Project F-250: Hawk Brakes for Our Tow Vehicle

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Update by Tom Suddard to the Ford F-250 project car
Aug 11, 2020

Brakes are arguably the most important part of a race car (or at least a race car’s survival), but we’ll admit to sharing a common blind spot with most of the paddock: our tow vehicles. 

Seriously, despite pouring days of analysis, wrenching, data collection and more analysis into our race car’s brakes, we don’t always give as much thought to the system that we rely on to drag six tons of mass to a stop hundreds of times on the way to every race: our truck’s brakes. 

Granted, there’s a good reason for this: A vehicle’s factory towing rating takes braking system performance into account, so it’s no surprise that most trucks and vans, especially heavy-duty models like our 2001 Ford F-250, come from the factory sporting huge brakes. 

But big brakes are only part of the solution. Pad compounds matter, too, just like they do on the race car. We learned that lesson firsthand with our Super Van when we experienced a Chernobyl-level meltdown with the stock brakes while towing our Boxster home on some mountain roads. Did we die? No, but we’re also hoping that we’ll never encounter the feeling of melted pads and boiling fluid again on public roads. 

And unfortunately, we couldn’t blame that one on broken trailer brakes or worn-out parts on the van: Everything was nearly new and working properly, though we’d simply gone to the local parts store and bought the best brake parts they had in stock (SuperPlatinumBestestPads or something like that), pairing the parts with whatever fluid the van already had in its master cylinder. 

Fixing Our Mistakes

Mistake made and lesson learned, we weren’t about to repeat the exercise with our F-250–especially since we’re hauling way more weight than our van had ever encountered. We bled our truck’s brakes with fresh fluid shortly after bringing it home, but after 10,000 miles of additional driving, we’d used up most of the remaining pad life and developed an annoying brake pedal vibration. Time for an upgrade!

And we weren’t going to make the mistake of “upgrading” to those parts-store pads again. Instead, we called Hawk Performance. After all, their pads work great on the race car–why not the truck, too? They recently launched a line of pads and rotors aimed at situations just like ours.

Truck Challenges

The way Hawk tells it, trucks aren’t actually the easiest application to build brake pads for. The reason? Unlike race cars, which operate in a fairly narrow brake temperature range, trucks are all over the place. In a perfect world, the brake pad would produce the same braking force whether it’s applied with no warning during a highway panic stop, or being used constantly on a twisty mountain road. One situation has stone-cold brake pads, while the other sees temperatures higher than any normal vehicle sees. 

Hawk makes two different pad compounds for trucks, called the Super Duty (no relation to our Ford Super Duty) and the LTS, which stands for Light Truck & SUV. Both are pitched as a huge upgrade from factory offerings, with the LTS pads aimed at general truck use and the Super Duty pads designed for heavier vehicles that are rarely driven without a trailer or a payload. What’s the tradeoff? In exchange for the higher heat capacity, the Super Duty pads are dustier and wear rotors faster when cold. 

Since our truck doesn’t leave the carport unless its hitched to a trailer or carrying a slide-in camper, we chose the Super Duty compound and paired it with a set of Hawk’s Talon slotted rotors. Why not use cheap no-name rotors? Hawk says these clean pads increase braking force and last longer. It’s our job to test them out and see if that pitch holds up in the real world.

There was one final piece of our braking puzzle: the parking brake. It worked after some adjustment, but was never as strong as it should be. Just to be safe, we ordered a $20 set of parking brake shoes just in case we needed to change them once we took everything apart. 

Show Me the Money

Before we go any further, we should talk about money. We’ll just lay the numbers on the table: Retail price for our order from Hawk totaled nearly $1100, with about $300 of pads and $800 of rotors in the shopping cart.

And yeah, that’s not cheap, but it’s important to remember what we’re working on. F-250 brakes are massive, so this isn’t like a Miata where you can buy blank rotors for $5/each online. To provide a fair comparison, we loaded up our cart at the local parts store with the same “best-quality” parts we’d used on our van, and reached a total of $580 for store-brand pads and rotors. So at retail prices, figure we’ve doubled the cost of our brake job by using premium stuff from Hawk. 

But the real world doesn’t work at retail prices, and any racer will tell you it’s usually possible to save a ton of money when buying Hawk parts. We loaded up the exact same Hawk part numbers in our cart at Tire Rack, and everything totaled up to $511. So in the real world, our brake job is actually the less expensive alternative to the local parts store.


We’ll save the nitty-gritty details of installation and instead emphasize that working on trucks is miserable, and every single part we touched weighs more than we’d previously thought possible. But the brakes from Hawk went on without issue, and we were careful to read the shop manual for the required torque specs along the way (hello, 166 lb.-ft.). 

We were also careful to clean and lubricate things as much as possible, putting our CRC Smartwasher BenchtopPRO parts washer to good use.

We found the source of our mediocre parking brake as soon as we removed the factory rear brake rotors: Somebody had clearly left the brake on and driven until the OEM shoes had melted, galling the built-in drums and leaving the brake shoes mostly metal. Thanks to some patience with our needle-nosed locking plier and the help of our spouse (thanks, Nicole!) we were able to replace the parking brake shoes without removing the axles as the service manual recommends.

Normally we’d bleed the system with fresh high-temp brake fluid at this point, but since we just did that a few months ago and didn’t need to crack open the system, we skipped that step. All that was left was to bed in the new pads, which we did according to Hawk’s instructions.

Did it Work

So, did we notice any effect from our upgrade? Absolutely. The day after finishing the installation, we took our truck on a 1200-mile road trip with more than 2000 pounds of weight in the bed. Our one-word takeaway? Consistency. These pads and rotors have less initial bite than whatever worn-out parts were on the truck, but the benefit is much easier pedal modulation and relentless consistency whether we were slowing down a bit on the highway or repeatedly stopping from 65 mph on a country road. We haven’t noticed any noise or dust, either, but are willing to clean our wheels more often if it means a brake pedal this confident.

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View comments on the GRM forums
irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
8/11/20 4:09 p.m.

I have run Hawk HPS on my tow rig (Sequoia) for years with no complaints. I know they are not supposed to be a towing/truck pad but I found that they were a major improvement over some heavy-duty pads I bought from other manufacturer previously.

Working on a Miata again after playing exclusively with 4x4s for years was such a treat. Oh this wheel + tire doesn't weigh 85 lbs?! How nice. 

Ranger50 UltimaDork
8/11/20 5:03 p.m.

I had lts pads on both of my gmt900's and I don't like them. I've tried to, but just can't. Greasy feel on my Avalanche and almost too grippy on my suburban.

mad_machine (Forum Supporter)
mad_machine (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/11/20 8:54 p.m.

I have Hawk HPS pads and DBA rotors on my Disco.  Made a huge difference over the stock (and worn out) brakes

pilotbraden UltraDork
8/11/20 10:31 p.m.


I reckon that y'all  are correct.  Shytead me wore these to this level before replacing.  If you get a magnifying glass you can see about .5mm of brake pad on the top side. I got the full life from  it  . 

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