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A Car Braking System: How Do They Work And When Should They Be Replaced?

Updated August 12, 2014

The brakes on your car are one of the most important safety features and something that you most definitely cannot drive without. You need to keep an eye on your brakes because every day you touch the brake pedal hundreds of times in order to stop a vehicle that can sometimes be as heavy as two tonnes.

There are many components that make up your brake system such as brake fluid, brake pads, brake lines, drum brakes and disc brakes. Brake fluid can be found under the bonnet of your car; there is a brake fluid container that contains extra brake fluid, along with the master cylinder that which is connected by brake lines to the pedal.

Brake pads are usually made of copper, steel or brass; disc can be located on the front wheel of the car – drum brakes are on the back – the brake pads press against both in order to stop your car. The brake pads push against the rotor, which is the circular part of the disc brake. When the brake pads are applied this slows down the vehicle. When your vehicle goes for its annual service you should make sure that they check these as constant braking can cause grooves to form; these grooves need to be smoothed out in order to get the best from your brakes.

The vehicle also has other types of brakes, including the emergency brake and anti-lock braking system. The emergency brake is controlled through the use of steel cables, the anti-lock braking system is used when you’re about to skid. The car ‘knows’ when you’re about to skid and automatically applies the brakes when you lose traction.

So, how do they work? On new cars it is a complicated system that relies on many components working together. For example, as soon as you hit the brake pedal the pressure moves to the master cylinder; the master cylinder then pushes the brake fluid into the brakes lines. The brake lines are connected to each wheel of the car; once the brake fluid has been flushed through it creates friction which and heat that is created through the friction reaction causes the brakes pads to push against the brake drum – back breaks – or disc (front brakes) and stop the car.

Every time you have a service, which should be every twelve months, your brakes should be checked and if need be, replaced. However, most people won’t require new brake pads every year, so if this is the case, you should make sure that they are thoroughly serviced at least every two years. There are several signs you can look out for, between services, which will give you an indication that your brakes system may need to be checked over. If you can hear a squealing sound when braking, this is an indication that your brake pads have worn to their limit. You should also take note if you feel vibrations when pressing the brake pedal or if the warning light on your dashboard is illuminated. Another tell-tale sign that you brakes need servicing is if you can feel your steering wheel pulling to one side when you’re driving. None of these signs are things to be ignored; you’re brakes are the one thing that you should never leave to the last minute.

This article was written by Don Cooper; an engineer who works in a factory that specialises in the production of brake discs.

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Calvin Escobar
About Calvin Escobar

The Car scene is so diverse Where I come from, most enthusiasts recognize the amazing engineering (particularly the engines). The bulk of the ridicule originates from the manner in which many of the vehicles are modded/maintained. Thus, the jokes and or hate tends to be aimed more at the owner rather than the machine. All of which makes seeing properly sorted old Toyota's and Hondas at car meets, auto shows, and track days all the more refreshing.

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