When most people purchase a car, they don’t think a lot about the individual pieces used to create the final vehicle.
You might look at make and model. You might look online for reviews. You might consider safety and select one that will provide you and your family miles of safe driving.
While it’s easy to take the time to select your preferred color, ensure it has the features you’ll enjoy, or even select one for a comfortable ride, rarely do you consider what makes it all work.
Did you stop to consider how your car’s brakes work, for example? Or did you just assume they work because of advancements in technology?
Buying a new car usually means the brakes will work for years without trouble. It can be a bit more difficult if you purchase a used car. It depends on who you buy from and how well the vehicle was maintained.
But in either case, you’ll start driving your car as you move throughout your busy days, relying on the safety of your car.
How does a car’s brakes work?
How do you know you’re safe every time you step on the brake pedal?
There’s a lot riding on it.
Imagine sailing down the mountain after a day of skiing, only to discover nothing happens when you press the brake pedal down. That’s a pretty scary thought, isn’t it? Especially if you have your family inside the vehicle?
The braking system is a fantastic invention that helps you get from point A to point B safely and secure. So how does it work?
Let’s start at the beginning. The concept of braking is simple. Any time you’re in motion, it takes friction to slow down. A vehicle’s braking system takes kinetic energy and turns it into heat energy through the use of friction as it is applied to your wheels. Your wheels turn. Using friction, brakes convert this to heat energy, which slows and stops your car.
Pretty simple. But of course, there are many ways to approach it. You can even see this at work in the Flintstones cartoons where foot-power is used to slow and stop the vehicle.
Today’s cars are a lot more complicated, and we use this process in different ways to achieve the same results.
Brake System Parts
A car’s braking system is made up of a number of parts.
Brake pedal – this is the lever you press down on with your foot. The more pressure you apply, the more your car slows down until it eventually stops.
Brake booster – most vehicles today have power brakes. The brake booster is what increases the force of the stopping mechanism without having to increase the force of pressing down. There are two separate kinds of brake boosters – vacuum-assisted and hydraulic-assisted. Vacuum-assisted boosters create a vacuum using air coming in from the engine. Hydraulic-assisted uses hydraulic pressure from the vehicle’s power steering. As you step on the pedal, force created by this action kicks in and makes stopping easier.
Master cylinder – this holds the brake fluid. Brake fluid runs through the brake lines and into each wheel of your car. The master cylinder ensures power is sent to all four brakes at an even rate. Most master cylinders have two reservoirs, each filled with brake fluid. This is a fail-safe mechanism to give more assurance that if there’s a leak or a blockage, all four wheels won’t be impacted at the same time. On a rear-wheel drive car, one reservoir feeds to the front while the other supplies the rear. On a front-wheel drive car, it uses a diagonally split system because the front brakes do most of the braking. That ensures there is one line to each of the front brakes, to lessen the likelihood of complete failure.
Brake lines – these are steel tubes that connect the master cylinder to each of the four brakes on your car’s wheels. This is how brake fluid moves from the reservoirs in the master cylinder to each of the brakes.
Brakes – there are two different kinds of braking systems: drum brakes and disc brakes.
Drum brakes have been on cars for over one hundred years. Drums are attached to each wheel, with two heat-resistant pads inside. As you press down on the brake pedal, brake fluid moves into the drum. It activates two small pistons that control the brake pads and pressing out against the brake drum. This process slows the car down. Drum brakes are inexpensive and can last a long time. You’ll likely find them on the rear wheels of the vehicle.
Disc brakes were developed to combat the biggest problem with drum brakes: heat. Drum brakes are self contained. As heat builds, it has nowhere else to go. If they get too hot, they can no longer create the friction necessary to slow and stop. Disc brakes work in the opposite direction, squeezing the brake pads in towards a metal disc attached to the wheel. This creates more pressure, thus creating friction. And because the brakes don’t reside in a drum, they don’t get as hot as drum brakes do.
Of course, there are other tiny parts that make a big impact too. This is an intricate system designed to keep you safe as you slow and stop.
Brakes can become compromised in all kinds of conditions. Brake damage or failure can result from things such as improper maintenance, ignoring maintenance altogether, low levels of brake fluid, worn out brake pads, or even undetected damage from an unknown source. Colorado driving conditions often exacerbate the situation, especially if you travel mountain roads regularly, drive in extreme weather conditions, or often pull trailers and other sports or camping equipment that can take its toll on brake systems.
Watch for these signs
To avoid potential brake problems that can leave your passengers at a safety risk, watch for:
Strange noises – if you tap on the brake and hear a high pitched squeal, a scraping noise, or a grinding noise, it might be your brake pads coming in contact with the disc.
Pulling feeling – if you notice your vehicle pulling to one side or the other when you tap on the brake pedal, it can be one of your brakes isn’t working the same as the other. If your brake pedal sinks to the floor, or pulsates before braking begins, it’s a sign your brakes need maintenance and attention.
Slowing takes more time – if it takes longer to slow and stop, it indicates a problem with your brakes.
Warning lights – don’t ignore those tiny lights that appear on the dashboard from time to time. They’re there for a reason.
Do you have a problem with your brakes? Stay safe and schedule an appointment today.