The brake system is the most crucial safety feature in your car.
A brake failure could endanger your passengers, other drivers, and your life.
But is there more than one type of brake system?
How does a brake system work?
In this article, we’ll discover the basics of a brake system, the five types of braking systems, and their key components. We’ll also explore handy tips on maintaining the brake system and signs your brake system parts are wearing out.
This Article Contains:
- The Basics Of A Car Brake System
- What Are The Types Of Braking Systems?
- What Are The Key Components Of A Brake System?
- How To Maintain A Brake System
- How To Tell If Brake System Parts Are Wearing Out?
The Basics Of A Car Brake System
Whether it’s a car, motorcycle, or airplane, the brake system is critical in slowing down your motor vehicle. Depending on the type of vehicle, there are many different braking systems.
A brake system comprises various components that create friction between the brakes and wheels. But first, let’s take a closer look at the basics of a hydraulic brake system — the one you’ll most likely find in your car:
- On pressing the brake pedal, the pushrod exerts pressure on the master cylinder (which is filled with hydraulic fluid.)
- The cylinder pistons release the fluid down the brake lines into the brake calipers, actuating the caliper pistons.
- The caliper pistons push the brake pads against the rotor (disc brake), creating friction to slow down the motor vehicle. Likewise, in a drum brake, the brake shoes press against the brake drum.
As a result, the kinetic energy gets converted into heat via friction.
Now let’s explore the different brake system types.
What Are The Types Of Braking Systems?
Here are five popular braking systems:
1. Hydraulic Brake System
The hydraulic brake works by transmitting hydraulic pressure throughout the braking system.
Pressing the brake pedal forces the brake fluid from the master cylinder into the wheel cylinders (or brake caliper) through pipelines. The wheel cylinder piston pushes the braking material against the brake drum (drum brakes) or rotor (disc brakes) to bring the vehicle to a halt.
2. Mechanical Brake System
In the mechanical brake system, various mechanical linkages carry forward the force applied on the brake pedal through to the final brake drum.
While older vehicles still use this system, it’s mainly used to power the emergency brake in modern vehicles.
3. Anti Lock Braking System
Anti lock brakes (ABS) work on pressure modulation, preventing your wheels from locking.
The ABS control module diagnoses and processes information from the wheel-speed sensors, determining when to release braking pressure. So when you hit the brakes, it quickly adjusts the pressure at the wheels (15 times per second.)
That’s how the anti lock braking system prevents the wheels from locking while bringing the vehicle to a comfortable stop.
4. Air Brake System
Heavy vehicles like trucks, buses, and trains use the air brake system. This braking system uses compressed air instead of hydraulic fluid.
When you press the air brake pedal, the brake valve pushes compressed air into the brake chambers, applying the brakes.
On releasing the brake pedal, the master cylinder piston returns to its original position, dropping the pressure and releasing the brakes.
5. Electromagnetic Brake System
This brake system functions via frictionless braking, increasing its lifespan and reliability.
Wondering how this works?
An electrical current passes through the brake coils, creating an electromagnetic field. This field turns the coil into an electromagnet, which attracts the armature attached to the rotating shaft (of a wheel.) This magnetic attraction brings the rotating shaft to a quick halt.
You can find this brake system in modern or hybrid vehicles, but they’re typically used in trams and trains.
Brake systems are complex, and they comprise many key components.
Let’s have a look at these parts.
What Are The Key Components Of A Brake System?
Here are some key components and their respective functions:
1. Disc brake: The disc brake is a service brake found on the front wheels (and on all four in some modern vehicles.)
Disc brakes feature:
- Brake rotor: The brake rotor is a circular disc attached to the wheel hub. It converts kinetic energy (motion) into heat (thermal energy.)
- Brake pad: It comprises a steel backing plate with thick friction material. It’s bound to the side, facing the brake rotors.
- Brake caliper: The brake caliper is responsible for squeezing the brake pads against the rotor to stop the car.
2. Drum brake: Older or heavy vehicles use drum brakes as foundation brakes. But you can also find them on the rear wheel of some modern vehicles.
- Brake shoe: The brake shoe is a crescent-shaped component with rough friction material.
- Brake drum: The brake drum is made from heat-conductive and wear-resistant cast iron and is an essential brake component. It pairs up with the brake shoe to create friction.
- Wheel cylinder: The wheel cylinder (brake cylinder) is located at the top of each wheel above the brake shoes. It forces the brake shoes against the brake drum to create friction.
3. Brake pedal: The brake pedal is the part you press with your foot to activate the brake system.
4. Master cylinder: The master cylinder transmits hydraulic pressure from the brake pedal to the braking mechanism.
5. Brake line: The brake line is responsible for carrying brake fluid from the master cylinder reservoir to the wheels.
6. Brake booster: The brake booster uses an engine vacuum to amplify the force from the pressed brake pedal. It’s usually found in a hydraulic brake system.
7. Emergency brake: The emergency brake (parking brake, hand brake, or e-brake) is used to secure the vehicle from moving. On the other hand, a service brake is what you normally use to slow down or stop your vehicle.
Brake wear and tear is common. But here’s how you can maximize its life span and prevent a catastrophic brake failure.
How To Maintain A Brake System
Here are some general maintenance tips to keep your brake system safe for the road:
- Avoid speeding: The faster you drive, the more you need to hit the brakes (especially within the city). As a result, the braking system components wear out earlier than usual.
- Limit frequent heavy loads: Carrying heavy loads in your vehicle puts strain on your brakes, resulting in your brake pads and rotors wearing out faster.
- Inspect and replace brake parts: Braking generates immense heat, impacting many brake components’ lifespan. Timely inspections and replacing necessary parts help prevent on-road mishaps and expensive repairs.
- Flush your brake fluid: Brake fluid becomes contaminated with dirt and debris over time and can corrode essential brake components. It’s best to flush your brake fluid every 30,000 miles or every two years (whichever comes first.)
- Bleed your brake lines: Air bubbles can hamper your brake’s effectiveness. Bleeding your brake lines helps purge out air bubbles from the brake fluid pipes and hoses.
With brakes being such an important safety feature, spotting signs of brake wear and tear is critical.
How To Tell If Brake System Parts Are Wearing Out?
Here are some obvious signs that something’s wrong with your brakes:
1. The Steering Wheel Vibrates
The friction and heat from the braking process cause the brake rotors to bend over time, resulting in the brake pads pressing unevenly against the surface.
When this happens, you may notice the steering wheel vibrating when you press the brakes.
2. Brake Inefficiency
Another common sign is a stiff brake pedal or brake fade (the inability to reduce the vehicle’s speed.)
3. Odd Noises
Have you noticed screeching or squealing noises while braking?
If so, it’s time to get your brake pads or brake shoes checked and replaced.
4. Car Pulling To One Side
When the brake pads wear out unevenly, you may notice your car dragging to one side while braking.
The causes include friction problems, rear brake imbalance, misalignment, and many more. In such a situation, it’s best to have your vehicle diagnosed by a certified auto repair technician.
5. Brake Light Flashing
The brake light on your dashboard is a sure sign of a faulty brake system and must not be ignored.
6. Brake Overheating
The brake overheating could be due to an incorrectly installed or worn-out brake pad or a faulty braking system.
7. Pool Of Fluid Under Your Car
A worn-out brake pad, rotor, or drum, could cause the caliper piston or wheel cylinder piston to hyperextend.
This could break the piston seal, resulting in a pool of fluid under your vehicle. A brake fluid leak could also happen due to broken brake lines.
8. Air Bubbles
The modern braking system is a closed-loop system, but brake fluid is hygroscopic (prone to absorbing water from the atmosphere.) Steam from boiling brake fluid could also lead to air in the brake lines.
When that happens, you’ll find the brakes feeling soft or spongy.
Brake systems are integral to any vehicle and need regular care and maintenance to avoid unwanted incidents.
If you suspect a malfunction with your braking system, contact AutoNation Mobile Service.
AutoNation Mobile Service offers a convenient mobile auto repair service that you can book online in just a few clicks. We also offer upfront pricing and a 12-Month, 12,000-Mile warranty on all our repairs.
Contact us, and our mechanics will drop by to diagnose and fix your brake problems in your driveway!