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All About the Challenger’s Brake System

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Shop Challenger Brake Parts

Upgrading your horsepower is one thing, but if you can't bring your Challenger to a stop all that power means nothing. Making sure your brakes can keep up with your engine mods should be a priority in any build. Better quality pads, more efficient rotors, and more will do the job.

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Perhaps the most important operating system of any vehicle is the brake system. Yes, the engine and drivetrain mobilize a vehicle but without any way of stopping, they are just fast tracks to disaster. In third-generation Challengers (2008-2018), you have pretty beefy power plants and the capability to get going really fast. Every pony on the hood makes it more important to understand, maintain and even upgrade the brake system whenever possible.

How Brake Systems Work

Before discussing the components of a brake system and possible upgrades, it’s important to get at least a basic overview of how the system works. In third gen Challengers, there isn’t really anything that reinvents the wheel so preliminary knowledge holds its value. Though, for argument's sake, we’ll give a brief review.

When you hit the brake pedal in your car, a few things happen. The brake system works hydraulically. That means as the pedal is depressed, the fluid within the lines is pressurized which in turn causes the calipers to apply friction to the rotors which in turn slows the vehicle. Now, there are a lot of major players in the brake system. Understanding the basic function is important, but it does only go so far.

Where it All Starts - the Brake Pedal

The brake pedal is on the front line of the Challenger's brake system. Though there’s little room for improvement along with demand for maintenance, it’s still good to understand exactly what role the pedal plays. 

Think of the pedal as a lever. As the pedal is depressed, it moves a rod that causes the master cylinder to pressurize the fluid in the brake system. The pedal and the master cylinder are paired with a brake booster which acts to increase the amount of pressure that is applied in the system with less effort required to move the brake pedal.

Master Cylinder - Where the Fluid is Stored

The pedal is directly linked to the brake master cylinder. The master cylinder has a few jobs. First and foremost, this is where the brake fluid reservoir is. Without the fluid, there are no brakes so ensuring that good clean fluid and the proper amount of it is present is of utmost importance, this is where you can physically check fluid quality and levels.

As the pedal is depressed a piston moves through the master cylinder which pressurizes the fluid. As the fluid is pressurized the master cylinder then sends fluid to the front and rear at different levels. This is because the front requires more stopping power than the rear.

Brake Lines - the Arteries of the Brake System

The master cylinder is the heart of the brake system and the lines are the veins. As the fluid is pressurized it is squeezed through thin tubes which are connected to the calipers. The role they play may seem minor but, make no mistake; they are crucial to the overall operation. If you feel any softness or lack of power, it’s important to crawl underneath the car and check for any leaks in the brake lines.

On Challengers, flexible hoses, made of rubber, can be found right off the calipers and in a few other areas. These are subjected to fatigue and can swell up and pop like balloons after time. If any swells or cracks are beginning to show, it’s important to replace these hoses right away. Stainless steel lines and braided hoses can be used in place of the factory equipment. The major benefits of doing so are increased lifespan and durability of these parts.

Suggested brake line mods:

  • Stainless steel lines
  • Braided hoses

Calipers - Applying the Pressure

The calipers are where the pressure is sent when the master cylinder compresses the fluid. These units work to clamp the pads and rotors together in order to create stopping power. Much like the master cylinder, pistons are utilized to create pressure. As the pedal is depressed, the pistons in the caliper push on the pads, which clamp down on the rotors. On Challengers with factory brake packages, like SXTs, SEs, and R/Ts you’ll find calipers with either singer or dual piston calipers.

A great method to increase braking power is by increasing the number of pistons in the calipers. Aftermarket units are in high abundance for Challengers produced by brands like Brembo and Wilwood. See below for an example of stock floating calipers versus aftermarket fixed calipers like Brembos and Wilwoods.

Kits can be purchased to fit right in place of the factory equipment. Big brake kits are also available which increase rotor size and even employ the use of different pad compounds suited for the increased friction. We’ll touch more on that under the appropriate segments.

Suggested Mods:

  • Bigger calipers with increased piston count

Brake Pads - Causing Friction

The pads are the components directly responsible for making contact with the rotors and slowing the vehicle. The function is basic but very important. The materials used are what change the overall performance of these components. Challengers, like many other vehicles, use semi-metallic pads from the factory.

Semi-metallic pads are ideal for big heavy yet powerful cars like the Challenger considering the offer more friction which helps stop the vehicle. OE grade pads aren’t ideal for track applications, and race pads consisting of semi-metallic compounds can be purchased to stand up to the increased abuse.

Ceramic pads may be considered by those who drive modestly and are tired of the noise and dust produced by semi-metallic pads. Generally speaking, they don’t offer as much stopping power, but as long as you’re not racing from red light to red light, these are perfect for show cars and beauty queens.

Suggested brake pad mods:

  • Race grade semi-metallic pads for track applications
  • Ceramic pads for show cars

Rotors - Dealing with the Heat

Rotors fit on the hub of the vehicle and are subjected to pressure in order to slow and stop the wheels from turning. Much like the pads, these are very basic in design. From the factory, base model Challenger has very basic rotors. They use flat contact areas which are sufficient for everyday use.

Slotted, drilled, and dimpled surfaced rotors are great bolt-on upgrades to make. Not only do these reduce wear of the brakes, they help keep them cool during their operation as well. Cooler brakes provide more stopping power and keep pads and rotors from cracking or warping under extreme conditions.

Additionally, increasing the diameter of the rotors increases stopping power; when aftermarket brake systems are referred to as big brake kits, they refer to the calipers and rotors. When looking to increase the size of the rotors and calipers you need to pay attention to the wheel diameter and what can be accepted. Challengers do come with large wheels from the factory though, which makes this less of a concern than it may on other vehicles.

Suggested Upgrades:

  • Big brake kits
  • Slotted, drilled, dimpled rotors

Factory Performance Packages

Upgrading Challenger brake systems may not always be required. Many of Dodge's trim packages for the Challenger come equipped with performance brakes from the factory. SRT-8s, T/As, and Scat Packs are just a few of the models subjected to this. Typically, they come equipped with Brembo systems. This isn’t to say these systems will never need work. If the car is receiving considerable power mods or is subjected to extreme driving conditions, it still should be considered.

Fitment includes: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, SRT-8, RT, SE, SXT, RallyeRedline, ScatPack, Hellcat, GT, TA, Demon