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Choosing the best grease for the job

When we think about improving a vehicle’s mechanical efficiency, emphasis is often placed solely on parts. Although using the best parts for the job provides an obvious benefit, complementary products such as brake lubricants are often overlooked, when in fact they are integral to how a braking system operates.

Scott Irwin, Head of Technical Training at TMD Friction discusses the different lubricants available on the market, the issues associated with copper greases and how mechanics can ensure they are using the best grease for the job.

Most garage professionals will agree there is nothing worse than a customer returning with a noise or judder complaint after a brake replacement job. Even when meticulous steps have been taken to clean down the system correctly and conduct all the necessary checks, sometimes the brakes still do not perform quite right. But, why? The answer could lie in the type of brake lubricant being used within the system or the condition of the grease. When visiting garages, it’s not uncommon to see a tin of copper lubricant sitting open on a mechanic’s bench, exposed to the elements of a busy workshop. Should contamination from airborne dirt and moisture occur, the lubricant will become ineffective, causing problems for the brakes if the grease was to be used on the braking system.

The best way to avoid these issues and ensure that you’re using a grease that complements a vehicle’s brakes is to choose a copper- free product. There are several disadvantages of using a substance that contains copper on brakes, which should be enough to discourage mechanics from using them altogether. Firstly, copper-based products cannot withstand high temperatures. This is an issue as it stops the pads from moving freely within the system, causing drag and premature wear as a result. The copper particles can also react with steel and aluminium often found within braking systems, increasing corrosion between these two metals should contact occur.

If you’ve ever had to knock the wheel off from the hub and wonder why, corrosion due to a copper-based lubricant could be the reason. A third issue associated with copper grease is the effect it can have on a vehicle’s ABS, ESP and EPB systems. This is an important issue as brakes become more sophisticated, as year-on-year new electronics are being added to the methods behind how vehicles brake safely. As copper is conductive, the presence of the metal in the braking system can interfere with the magnetic sensors found within a car’s ABS and electronics. If this was to occur, it could cause the ABS to malfunction, which could lead to problems with the vehicle’s warning lights, or potentially cause wheel locking.

Not only this, but copper greases can increase the likelihood of excessive run out when smeared on the surface of a hub, due to the potential contamination risks if left open in the workshop. The maximum run out should be 00.07MM and this should always be tested with a DTI gauge before completing the brake replacement process. Copper-based greases are also unfriendly to the environment as the metal content does not breakdown efficiently, causing contamination to soils, plants and animals.

While it’s clear that the use of copper-based greases can cause problems for mechanics, there are an array of lubricants that do not include metal particles, such as Mintex Cera Tec. The advantages of using this grease are abundant, with the first being that it can withstand the braking system’s high temperatures. This, unlike copper-based lubricants, allows the pads to move freely, eliminating issues such as drag and wear. It can also be used on a vehicle that features various electronics. As the grease is non-conductive and does not contain metal particles the risk of the lubricant effecting the braking system diminishes.

As well as being more suited to how a braking system operates, the product is user-friendly and versatile. One tube of Cera Tec caters to approximately 35 sets of brake pads and it also protects against scratching and corrosion, offering a cost-effective solution to garages.

Albeit a seemingly trusted partner to the seasoned mechanic, it is clear that copper-based lubricants can cause problems for modern- day braking systems. Once a go-to product, times have changed, along with vehicle technologies that have advanced dramatically in recent decades. Today, it’s safe to say that garage professionals are extremely busy and cannot afford for vehicles to come back with complaints. With this in mind, it’s best to eliminate extra work at every possible opportunity, by taking care of the small stuff that will ultimately make the biggest difference.

Mintex, which is part of TMD Friction, provides a complete aftermarket braking solution for millions of cars across the world, and is the name behind the brakes keeping families and motorsport champions safe every day. For further information please visit