Regenerative braking systems are included in most hybrid and electric cars. You’ll even find regenerative braking on some gas-powered vehicles. It converts the kinetic energy your car creates and turns it into electrical power. It’s more efficient than the process used by gas-powered vehicles.
When you tap on the brake pedal, the kinetic energy of the car’s forward motion converts into heat as the brake pads connect with the rotors in a disc or drum. That heat dissipates into the air and away from the vehicle, instead of being used more efficiently.
A regenerative braking system captures that heat and uses it for better efficiency.
How a regenerative braking system works
Let’s dive a little deeper into how a regenerative braking system works.
Traditional brakes on a gas or diesel-powered vehicle work through hydraulics. When you touch the brake pedal, hydraulic fluid moves brake calipers to connect brake pads with the rotors. This decreases the rotational spin of the wheel, gradually slowing it down until it comes to a stop. Drum brakes work a bit differently, but the overall principle is the same.
With either drum or disc system, it involves transferring kinetic energy back into the environment. It takes the friction that causes heat within the braking system and moves it away from the vehicle.
When you move to hybrid or electric motors, the braking system works a bit differently. As you press down on the brake pedal, the generator increases power, causing more resistance, slowing the vehicle until it stops. This process causes electrical current to flow back to the battery pack, where it continues to power the system. This is why regenerative braking works well in urban settings, because it continually recharges the system with stop-and-go traffic. Each stop at a traffic signal or in heavy traffic situations gives you an added boost when you accelerate again, which actually improves gas mileage and efficiency.
Regenerative braking extends battery life
Because kinetic energy builds as regenerative brakes are used, it helps keep the battery charged and ready to power the accessories used throughout the vehicle. For an electric vehicle, it can help preserve battery life, allowing your vehicle to travel further between power fill-ups. On all vehicles, it reduces wear and tear on the overall braking system, extending the life of the various brake parts.
If you haven’t experienced regenerative brakes before, it takes a bit to get used to the feeling. The added friction can cause more slowing as you move your foot from the brake to the accelerator. Drivers often say it feels more like an on/off switch – now you have power, now you don’t. It makes it feel a bit jumpier during transitions, and takes a bit to get a feel for creating smooth transitions.
In hybrids and newer systems, manufacturers are working to improve the feel of the transition. Some models only use one pedal for all movement.
Brake checks and replacement are still required
One of the reasons people move towards newer technology is the idea of lowering the amount of maintenance required on the vehicle.
Today’s electric technology requires little or no maintenance for the battery, motor, and other electronic parts. There are fewer fluids to check and refill, too, such as motor oil that needs replacing every 5,000 miles or so.
With regenerative braking systems, the friction doesn’t wear on the components the way a traditional system does. It significantly reduces brake wear.
That said, brakes are still a safety feature that needs to be checked from time to time. Reports show that brake rotors and pads can last 100,000 miles or more.
Regenerative braking systems still use physical brakes. That means they mirror traditional brake construction, with rubber, fluids, and metal all being impacted over time. And that means they can suffer many problems found with conventional brakes, and still need maintenance over time.
Electric vehicles might not use motor oil, but they still need brake fluid to function. And no matter how well cared for your vehicle is, brake fluid degrades over time. Especially if you’re not pumping the brakes at regular intervals. If you work from home more and your vehicle sits in the garage for days, it can impact brake’s health.
Traditional brake maintenance revolved around worn out parts. Manufacturers had specific guidelines for replacing things like brake pads, rotors, and drums. They built safety features to warn you when things were wearing down to decrease the risks associated with brake failure.
Because regenerative brakes utilize different energy for braking, the components might not wear down as fast. But it is important to pay attention to brake fluid replacement, changing it based on mileage and timing. Even if you work from home and don’t take it on the road daily, fluid can still be compromised and degrade over time.
That’s why many elective vehicles include frequent brake fluid check-ups and replacement, often once every two years.
Another problem can be rust build-up, unless your car is specifically designed with carbon-ceramic brakes or other systems that are non-metallic. A little bit of surface rust won’t impact performance. But if it’s unchecked for too long, it can break through and cause more extensive problems. Detailing the brakes, especially after extended downtime, is a good idea to ensure they are working well and haven’t seized.
Proper maintenance – the key to any vehicle’s long life
Whether you drive a gasoline, diesel, hybrid, or electric vehicle, ensuring a long life starts with proper maintenance.
Instead of waiting for a problem to arise, regular inspections will allow the problem to be fixed early, meaning you’ll spend less time facing bigger issues down the road.
Regenerative brakes are the future of the automotive industry. They work better, last longer, and provide your vehicle with added safety features.
Yes, regenerative braking is more manageable in urban environments where they get a boost every time you use them. Just keep the process mild, without pouncing on the brakes to ensure the longest life possible.
Do you have any experience with a regenerative braking system?