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Tacoma Brake Systems: Safety, Towing & Off-Roading

Tacoma Brake Systems: Safety, Towing & Off-Roading

So, you’ve spent all sorts of your hard-earned money on souping up your Tacoma with more power and high-performance suspension and tires for serious climbing. Pick the gnarliest, steepest climb in sight, and your Toyota is going to handle it like no one’s business, most likely in record time. Impressive. But what about coming back down? Can your Tacoma handle the steeps you’ll face on a mountain trail? Thing is, skimping on upgrading the brakes on our trucks is a common mistake. A lot of us overly focus on adding more power to plow over and through obstacles that we forget entirely of improving stopping power. That said, the heavier the exploring and towing you subject your trusty Tacoma to, the more important it is to consider upgrading the braking components—it’s one of the most important systems on your truck.

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Your Tacoma's brakes are both a performance system and a safety system. Tow ratings are based on the strength of your brakes, and crawling your way down a mountain safely will require wise use of your brake pedal. Upgrading your Tacoma's brake pads, rotors, and calipers will not only increase your towing potential but keep you safer on the roadways and during off-road adventures.

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The Braking System – What It Consists Of

As mentioned before, the braking system is one the most important systems on your Tacoma, regardless of how you drive it. It’s these components that slow you down, keeping you safe on the public roads or on the side of a sheer cliff. Below, we briefly go through each component of the braking system and how it helps get your truck stopped. It’s important to have an understanding of what each is before forking out the money to upgrade them.

Calipers: On most modern vehicles, braking power at the front is powered by a brake caliper, which is connected to the vehicle’s hydraulic system and contains the brake pads. When the fluid reaches the caliper, it uses small pistons to squeeze the brake pads against the brake rotor, killing speed. Brake calipers offer better resistance to brake fade than calipers as well as performance in wet conditions.

Drums: Unlike a caliper, a brake drum is designed with brake pads housed inside. These were much more popular in the past, but are becoming less common as they struggle to provide the same power as disc brake setups and routine maintenance is actually more complicated. Drum to caliper conversions are available for the Tacoma for those looking for all the stopping power possible.

Lines: The brake lines are part of a hydraulic system that essentially connects your brake pedal to the front brake calipers or drums out back. At the push of the pedal, fluid rushes to either and forces them to actuate, helping slow the truck down.

Pads: Brake pads are basically small contact surfaces made with a steel backing plate and special material that grabs the brake rotor. There are several types of brake pads on the market, each constructed with different materials that offer different braking characteristics. 

Rotors: Simply put, the brake rotor (or disc) is a round metal plate which the brake pads clamp to. These rotors are offered in various sizes and thicknesses and even come with slots to help reduce heat in heavy use.

Aftermarket Brake Pads – A Cost Effective Brake Upgrade

Okay, you’re in the market to add some stopping power to your Tacoma, but aren’t looking to the break the bank. Where to start? Let’s consider adding some aftermarket brake pads to your build.

The OEM pads are manufactured with a hard material, which have a main focus on providing durability than outright performance. That said, there are several aftermarket brake pads on the market manufactured with different compounds to fine tune the braking characteristics to your liking.

For example, Power Stop offers its Z16 ceramic pad for the Tacoma, which is said to offer as much as 20% more outright power than the OEM pad and ensure better resistance to fade. Other compounds like carbon fiber ceramic and semi-metallic materials offer different performance.

Upgrading to Slotted Rotors – The End of Brake Fade

You’re coming down a steep hill with your foot firmly pressing the brake pedal for minutes on end. The pedal inches itself closer and closer to the floor until its pressed against it and the truck won’t stop. You’re in trouble.

This is the result of the lack of heat dissipation from your OEM brakes, with emphasis put on rotor design. Aftermarket companies have caught on, now CNC cross-drilling and slotting their rotors to improve airflow and thus dissipate heat.

This cooling effect helps reduce or even eliminate brake fade, which significantly boosts your Tacoma’s ability to handle long descents that have no rest. The added slots also benefit wet-weather driving by helping drain water and preventing brake hydroplaning. If you’re the one wanting to tackle all the toughest downhills, aftermarket slotted rotors are an absolute necessity, period.

Improving Power with Multi-Piston Calipers

Increasing the number of pistons in a brake caliper helps boost the amount of force applied to the rotors as they clamp onto them under deceleration, which in turn adds stopping power to your Tacoma. The more pistons the better, right? When speaking in terms of outright performance—yes, to a point. High-performance racing calipers are usually equipped with six pistons each. Anywhere over that number and the caliper’s price tags become absurd. Not to mention the complication that comes with adding more moving parts.

Tuning Your Brake Set Up to Handle Towing

You put your Tacoma through the towing paces pretty consistently. A changing traffic light catches you off guard, and now you have to slow down your rig and the trailer that’s behind it—that’s going to take a lot of stopping power.

Aimed at drivers that are towing regulars, aftermarket companies offer specially designed kits that are aimed at improving towing performance. These kits most usually contain a set of cross-drilled and ventilated rotors, as well as carbon fiber ceramic pads. This is the ultimate combination for towing. Why? Ceramic pads are incredibly heat resistant, which means they’ll resist brake fade as you plunge down a hill.

Likewise, the ventilated discs go a long way in improving heat dissipation. This combo will save you from overheating or brake failure on long descents. Besides, the last thing you want is to actually use a runaway truck ramp…

Converting Your Rear Brakes to a Disc Setup

There’s no question that disc brakes offer better stopping performance than that of drums. So, why did Toyota fit the rear end of the Tacoma with drums? It’s a cost-effective option.

When it comes to serious off-road where your descending steep mountains, you want all the performance possible. That’s why companies like Pedders offer conversion kits that turn your rear end into a disc brake beast.

These kits come with everything needed to complete the conversion, including slotted brake rotors and high-performance pads. This conversion offers seriously improved resistance to fade and better power, making it a smart choice for a rig, but especially those built for towing and harsh descending.

Tires - An Important Upgrade for Added Stopping Power

Okay, so you’ve upgraded all the braking components and your Tacoma has all the stopping power in the world, but can your tires handle it? More than likely, the OEM fitted or similar style tires will lock up under hard deceleration, hindering your ability to actually get stopped. This can basically throw all those upgrades out the window.

In this case, consider fitting your Taco with high-performance, grippy all season tires, if it’s still your daily driver. Only focused on off-road? Rugged tires with deep tread will better grip the dirt than those with minimal tread. Without proper tires, your brake upgrades won’t do much good.

Fitment includes: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, Pre-Runner, X-Runner, SR, SR-5, TRD-Sport, TRd-Off-Road, Limited, TRD-Pro