When people talk about the list of affordable mods for your car that make a difference you can feel, braided brake lines are always mentioned. Here’s what you need to know about why people choose them – and why they don’t.
Most cars use rubber brake pipes to connect solid metal brake lines (which usually stop near the wheel arches) to the brake calipers. It’s only a short length, but the physical flexibility is vital to the wheels’ movement through turns and bumps. This rubber section is also the weakest link in the chain; the piece that can sometimes allow performance potential to dip.
The theory goes that rubber can expand under pressure, like a balloon. Obviously that’s not a fair analogy because of the bizarre scale of the exaggeration, but the principle is sound. When you hoof the brake pedal like an angry lama, that rubber tube can expand slightly, reducing pressure through the pads and potentially robbing you of braking performance and/or feel. On a track, you could be losing time.
At least, that’s what can happen. Some rubber lines are as simple as that, and while they’re made of a pretty hard and resilient rubber, they naturally degrade over the years and decades, making them more susceptible to expansion under high pressure. Lost lap time is one thing, but the worst-case scenario is a burst line. You don’t want one of those, as I once discovered while behind the wheel of my S2000 (although a corroded solid steel line was to blame).
Other rubber lines can have an internal nylon weave that strengthens the rubber like the steel mesh in reinforced concrete, reducing high-pressure expansion to the realms of seriously-buddy-we-got-this. You might not really need the upgrade at all, but doubt is a cruel mistress.
What’s for sure is that high-quality braided brake lines don’t expand even under hard use, unless you want to start measuring at the atomic level. With them fitted you can be sure that the force you’re putting into the pedal is being transferred to the discs. It doesn’t matter what temperatures you’re dealing with or how many times you slam that middle pedal into the floor on a track; braided lines will stand firm.
With that sorted, if you’re doing a lot of spirited driving or track days it’s just a matter of making sure the rest of your stopper setup is up to scratch. Your brake calipers, discs and pads can all be upgraded for more power and less fade.
If off-roading is more your sport, braided lines have another advantage. They’re harder to tear and generally tougher than rubber equivalents. If you want peace of mind for bashing over rocks or along muddy tracks, where sharp stones could flick up and hit your lines, a braided hose is a good idea.
The other side of the coin is that stainless steel is abrasive, and unless there’s a robust non-abrasive coating over the top of it, it could start to wear other components through. That same tough exterior means you might not see any internal damage, either – until the line fails.
Finally, people like braided brake lines because, well, they look cool. Whether in naked steel or catching the eye in a brightly coloured sleeve, they add a subtly modified look to your machine. Complimentary - or contrasting - hose finishers only improve the overall impression. It’s a little thing but it all adds a sense of pride in your ride, right? At the end of the day the choice is yours: to go braided… or not.