What to Know About Your Car’s Brakes

The system of mechanisms that work to slow and stop your car start with brake pads at each wheel, fed by brake line hoses from a master cylinder, linked to the brake fluid container under your hood.  Here, we’ll break down what happens in your braking system from the second you press your foot to the brake pedal.

Your car has three main ways to slow and stop:

  • Front wheels (sometimes rear): disc brakes
    • Work similarly to bicycle brakes, where the brake pad squeezes the rotor instead of the wheel
  • Rear wheels: drum brakes
    • Work through pistons that compress the brake pads against the drum
  • Other braking systems:
    • Emergency brake, controlled by a series of cables
    • Anti-lock braking system, computerized and automatic on newer cars

When you press the brake pedal…

  • The pressure you put on the pedal transfers to the master cylinder, which distributes brake fluid through the brake lines
  • The fluid moving through the brake lines creates friction and heat that reaches the brake pads
  • The friction and heat from the fluid reaching the brake pads forces the brake pads to compress on the disc or drum of each wheel
  • This slows your car

It is vital to maintain your brakes and to give them proper maintenance at least once a year.  Services on your brakes can include replacing brake pads or fluid, bleeding of the brake system, resurfacing the rotors, and total inspections.  If you are in doubt, it’s best to just check it all.  There are some easy to identify warning signs that your brakes may need to be serviced:

  • Brakes making squealing sounds (usually worn brake pads)
  • The car vibrating when you press the brake pedal
  • The dashboard indicator light
  • Car alignment seems off (car pulls to one side)
  • Brake pedal feels strange (too much give or too little)

Collisions due to delayed braking are common, studies show, and it is your responsibility to make sure that your brakes are working in optimum condition.   Distracted drivers are much more likely to be the cause of a rear-end collision, and your brakes are your last hope of avoiding that car accident.  With the advent of anti-lock braking systems, brake failure is less likely but still possible; and vehicle manufacturers are not necessarily timely with their product recalls.  It is best to know for sure that all the components of your braking systems are working.  Getting regular service on your vehicle and keeping service records can help you to not only avoid a collision, but to keep yourself covered in case of a car accident.