise (higher quality = less squeaking, squealing, and vibration)
- Durability (higher quality = longer lasting)
It's nearly impossible to look at a brake pad and tell anything about quality. While some brake pads promise to be dust free or high performance or long-lasting, there's no rating system consumers can rely on, no 3rd party data about pad quality, etc. So, quality often comes down to marketing. Brands with really good marketing are perceived as "high quality," and brands with bad marketing are low quality.
As one of the world's premiere automakers, VW designs and develops brake systems for racing and high performance vehicles.
While we're biased, we say that you don't need to try and figure out quality. OEM brake pads are excellent quality, mostly because automakers have a vested interest in selling excellent quality brake pads. If the OEM brake pads that VW put on a brand new car were squeaky, dusty, didn't work well, and/or didn't last long, that would make people dislike the VW brand.
While there are certainly some aftermarket brands that make good quality brake pads, OEM pads are always good quality.
Brake pad warranties come in all kinds of varieties, but OEM brake pads are always covered by warranty, usually one that’s good for a year. Many aftermarket manufacturers sell their brake pads without a warranty, either to reduce costs, or because they don't want to honor a warranty.
Mostly, a warranty is a statement about quality. OEM VW brake pads are warrantied for a year because VW stands behind the quality of their brake pads.
OEM brake pads are designed to work specifically with your Volkswagen model.
If there's one area where the difference between OEM brake pads and aftermarket pads is most noticeable, it's fitment. Most aftermarket brake pads are good but not perfect replacements for OEM pads. They best aftermarket brake pads will fit "close enough," but not perfectly. The worst aftermarket brake pads will be a different shape, will be a different size, etc.
Fitment is essential when it comes to brake pad performance - an exact fit is the difference between noisy brakes that constantly squeal and brakes that make no noise. Slight differences in the size and shape of a brake pad can have a major impact on performance, brake dust output, and durability.
Replacement brake pads should be a perfect, exact fit. Not a 'one size fits all' pad cut down to be 'close enough.'
Like a lot of things, you get what you pay for when it comes to brake pads. The cheapest brake pads are often made of "universal" pad compounds that are inexpensive, but poorly performing in most applications. The cheapest pads also tend to be used for multiple applications - the same part number for multiple different vehicles.
While universal pads that are 'one size fits all' are very inexpensive, they don't typically offer good performance. That's because pad materials are different from one model to the next - the pads that are installed on a VW Golf<, null, null, null, null)">Touareg.
Finally, it should be noted that the cheapest brake pads may contain asbestos. While asbestos is considered a hazardous material, it's not technically illegal to use it in brake pads. No automakers will use this material (for obvious reasons), nor will most aftermaket brake pad companies. However, there are some very cheap pads that use asbestos to keep costs down.
5. Driving Style
Last but not least, it's important to think about driving style when buying brake pads. If you're racing your VW, your brake pad needs are different than someone who's just driving around town.
Generally speaking, OEM brake pads are a perfect fit for 95% of car owners. Most people's normal driving style is some mix of stop-and-go driving, a little bit of towing and hauling, and a lot of cruising. OEM pads are perfect for this driving style.
However, if you're taking your VW to the track, or towing or hauling the maximum daily, a set of high performance pads from a premium aftermarket brand might be perfect. Just understand that high performance pads have their own quirks (bad cold performance, important break-in and bedding procedures, and limited durability).
OEM brake pads are generally the best choice. While there are some premium aftermarket pads that are great for racing or heavy towing, most of the good quality aftermarket brake pads cost just as much as a set of OEM pads (at least if you buy them online). Considering that OEM VW brake pads offer quality, good performance, and work for nearly every type of use, buying them is an easy decision.