Are More Expensive Brakes Better for Your GMC?

Hey folks, Tom here. So I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about brakes for my GMC Sierra – specifically, whether expensive brakes are really worth it. Let me walk through what I’ve learned from my research and experiences over the years driving these big ol’ trucks.

To start, a little background. My Sierra is a 2015 model with about 120,000 miles on it now. Other than regular maintenance like oil changes and tune-ups, the brakes are really the only major component I’ve had to replace so far. The original brakes lasted a good long while, but I started noticing more brake dust and a little more pedal travel over the past year or so. Time for an upgrade!

What are the Options?

When it came time for new brakes, I did my homework on what was available. The stock OEM brake setup from the factory is fine for most daily driving, but let’s be real – these trucks aren’t exactly lightweight. I knew I wanted an upgrade that could handle hauling and towing loads without fading over time.

Expensive Brakes

The main options seemed to be:

  • Stock OEM brake pads – around $100-150 per axle
  • Ceramic brake pads – $200-300 per axle
  • Drilled/slotted rotors with semi-metallic pads – $400-600 per axle
  • Full brake kit with drilled/slotted rotors and ceramic pads – $800+ per axle
  • The more expensive options definitely had some appeal – better stopping power, less dust, possible cooler operating temps. But were they really necessary, or just empty promises? Only one way to find out…

My Experience With Expensive Brakes

Expensive Brakes

I decided to try out a name brand full brake kit up front with drilled/slotted rotors and ceramic brake pads. In the rear, I went with a more affordable option of just replacing the stock pads and rotors. That let me do a bit of an A/B test between the two.

After installing everything myself, I have to say I’m really impressed by the performance of the expensive brake kit up front. The stopping power is noticeably better, and I don’t get nearly as much brake dust buildup on my wheels. They also seem to run a bit cooler even after long downhill drives.

Towards the back of the truck, it’s easy to tell the difference. Under heavy braking, the rear end will start to fade a bit more quickly than the front. And cleaning the rear wheels is definitely a dirtier job thanks to more dust.

Overall, the performance has been great. I feel totally confident hauling a trailer or driving in the mountains knowing I’ve got awesome stopping ability. And the dust reduction alone has been well worth it in my book.

Durability Test

It’s been two years now since installing the upgraded brakes. While performance has stayed top-notch, I was curious to see how the more expensive components have held up over time.

Luckily, both the front and rear brakes still have plenty of pad material left. The drilled rotors up front look almost new – no cracks or warping at all. A big upgrade from the warped factory rotors I had to replace at 80,000 miles.

Overall the brake kit has exceeded my expectations for durability. I’m confident they’ll easily last another 50,000 miles or more with my type of driving.

Expensive Brakes

Maintenance and Lifespan

A key factor when considering any brake upgrade is not just the initial cost, but also the overall maintenance costs down the road. Cheaper brakes may mean more frequent replacements. Meanwhile, premium components could last much longer between services.

So far I’ve been very happy with the lifespan I’m getting from my more expensive brake kit. Routine inspections show minimal pad wear even after towing loads through the mountains. That peace of mind is worth a lot in my book!

Are Expensive Brakes Necessary?

Now, all that said – are expensive brakes an absolute must-have? Probably not. The stock brakes would have continued to do the job just fine, if not quite as impressively. And for most daily commutes without heavy loads, you really don’t need all that stopping power.

If you’re on more of a budget, I’d say upgrading just the front brakes to a nice kit is a good compromise. You’ll get the biggest improvement there since it does the bulk of the braking work. And for occasional use, the stock rear brakes would suffice.

Expensive Brakes

In my opinion, expensive brakes start to make more sense if you do any of the following:

  • Regularly tow a heavy trailer
  • Drive in mountainous areas
  • Want the absolute best performance on the track
  • Hate brake dust more than anything else
  • Money isn’t a major concern

For casual driving around town without loads, the stock brakes will do you just fine. But if you really want to up the confidence and capability of your truck, an expensive brake upgrade is a smart investment.

Final Thought

So in summary – are expensive brakes absolutely necessary? No, the stock brakes will get the job done. But if you do any regular towing, off-roading, or high-performance driving, the added stopping power and durability of an expensive brake kit is worth it in my book.

I’d recommend at least upgrading the fronts, and consider the rears later if your needs change. Just be prepared to cough up some cash – you definitely get what you pay for when it comes to brakes. But the performance and peace of mind are well worth the cost over time.

Hope this helps give you a better idea of whether expensive brakes are the right call for your GMC truck! Feel free to ask any other questions in the comments.


Do I need to upgrade all four wheels?

Nope, you can definitely get away with just doing the fronts. That’s where about 70% of your braking force is applied. The rears help slow and stabilize, but aren’t as crucial for stopping power. Upgrading the fronts first is a good compromise if you’re on a budget.

Will ceramic pads really reduce dust?

Yes, ceramic brake pads are much less dusty than conventional semi-metallic pads. The dust is actually burnt off during braking rather than grinding off. I’ve found a huge difference in how clean my wheels stay now. Just be aware ceramic pads can be noisier during the initial break-in period.

What about drilled or slotted rotors?

Drilled and slotted rotors are more about looks and possibly cooler operation than actual performance gains. They can help dissipate heat a bit faster during aggressive stops. But performance-wise, you’ll get much more benefit from upgrading the brake pads material before worrying about rotor styling.

Do I need to upgrade my calipers too?

In most cases, no – the stock calipers are sufficient. But if yours are really old or corroded, new calipers could improve braking feel and consistency. Upgrading calipers only becomes critical if you’re doing hardcore towing/hauling or track use that generates a ton of heat. For street driving, focus on pads and rotors first.

Will this void my warranty?

Replacing brake pads and rotors yourself following standard procedures won’t void any powertrain warranties from the manufacturer. Just be sure to use brake components that are the same size as stock. Going with significantly larger brakes could potentially cause issues down the line. But swapping like-for-like won’t raise any red flags.

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