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Car Brakes - Components, Common Issues And Maintenance

How much do you know about your car brakes? Unquestionably, we know it brings our car to a stop or slows it down when we need it. But, did you ever think about how the braking system in your vehicle works?

Your car brakes are crucial to your safety. They are the line between life and death in certain situations. Despite that, many people take braking systems for granted. While some of you might know what a failing braking system feels like, chances are you have no idea what to do about them.

That is what you will be learning in this blog today. We will explain how brakes work, what are some telltale signs of brake failure, and how you can keep them in tip-top shape.

However, before we discuss the working of the car brakes, let us first explain the components of the braking system and how they contribute to its working.

What are the components of the typical car brakes?

Your car brakes are simple to understand. They use friction to decelerate a vehicle and stop its motion. You may know that your car wheel generates kinetic energy while running. When you apply brakes, they create friction and convert this kinetic energy to heat energy. Once all the energy gets transformed, your vehicle comes to a halt.

Most modern vehicles have a braking system that operates by the principle of hydraulics. Their car brakes use pressurised fluids. I will explain the working of this system by going over each component and their part in the system.

Brake Pedal:

Car brakes - brake pedal of an old car

The brake pedal is under your steering wheel. It transfers the mechanical force you apply to the pushrod.

Push Rod:
This rod transfers the mechanical pressure from the brake pedal through the servo.

Servo:
We also call the servo “the vacuum booster." It assists you by applying additional force to the braking system. It then transfers the force to the master cylinder.

Master Cylinder:
This component converts non-hydraulic pressure that you apply on the brake pedal into hydraulic pressure. The master cylinder contains pistons with seals and springs that create hydraulic force. This action pressurises the entire hydraulic system of your car brakes. The brake fluid returns to the master cylinder when you release the brake pedal.

Reservoir:
The reservoir holds a sufficient amount of brake fluid to stop air from getting into the hydraulic system.

Hydraulic Lines:
These lines carry brake fluid to the front and rear car brakes.

The brake fluids travel through the hydraulic lines and apply pressure to the calipers or wheel cylinder pistons attached to the wheels on your car. It results in friction that causes the wheels to stop spinning. When you release the car brakes, the entire system reverses, and the brake fluid returns to its original location, thereby allowing your car wheels to turn free, again.

Now that you have understood the working of the car brakes, you should now be able to identify and solve some standard issues that can arise with them.

How to identify common issues with your car brakes:

Car brakes - braking system, components

Your vehicle’s braking system is very crucial to your safety on the road. However, just like other parts of your car, they will also eventually wear out and need maintenance or replacements. Since they’re so vital for safe driving, you should pay special attention to any issues you might notice. I would also advise you not to wait around when you hear any of the following braking sounds. Instead, resolve these issues as soon as possible.

Grinding:
If you hear grinding in your car brakes, the brake pads might need replacement. The sound could also be due to something stuck in the rotors. It could just be the calipers or the metal part of the brake pads. Whatever it might be, you should check it out immediately.

Squealing:
Did you ever hear a high-pitched squealing sound when you step on the brake pedal? It could again indicate an issue with the brake pads that are probably worn out. Another potential cause could be dust, debris, or even rust that has accumulated on the pads. It calls for an urgent inspection.

Loss Of Pedal Pressure:
The pedal on your car brakes should feel firm, and the pressure should increase as you push the pedal down further. If the pedal feels spongy or you can push it down all the way with ease, know that is not normal. There might be a leak in the brake lines, or the brake pedal needs adjustment. If the issue seems extreme, your entire braking system could fail. You should pull over immediately and contact a professional.

Vibrations On The Brake Pedal:
A pulsing or jarring brake pedal indicates worn out brake rotors. This feeling might be very similar to an ABS (Anti Lock Braking System). However, it is better to get it checked to be safe.

How to maintain car brakes?

To keep your car brakes in excellent condition, here are some of my go-to maintenance tips:

  1. Maintain brake fluid levels:
    Make it a part of your weekly driving routine to check the level of brake fluid. You can get an accurate idea of these levels by checking the marking on the brake fluid reservoir. Brake fluids come in various types, and not every kind is suitable for all vehicles. Before you replenish the brake fluid, make sure it works best for your car brakes.

    Car brakes - brake booster with brake master cylinder

  2. Replace the brake fluid:
    While you can often top off the brake fluid when the levels drop, you will occasionally have to replace all of it. The reason for this is that the fluid contaminates over time, and it can harm the master cylinder of your car brakes. The rule of thumb is to replace your brake fluid either every two years or after 25K miles.

  3. Routinely examine the lines and the master cylinder:
    These two are perhaps the most crucial components of the entire braking system. With use, the brake lines could leak either in the joints or in the lines itself.

  4. Check brake pads:
    Car brakes - mechanic checking the brakes

  5. The brake pads deal with the most abuse when you use the brakes. They bear the brunt of all the heat that your car brakes generate. Consequently, they thin out over time and wear out. Check brake pads after 6K miles for signs of failure.

Conclusion:

Car brakes are a simple yet very crucial component of your vehicle. They play an essential role not only in your safety but also in those who drive around you. Most vehicles, these days, use the hydraulic system of braking. Not only does this system distribute pressure more evenly to all the wheels of the car, but they also require a little amount of pressure.

Since they get used a lot, car brakes are prone to wearing out and need the necessary maintenance and attention. Fortunately, the issues with your braking system are easy to detect. They are also simple to fix. So, to keep yourself and others safe, follow the basic maintenance rules and consult a mechanic immediately if you detect any issues.