Brakes are devices that stop something from moving, generally by applying force to a moving part that converts the movement’s energy into heat. In cars, there are two types of brakes. These are drum and disc brakes, both of which work by applying pressure to part of the wheel assembly which impedes movement. Ever since we started moving around in vehicles with wheels, the main aim has been to find the most effective way to stop. Improvements to braking technology are always being made.
How Brakes on a Car Work – Two Main Brake Types
In modern cars, there are both disc and drum brakes, which are the two main types of brake. While they use the same basic principles and physics, there are some key differences to the technology.
How a Drum Brake Works
A drum brake is a drum shaped device. It has brake pads inside it, that expand and apply pressure to the drum, which creates friction and impedes the movement. Since heat is a common side effect of friction, brakes can get very hot if they are used often.
How Disc Brakes Work
On the other hand, disc brakes are similar. However, the pads pinch a rotating disk that is a part of the wheel assembly. Like drum brakes, this generates friction which can cause heat. Band brakes have pads that contract around the outside of the drum. Both of the two main types of car brake systems rely on applying force to part of the wheel assembly to create friction, resulting in movement being impeded.
How Do Brakes Work in a Car?
Most drivers understand the basics of how their car brakes work – when you press the brake pedal, the car slows down or stops, depending on how hard you press it. But what’s actually going on behind the scenes, within the inner workings of your car when it’s time to slow down or park up? Stepping on the brake pedal triggers a range of important processes that deploy both hydraulics and friction to reduce the speed of your vehicle or stop it completely.
How Do Car Brakes Work – Hydraulics
Your brake pedal is mechanically connected to a device known as the master cylinder by a metal rod. This is a sealed chamber that is filled with brake fluid, which is a type of hydraulic oil. The master cylinder is connected to the car’s brake cylinders by brake lines, which are passageways that brake fluid flows through. When you are driving and press the brake pedal, the rod connected to it will act on a piston in the master cylinder. This causes the brake fluid in the cylinder to become compressed, increasing the pressure within the brake system. The pressure is then transmitted through the brake lines, providing the necessary force to work the car’s brakes. The more force you use when pressing the brakes, the more pressure, and therefore more stopping power you will have. When you take your foot off the brake pedal, the spring action releases the piston inside the master cylinder and returns it to its normal resting position. This decompresses the fluid in the system, reducing the pressure and causing the brakes at each wheel to be released.
How Do Brakes on a Car Work – Clamping
Each wheel on your car has a braking system component behind it, known as the calliper. This is a large clamp. When pressure is applied via the brake lines and brake fluid, the callipers generate clamping force with an action that forces the brake pads against the rotor, generating the necessary friction to slow your car down or stop it completely. When you step on the brake pedal, the increase that this generates in the hydraulic pressure is transmitted through the brake fluid in your brake lines to the callipers, causing them to clamp. Some cars, especially older ones, might use brake drums rather than callipers. While the parts are different, they both serve the same purpose of turning hydraulic pressure into friction that slows or stops the vehicle.
How Do the Brakes on a Car Work – Keeping Your Brakes Working Properly
From drum brakes to modern autonomous braking systems, the brakes are one of the most essential parts when it comes to ensuring that your car is functional and safe. When driving, you might face many unexpected issues on the road including potholes, other cars driving too close to you, sudden brakers in front of you and pedestrians crossing the road, which all require you to use your brakes. When the brake pedal is used regularly, it will cause some wear to your car’s braking system over time, which may render it less effective, and therefore less safe. Because of this, it’s important for all drivers to be aware of what they can do to improve the safety and condition of their brakes to ensure that they are always in good working order.
Avoid Overloading the Car
If your car is loaded up with heavy luggage, the brakes will need to work harder in order to function correctly. In the long term, overloading your car a lot can seriously decrease the function and safety of your brakes. When your vehicle is lightweight, it’s easier for your brakes and other components of the car to function. Whenever possible, avoid carrying anything that you don’t need in the car to lighten the load and keep your brakes in better condition for longer.
Avoid Using the Accelerator and the Brake Together
If you’re driving down a steep hill, it can be tempting to step on the brakes with your other foot to slow your car down. However, pressing simultaneously on the brake and the accelerator pedal can lead to dangerous situations where your car has brake lights on but is speeding ahead on the road. Brake riding or putting pressure on both the brakes and the accelerator can be harmful to your car, so it’s best to stick to only using your right foot for either pedal so you can’t press them both at once. Switching to a lower gear when coming down hill is the most effective way to slow your car down or press the brakes lightly without using the accelerator at the same time and allow gravity to do the rest.
Flush the Brake Fluid
Automotive experts recommend regular flushing or changing of your brake fluid. This is because the brake fluid can attract water over time, which ultimately reduces the performance of the brakes. Along with this, when water gets into the brake fluid, this can create moisture that leads to brake corrosion, which can ultimately cause issues and reduce the safety of your braking system over time.
Replace Brake Parts Regularly
No matter how safely you drive or how many precautions you take to keep your brakes in good condition, some parts of your car’s braking system such as the brake pads and discs will naturally become more worn over time with use. Because of this, it’s important to take your car to a professional for regular brake testing and checks to determine if these parts need to be replaced. Brake pads that are very worn down, for example, can be a huge danger when driving and may reduce the effectiveness of your brakes when stopping suddenly which can increase your risk of an accident. Some modern cars now have a dashboard warning light that tells you when the brake pads are close to being dangerously worn. If this shows up, you should get them replaced as soon as possible.
Drive According to the Rules
When driving, it’s not only important to be safe and remain within the speed limit to reduce your risk of an accident, but also to keep your brakes better maintained. When you drive at high speeds, this can lead to more braking since you are going to have to slow down due to other traffic or obstructions in the road at some point. Over time, braking a lot at high speeds can lead to significant wear and tear of the brakes.
Common Car Brake Problems to Be Aware Of
When driving, being aware of the signs of some common brake problems can help to keep you safe and ensure that you’re not driving with dangerous brakes as you’ll know when to get the car looked at by a professional. Some of the main issues to be aware of when you are driving include: vibrations when you press the brake pedal; weird sounds when you are braking, such as loud squeaking noises when you brake, or a hissing sound when you press the brake pedal; brake fluid leaking out of the car; the brake pedal being unstable when you press it; a burning smell when braking; or the car moving sideways when you are braking. If you notice any of these issues with your brakes, you should take your car to an auto repair specialist as soon as possible.
The car’s braking system is one of the most important components of any vehicle, and ineffective brakes can be extremely dangerous.