What Should You Know About Brakes?

Whether you’re a car aficionado, enjoy working on cars as a hobby, or you just want general information that will make your day-to-day life easier, a good place to start is by understanding brakes. 

Brakes are a foundational part of a car, and when they’re worn out and need to be replaced, it needs to be done quickly. 

Understanding how brakes work can also help you extend the life of your vehicle. 

The following are some of the most important things to know about brakes. 

Brake Parts

Certain parts make up the larger brake system. These include:

  • Brake rotors are also called brake discs. The rotors are what your brakes clamp on to, to stop your wheels from spinning. A standard brake disc is smooth and flat. A performance brake disc can be drilled or slotted. 
  • When you apply your vehicle’s brakes, you push down on pads. Those pads, in turn, press against the drum or rotor. That converts the kinetic energy of your vehicle into thermal energy due to the friction. There are different types of pads such as organic pads and semi-metallic pads which tend to be used most often on sports cars. 
  • Brake shoes are the part of the brake that’s controlled by the driver. 
  • Brake fluid provides a medium to transmit pressure on the brake. When you have fresh brake fluid, it can’t be compressed, which is how it helps your brake system function properly. Brake fluid also serves as a lubricant. 
  • Brake lines bring hydraulic fluid to what’s called the brake caliper. A brake caliper grips the rotor when you apply pressure to the brake pedal.

Other Types of Brakes

There are also emergency brakes and anti-lock brakes on many vehicles. An emergency brake is connected to the rear service brake, usually by a set of cables. 

Emergency brakes can be activated with a stick lever or another pedal that might also be located on the floor of the driver’s side of the car. Some emergency brake levers are located next to the steering wheel. 

Anti-lock brakes are technically brakes, but they’re part of the design of a brake system in a modern vehicle. Anti-lock brake systems have sensors that track the speed the wheels of the vehicle are rotating at. 

If there’s an instance of sudden braking, the wheels can lock up, leading the tires to skid. The ABS, when skidding is detected, rapidly pulses the brake pressure. 

How Do Brakes Work?

The brake system of a vehicle is relatively simple. 

When you apply the brakes, it activates a master cylinder, also known as a break or vacuum booster. Then, the vacuum booster’s role is to multiply the force you created with your foot. Without the booster, your brake would be extremely heavy and difficult to apply pressure to. 

When you apply the brakes, that boosted force goes all the way to the master cylinder. This is where your brake fluid is located. 

There are two sets of brakes on most modern cars, both in the front and the back. 

The brake lines are filled with hydraulic brake fluid, and then the right amount of pressure goes toward the front and back systems.  

Maintaining Your Brake System

Thanks to the simplicity of brake systems in the scheme of things, it’s relatively easy to maintain them. 

One of the most important things you can do to care for your brake system and your entire vehicle is to check your levels of brake fluid regularly. You’ll need to find your brake fluid reservoir, which will be marked. Ensure that each time you check it, there’s fluid at the right level. 

You can read your owner’s manual to find out what that right level is. 

Don’t just top off your brake fluid when it’s low. Instead, you should replace it. Brake fluid can become contaminated, which can cause damage to the master cylinder. 

Try to aim to change your brake fluid every two years or every 25,000 miles, whichever is first. 

Your brake pads take on a lot of wear and tear, and they heat up when you brake, so they wear thin. 

You need to check your pads often and make sure they’re always at least 5 mm thick—otherwise, they need to be replaced. A good rule of thumb is to aim to replace brake pads every 6000 miles. 

Finally, you should check your rotors when you check your pads. Rotors should be smooth, and if you see grooves on the surface, you may need to replace the rotors. 

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