PowerStop Brake Pads Explained: Z23 vs Z26 vs Z36

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There’s a lot to like about Powerstop brake pads, rotors and kits – the affordable price without any compromise on quality being an example.

However, I have to admit:

The company pretty much sucks at outlining how their products differ from each other!

Let’s fix that. If you’re lost and confused – here’s my comprehensive analysis of Powerstop Z23 vs Z26. Obviously, I can’t skip over the heavy-duty Z36 series either, so I’ll talk about it too.

Powerstop Z23 vs Z26 brake pads:
The major difference

There’s one very significant difference between the Z23 and Z26 pads. I’m talking about the shims.

Look at the shims that come with the Z23 Evolution Sport pads:

Powerstop Z23 vs Z26: Looking at their shims

Now, look at the ones you have in the Z26 Extreme bundle:

Notice something? The Z23 pads come with rubberized shims. However, with the Z26 you’re getting stainless steel shims.

What does that mean?

Well, the Z23 is meant for daily driving. The rubberized shims provide you with noise-free braking. At the same time, though, they don’t cope that well with heat dissipation.

Let’s be honest:

If you’re just gliding on the streets in your sedan, you won’t be getting the rotors that hot anyways. You will care about quiet brakes, however.

PowerStop Z23

Great for daily driving. Less noisy, but doesn't dissipate heat as well as higher grade PowerStop brakes.

The Z26 pads are for street warriors and people with muscle cars or modded vehicles. We’re talking about some intense street action here – and a lot of heat.

The stainless steel shims will handle higher levels of heat properly without getting warped.

Once again, this makes sense. The steel won’t muffle noise as well as rubber, but the priority people have with muscle cars and more extreme driving is keeping things cool.

PowerStop Z26

Race-grade performance. Steel shims cope with heat better and provide the brake pad bite you wanted.

In all other departments, the Z23 and Z26 are virtually the same. This means that you get brake kits with:

➥➥ Carbon-fiber ceramic construction. Think of it as a beefed up take on ceramic rotors.

➥➥ Low dusting. Powerstop says dust-free, but let’s be honest again – you can’t have 0 dust with any setup. Both Z23 and Z26 keep the dust to a minimum, way better than OEM or other brands like Bosch.

➥➥ Drilled & slotted for convenience. This helps with cooling and keeps the rotors clean from dirt or debris.

➥➥ Anti-rust zinc plating. Who wants to spend $$$ and see rust appearing soon? No one, that’s who.

Get the Z23 if you want something for your daily drives with the sedan, SUV or crossover you have. If you’re into onroad extremities and want to pump your adrenaline up with muscle cars and modded monsters, install a set of Z26 rotors.

However, neither of these will be a good choice for offroading, towing and a serious 4×4 vehicle/truck. The proper choice here are the Z36 pads.

PowerStop Z36

Heavy-duty performance. Less fade, more bite, born to cope with heavy loads and rugged terrain. Towing is a piece of cake too.

Now, let’s finally see what the Z36 brakes are up to…

Z36 vs Z23:
Rotors for the big 4×4 boys!

More bite, less fade, ready for heavy-duty activities like towing or offroad driving.

That just about sums up the Z36 brake pads and how they improve over the Z23 (or Z26, for that matter).

These tough boys were born to accommodate heavy loads, rugged terrains and any hauling you might need to do.

The carbon-fiber ceramic formula has been additionally strengthened so it can cope with the increased weight.

Note: Even if you plan to do ‘a little’ towing – only a few times per year, go for the Z36. Neither Z23, nor Z36 will cope well enough.

The Z36 pads are also slightly larger so they can fit with bigger tires and any wheel upgrades you’ve done.

Forget about rubberized shims. You’ve got some darn tough stainless steel here. You’ll need it – the offroads always put a lot of stress on your vehicle, which results in some serious heat action.

Obviously, Z36’s are especially popular with F150 warriors, Jeep adventurers etc.

You can check the right brake kit for F150 to see some reviews, or read a bit of customer feedback on the Z36 for Jeep.

Driving another 4WD or truck?

Wrapping it up

Well, as always I hope that I could help you out a bit. I’ve come to realize that a lot of companies are not very clear in what ways their product lines differ from each other.

I’m here to bridge that gap and give you concise, on-point information. Hopefully that was the case with my comparison between the different Powerstop pads too. If you’re looking at other brands too, consider my EBC vs PowerStop comparison.

For other similar analyses on sedans, check my guide to Honda shocks. For heavy-duty action, read my posts on what wheel bearings make the most sense, or my musings on Bilstein’s products.

And the usual rule applies: if you have any experience with the Z23, Z26 or Z36…Let me know in the comments!

Founder of ToolingFun. Couldn't even change a lightbulb in my teenage years. Discovered the joy of DIY projects during my 2nd year in college. All about tinkering around, trying fun tools and projects, and giving my opinion on industry brands!