Hydrogenated amorphous carbon coatings were deposited by r.f. plasma and hydrogen-free carbon films in pulsed arc discharge on stainless steel substrates. The coatings were characterized and evaluated in tribological tests. Pin-on-disc tests were used over a wide range of test parameters: normal load, 5–40 N; sliding velocity, 0.1–3.0 m s−1. The wear of both coatings was of the same order of magnitude (0.7 × 10−3−5.1 × 10−3 mm3). However, the wear of the counterface was one order of magnitude higher for the hydrogenfree carbon coatings. Increasing the normal load generally caused an increase in coating wear and in most cases also an increase in counterface wear. When the steel pin was sliding against the hydrogenated carbon coating with a high sliding velocity and load, a rather thick tribofilm was formed on the pin wear surface, lowering the coefficient of friction and reducing the pin wear. The tribofilm formed on the alumina pin sliding against the hydrogenated carbon film also seemed to reduce the friction coefficient but could not prevent the pin wear. A tribofilm was also formed on the pin wear surface when the hydrogen-free carbon coating was sliding against the steel and alumina pins, but the layer was not able to protect the pins. The tribofilm did, however, lower the coefficient of friction, which was rather insensitive to the different test parameters used. According to secondary ion mass spectroscopy analyses, material transfer of the pin was detected on the disc (coated) wear surfaces. The tribofilms formed on the pin wear surfaces consisted of pin material, hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon.