Blog Car Care Advice Your Complete Guide on How Car Brakes Work (+ Repair Costs)
Car Care Advice

Your Complete Guide on How Car Brakes Work (+ Repair Costs)

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Did you know that a car traveling at 60mph covers 271 feet before coming to a complete stop?
Imagine how long it would take if your brakes weren’t in prime condition

That’s why it’s important to know the signs of brake issues early. And the best way to do that is to understand how car brakes work.

By the end, you’ll know exactly what to look for to keep your brakes in top shape. 

This Article Contains: 

How Car Brakes Work: Disc and Drum Brakes

There are two main types of brakes: disc brakes and drum brakes. Let’s explore how each braking system works. 

A. Disc Brakes 

Disc brakes consist of a brake caliper, brake pads, and a rotor. When you press the brake pedal, hydraulic pressure is sent to the brake calipers. This pressure pushes the brake pads against the brake rotor, creating friction that slows the wheel. 

A disc brake system is known for its efficient heat dissipation, which ensures consistent braking performance. As such, most vehicles today have disc brakes on all four wheels. 

B. Drum Brakes

A drum brake system consists of a brake drum enclosing a brake shoe set and a wheel cylinder. Pressing the brake pedal causes the hydraulic fluid to push the brake shoes outwards, creating friction with the drum and slowing the wheel. 

A drum brake system is an older braking technology still used in the rear wheels of some modern cars. While drum brakes provide good stopping power and are relatively cheaper than disc brakes, they aren’t as good at dissipating heat as disc brakes. 

Both disc and drum brakes rely on hydraulic pressure. Let’s take a closer look at what happens inside. 

What Makes Up a Hydraulic Brake System

A vehicle’s braking system consists of several brake parts working together. These include: 

1. Brake Pedal: Creates Leverage

Hydraulic braking starts when you press the brake pedal. The pedal controls how much braking force is applied: pressing harder results in stronger braking, while pressing gently provides softer braking.

2. Brake Booster: Amplifies the Force

Braking takes a lot of force, more than you can apply with just your foot alone. That’s where the brake booster comes in. Traditional brake boosters use vacuum pressure from the engine to increase the force exerted on the master cylinder. Hydraulic brake boosters use pressure from the power steering pump.

3. Master Cylinder: Converts Force to Hydraulic Pressure

The master cylinder converts the force applied by the brake pedal (amplified by the brake booster) into hydraulic pressure. Pressing on the brake pedal pushes a piston inside the master cylinder. The cylinder compresses the brake fluid (also known as hydraulic fluid) and sends it through the brake lines and hoses. 

4. Brake Lines and Brake Hoses: Transfer Hydraulic Pressure

The brake lines and hoses transfer the pressurized brake fluid to the braking components at each wheel. 

Brake lines and brake hoses both transport brake fluid, but they do it differently. A brake line is rigid and runs the length of the vehicle, connecting the master cylinder with the brake hoses. 

A brake hose is flexible, connecting the brake lines to the brake calipers (in disc brakes) or wheel cylinders (in drum brakes). A brake hose needs to be flexible to move with the steering and suspension components. 

5. Brake Pads and Brake Shoes: Create Friction

Once the pressurized fluid reaches the caliper or wheel cylinder, it applies force on the brake pads or brake shoes: 

Now that we understand the key components of hydraulic brakes and the braking process, let’s look at some signs that might indicate you need a brake job.

5 Signs You May Need a Brake Service

Bad brake symptoms can often overlap. Here’s a lineup of the five most common ones signaling you need a brake service: 

1. Odd Sounds

Squealing or screeching sounds when braking is often one of the first indicators a brake service is due. A built-in wear indicator usually creates these noises to let you know when you have worn brake pads and it’s time for a replacement.

However, a grinding noise is more serious and suggests impending brake failure. It indicates the brake pads have worn away completely, causing the metal backing plate to scrape against the brake rotor. 

2. Unusual Pedal Feel

If the brake pedal feels different when pressing, pay close attention to how it feels:

3. Pulling to One Side 

If your car pulls to one side when baking, it can be due to several issues, such as: 

However, improperly aligned wheels, a worn wheel bearing, uneven tire pressure, or issues with the steering or suspension can also cause this issue.

Note: During an emergency stop, modern vehicles equipped with ABS may pull to one side. This isn’t necessarily a brake problem; it’s just the ABS system making rapid adjustments to the braking force on each wheel to prevent skidding.

4. Vibrations

Vibrations or pulsations are often caused by an uneven rotor, worn brake pads, or a malfunctioning brake caliper. However, misaligned wheels can also cause this.

5. Brake Warning Light Flashes

Lots of potential issues can cause the brake warning light to illuminate. It can indicate: 

Whatever the car brake issue, you should schedule a visit to an auto repair shop as soon as possible. 

Let’s look at how much you could expect to pay. 

How Much Does a Brake Repair Cost?

The total cost depends on the type of vehicle and the amount of work needed. However, expect to pay $950 to $1,300 for a complete brake replacement,  including labor costs of $100 to $200 per axle. 

This includes replacing parts like :

Now that we’ve covered the potential costs of repairs, let’s address some frequently asked questions about car brakes.

4 FAQs on Car Brakes 

Here are the answers to some common car brake-related queries you may have: 

1. What Are Anti Lock Brakes?

The anti-lock braking system (ABS) is a vital safety feature that keeps the wheels from locking when braking sharply, especially on slippery roads. It prevents the car from skidding, allowing you to control the vehicle as it slows. 

When braking with ABS, speed sensors monitor how fast the wheels are turning. Once they detect a wheel is about to lock, they send a signal to the electric control unit (ECU). The ECU modulates the brake pressure by rapidly releasing and applying the brakes, preventing the wheel from locking up. 

2. How do Handbrakes Work?

The handbrake (also known as the parking brake or emergency brake) is a lever mechanism that holds a vehicle in a parked position. It works independently from the car’s main hydraulic brakes. 

The parking brake system usually consists of a cable connected to the brake mechanism on one end and a lever or a pedal at the driver’s position. 

When applying the handbrake, the cable passes through an intermediate lever, which increases the force of the pull. An equalizer then evenly distributes this force to the rear brakes, holding your vehicle in place. 

3. What Is Regenerative Braking?

Regenerative braking is primarily used in hybrid and electric vehicles. It captures the kinetic energy produced during braking, converts it into electrical energy, and recharges the vehicle’s battery. 

4. How Can I Keep My Brakes in Good Condition?

There are a few brake maintenance tips to keep your brakes in good working order: 

Keep Your Brakes in Top Condition with AutoNation Mobile Service

Understanding your braking system can go a long way in keeping you safe on the road. Regular maintenance also ensures you avoid costly repairs down the line. 

If you notice any warning signs, book an inspection ASAP. 
For the simplest solution to your brake issues, there’s AutoNation Mobile Service

We’re a mobile vehicle repair and maintenance service available seven days a week

Contact us, and we’ll sort your brakes directly from your driveway.