Of the thousands of parts that make up your car, none are more important than those that make up your braking system. Their proper performance is critical to ensure your and your families, safety. Understanding the basic principles of how your brake system works will allow you to better understand what needs to be done and make a more informed decision when your brakes need servicing.
There are two basic types of brakes: disc and drums. Most vehicles come with power assisted front disc and rear drum brakes and today, virtually all vehicles are factory equipped with computer controlled anti-lock braking systems (ABS). Computer-controlled ABS brakes are designed to allow you to maintain steering control preventing wheel lock-up during panic braking situations or braking on wet or icy surfaces.
It is important that you have a qualified technician inspect your brakes once a year to avoid future costly repairs or disastrous brake failure.
* Do you have to press your brake pedal to or almost to the floor?
* Do you hear squealing or grinding noises?
* Does your car pull to one side when braking?
* Your brake pedal is low or hard to push.
* Your brake warning light is on.
* Does your brake pedal pulsate up and down when pressed?
* Does your brake pedal feel spongy?
* If you need to frequently add brake fluid you may have a leak in the hydraulic system, which should be inspected as soon as possible by a qualified technician.
Brake hardware is used to keep brake parts in their proper location and return parts to their original location after you have applied the brakes and released them. Brake hardware related to disc brakes usually include anti-rattle springs, pad-retaining springs, shims, caliper pins, support keys, return springs and retaining screws. For drum brakes they typically include return, hold-down, adjuster springs and adjuster screw assembly.
Brake fluid is a specially formulated liquid used in the brake hydraulic system. Brake fluid transmits force to the various parts of the braking system when you step on the brake pedal. You should have your brake fluid checked regularly. Your owner’s manual may also specify that your vehicle may require flushing and filling of the brake hydraulic system.
If you need to frequently add brake fluid you may have a leak in the hydraulic system, which you should have inspected immediately.
Brake Pads and Shoes:
Brake pad and shoe friction are available in a variety of formulations such as, semi-metallic and ceramic to suit your driving needs. Brake pads and shoes are forced against a rotor or drum that creates friction to slow the vehicle and as such, are the wearable elements of your brake system that should be inspected by a certified technician annually. Replacing worn brake pads and shoes before they get to the metal-to-metal point, can save you money. When your brake pads and shoes get to the metal-to-metal point, it usually means expensive rotor and / or drum replacement.
Brake Calipers (disc brakes):
Brake calipers are large hydraulic clamps. Calipers have one or more pistons that move outward with the increased brake fluid pressure, forcing the brake pad to contact the rotor surface thereby slowing or stopping your vehicle. When you take your foot off the brake pedal it releases the pressure, the piston retracts pulling the brake pad off of the rotor surface.
Caliper integrity is vital to the function of the brake system and can be compromised as a result of exposure to road grit, heat and contaminated brake fluid.
Brake Rotors and Drums:
Brake rotors and drums are attached to the wheel of your vehicle. They are the surfaces that the brake pad and shoes are forced against to slow or stop your vehicle. Brake rotors and drums must dissipate heat and stand up to continuous contact with water and road grit.
When having your brakes serviced make sure that you have your hardware replaced, as it will ensure safe braking and help you get the longest life from your new brakes.
Brake Hoses and Steel Lines:
The brake hoses and steel lines transmit the brake fluid to various elements of the braking system.
The brake hydraulic system consists of the master cylinder, hydraulic lines and hoses. When you apply pressure to the brake pedal the resulting force generates pressure in the master cylinder, which then flows through the lines and hoses to the wheel cylinders and/or calipers forcing the brake shoes or pads against the drums or rotors. It is important to check the brake fluid in the master cylinder reservoir regularly. If you need to add brake fluid frequently you should have the system checked as soon as possible by a qualified technician.
If your ABS braking system fails, a warning light will come on. Although your ABS warning light is on, your main braking system is unaffected and you will be able to stop. You should have your brakes serviced as soon as possible.
ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System) consists of a set of sensors for each wheel that notifies a computer when the wheel locks during extreme or emergency braking conditions. The computer releases the brake many times per second eliminating the need to pump the brake pedal allowing the driver to maintain steering control.
Using ABS brakes is simple, just press down on the brake pedal and continue steering your vehicle. You may also experience pulsating in your brake pedal or hear a humming noise that only indicates that the ABS working. If there is no pulsating or a humming noise your brakes may not be locking up, so the ABS is not needed.