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Cars With Carbon Ceramic Brakes Are Going to Be the Used Car Plague

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2017

As some of you know, I'm currently mired in the search for a new car to replace my ancient Range Rover daily driver, which I've had for the last five years or so. One of the cars on my short list of Range Rover replacements is the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Wagon -- and while I can't afford a newer 2014-2016 model, I've been eyeing them anyway, because they're perfect for me: cool, high tech, all-wheel-drive (good for winter!) and exciting to drive.

So I found a nice E63 Wagon for sale on Autotrader, and I sent it to my friend Peri, and he replied: "You know that one has carbon ceramic brakes, right?" Apparently, the gold-colored calipers give it away.

Carbon ceramic brakes? In a luxury station wagon?

I looked it up, and Peri was right. Beginning in 2014, Mercedes-Benz started offering carbon ceramic brakes as an option on the E63 AMG and the E63 AMG Wagon -- and not just any option, but an option with a sticker price of just under $13,000. Mind you, the base price of a 2014 E63 AMG Wagon was only $103,400. This single option was nearly 13 percent of the car's entire price. Imagine, if you will, a $2,500 single option on a Toyota Camry.

For those of you who question the sanity of anyone who would order such a thing, allow me to explain the theoretical benefits of carbon ceramic brakes -- which are now offered by many high-end luxury and performance-oriented car brands. Carbon ceramic brakes are indeed better that steel brakes, but they don't decrease stopping distance, as people commonly think. Instead, they reduce brake fade, which gives them a huge advantage at the race track -- if you're spending a lot of time on the track, your carbon ceramic brakes will basically never fade, even with many laps of hard driving. With steel brakes, you'll feel brake fade fairly quickly.

That's one benefit of carbon ceramics. Another benefit is that you don't have to change your brake rotors as often as you do with steel brakes. Most steel-brake cars need new rotors every few years; a car with carbon ceramics just needs standard (and inexpensive) brake pad changes until it reaches about 100,000 miles, at which point only do you need to change the rotors.

Which brings us to the downside: changing the rotors. According to several people on the AMG forums, they received a carbon ceramic brake rotor and pad change estimate of somewhere between $15,000 and $18,000 when the time finally came to do the work. I looked up the parts myself, and it appears that just the parts -- rotors and pads -- are somewhere in the neighborhood of $11,000. Add in labor, and that $15,000 to $18,000 seems high, but not totally out of the realm of possibility.

In other words, the cool car you ordered with carbon ceramic brakes in 2014 will have a necessary repair of maybe $15,000 in about 2024. And this leads me to my point: Nobody is going to want these things when they're used cars.

The thing is, while the carbon ceramic brakes may have made sense for the original owner, who spent $120,000 or more for the car when it was new, a 10-year-old AMG Mercedes is worth maybe $20,000 to $25,000 -- and nobody in that realm is going to want to spend another $15,000 just to change the brakes. I seriously believe that this will dramatically impact the value of any AMG Mercedes (or BMW, or Porsche, or whatever) with carbon ceramic brakes once it's more than seven or eight years old -- much like how manual cars tend to become more valuable in the used market in part because they're easier to fix if something breaks in the transmission.

Now, admittedly, this value hit won't affect all cars. Some vehicles with carbon ceramic brakes that remain highly expensive -- the Porsche Carrera GT, for instance, or the Porsche 911 GT2 -- won't see any value impact due to those brakes, because second, third, and fourth owners will be able to afford them. But otherwise run-of-the-mill BMW and Mercedes models will get decimated as potential used buyers stay far away from a $15,000 brake job.

With all this said, there's one potential saving grace, and that's a simple conversion back to steel brakes instead of a full replacement of the carbon ceramics -- much like Land Rover and Audi allroad owners often ditch their fancy (but expensive) air suspension when it fails and instead revert to springs. Unfortunately, I'm told it just isn't that simple: Steel brakes don't bolt right back on, and in the Porsche world there's only one aftermarket company (or maybe a small handful of companies) offering a conversion for people facing exactly this problem. As the carbon ceramic option is relatively new in Mercedes and BMW models, such a company hasn't yet sprouted up for these cars.

And so, if you're buying an AMG and you want to keep it for only a few years, carbon ceramics might be a good idea -- because they're relatively maintenance-free compared to normal brakes. But if you start creeping up on the 7- or 8-year old mark and you go to sell your carbon ceramic-equipped car ... don't be surprised if it's avoided like the plague.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Cars With Carbon Ceramic Brakes Are Going to Be the Used Car Plague - Autotrader