Car Brakes: Everything You Should Know, and Signs That They’re Going Bad

One of the most underrated systems in a car is the brake system. Nonetheless, it is one of the essential safety systems that you should not disregard.

Most people have the vaguest idea of how their car’s braking system actually works. But, to be straightforward, the brake system as a whole is an interplay of complex and precise mechanisms.

In this article, we will be giving you a better idea of how a vehicle’s brake system works and what you need to look out for in terms of its performance so you can keep it in its best condition and, most of all, keep you safe as you drive your vehicle daily.

Four Main Components of Your Brake System

Before jumping right into this crucial topic, let’s get to know first the main components of your brake system:

  • Brake Pads

    For a disc brake system, brake pads are the heat-resistant friction material that presses on the brake discs or brake rotors to slow down the wheel. It is made to withstand the intense heat and pressure they are constantly subjected to. However, over time, these components eventually deteriorate, which requires replacement to keep you safe on the road.

    Brake pads can be organic, ceramic, or metallic, each with pros and cons.

    • Organic brake pads
      • Usually made from resin, glass, or rubber
      • Environmental-friendly
      • High-heat tolerance
      • Wears down quickly
    • Ceramic brake pads
      • Mixed composition of ceramic, cotton fibers, and bonding materials
      • Durable and lightweight
      • Expensive
      • Superb heat dissipation
      • For high-performing vehicles
    • Metallic brake pads
      • Mixed composition of metals and bonding materials
      • Most common today
      • Highly-durable and economical
      • Impressive performance
      • Good heat dissipation
  • Brake Fluid

    A brake fluid is a form of hydraulic fluid that is compressed by the brake master cylinder’s piston to deliver pressure to the brake caliper and, eventually, slow down the wheels.

    If the brake fluid is not in good condition, the brake caliper will not function as intended. The braking system is reliant on the brake fluid for its function. However, this hydraulic fluid deteriorates with time.

  • Brake Shoes

    Brake shoes are mechanical components that the driver uses to stop the vehicle. A metal component supports it, and the padded area makes contact with the brake, creating friction that enables the car to stop without harming it. Brake shoes are located within the drum shoes.

  • Brake Rotors

    Brake rotors (or brake discs) are the components your car brakes clamp down to stop the wheels from turning.

    There are two brake rotors: standard discs and performance brake rotors. Performance brake rotors are further divided into two types: drilled and slotted.

  • Drilled Rotors

    This type of rotor has drilled holes bored into them to allow heat to dissipate. If the heat from the friction between brake pads and the rotor is not dispersed, this will result in brake fade.

    When traveling through wet conditions, the drilled holes aid drainage from brake rotors.

  • Slotted Rotors

    Slotted rotors utilize grooves in the flat metal surface to transport heat, gas, and water away from the rotors. They are typically more resilient than drilled rotors; however, it wears down brake pads swiftly.

Other Vital Components:

  • ABS Control Module

    The ABS control module examines the braking system to send the optimum pressure to each wheel.

  • Disc Brakes

    Disc brakes are usually found in front of the wheels. It includes the brake pads attached to the caliper to push on a disc or rotor when the brake pedal is applied.

  • Drum Brakes

    Drum brakes are found on the rear of the car. It consists of shoes, wheel cylinders, and a drum that stops the vehicle when the brake pedal is pressed.

  • Emergency Brakes

    The emergency brake works independently from the primary brake system. It prevents the car from rolling away when parked.

  • Brake Booster

    The brake booster reduces the pressure needed for braking. It also increases the force applied on the master cylinder through the brake pedal.

  • Wheel Speed Sensors

    Wheel speed sensors act as transmitters as they track each tire’s speed and transmit data to the ABS control module.

  • Brake Pedal

    The brake pedal triggers the piston cylinder to rotate and complete the motion, initiating the braking action.

  • Master Cylinder

    The master cylinder converts pressure from non-hydraulic to hydraulic to press brake pads against the rotors and stop the automobile.

How Do Car Brakes Work?

There are three (3) different types of braking systems: hydraulic, drum brakes, and regenerative braking systems.

  • Hydraulic Brake System

    A hydraulic brake system aims to change mechanical energy into heat by transforming and amplifying the force applied to the brake pedal.

    The brake pedal has a lever-like action that considerably increases the force exerted on the braking fluid in the master cylinder in conjunction with the brake booster.

    In addition, the master cylinder raises the pressure of the brake fluid. It is then delivered to the brake calipers and wheel cylinders through brake lines and hoses. The caliper piston is acted upon by the pressurized fluid, which causes the disc brake pads to be squeezed inward and clamped against the brake rotors.

  • Drum Brakes

    Drum brakes operate similarly to a bicycle coaster brake: the wheel cylinders slide forward and jam the brake shoes against the drum.

    The energy of the brake shoes pushing against the drum and the brake pads and clamping on the rotors produces heat and friction. These by-products reduce the rotation of the rotor, axle, and wheel. Subsequently, the friction created between the tire and the road surface stops the vehicle.

  • Regenerative Brake System

    For a regenerative braking system, the hybrid car’s electric drive motor runs backward once the accelerator or brake pedal is pressed down

    The drive motor slows down the vehicle by creating a drag on the wheels and simultaneously recharging the high-voltage batteries.

    While most initial stopping power is provided by regenerative braking, the hydraulic system activates during panic stops or hard stops at high speeds.

    Simply stated, by pressing the brake pedal, the cylinder is activated. It then delivers brake fluid to the calipers to engage with the brake pads. The brake pads subsequently apply pressure to the rotors, creating friction to stop the car.

Signs You Could Have Brake Problems

Car brake repair and maintenance is an essential part of vehicle maintenance. When you regularly maintain your breaks, you can be assured that they will perform their function when you need them the most. However, even with maintenance, your car’s braking system should be inspected and serviced by auto-care professionals, especially if you experience one or more of these warning signs.

  1. The brake light is on

    When your brake light is on, it can be caused by your parking brake or other potential problems. If releasing your parking brake does not go away, you will need regular maintenance to address whatever underlying issues.

  2. Grinding noises

    Whether you have drum or disc brakes, grinding sounds could indicate that you need car brakes repair. This is due to the brake shoe or pad scraping against metal contact points.

  3. Squealing or squeaking noise

    Noise coming from your brakes may not be an indication of trouble. There are times when foreign objects, such as pebbles or debris, get stuck in them.

    Sometimes, it can indicate that your brake pads are worn out. Worn-out brake pads produce a loud noise as you press them since the metal fragments that come with them make contact with the rotor.

  4. Wobbling or vibration when stepping on the brakes

    Large discs, known as brake rotors, are located inside the wheels. The brake pads push against these rotors to prevent the wheels from spinning.

    When the rotors become uneven, which is expected due to their usage over time, this would cause your steering wheel or car to shake or vibrate. If left in such a condition, as you step on the brakes, the pad material will transfer to the rotor surface, causing its accumulation on uneven spots.

  5. Spongy or soft breaks

    There should be some resistance when you apply the brakes. If the brakes seem flimsy or the pedal extends to the floorboard, this could indicate an underlying issue in your master cylinder or the presence of air or moisture in your braking system.

  6. Fluid Leakage

    Many things take place at once when you apply the brakes.

    The brake fluid is a crucial component of the braking process as it generates hydraulic pressure against the brake caliper. You won’t be able to stop safely if your car is not filled with brake fluid.

  7. Car deviating when braking

    While there are many potential causes for your car to be pulled aside, this could indicate a faulty brake hose or caliper problem.

    The reason could be that this is happening in the front brakes, wherein one brake may function while the other does not. This results in a pull in the side direction. Moreover, if only one rear caliper is malfunctioning, it can go unnoticed, which makes regular maintenance a must.

  8. Burning smell

    A harsh chemical can indicate overheated brakes. Do these action steps to prevent brake failure and to keep yourself as well:

    • Pull over at a safe location and let the brakes cool down to avoid brake failure.
    • Ensure that the parking brake is ultimately released.

    If a cloud of smoke emerges from a wheel, this could indicate a faulty brake caliper that has become locked in place. Thus, immediate repairs are needed to avoid any accidents and further damage.

What is a Brake Inspection?

Car Geeks offers the best car repair services in Kapolei, HI, particularly our brake examinations. Our ASE-certified technicians can precisely detect the problem and have the qualified experience and expertise to fix your brake problems.

Our brake inspection includes the following services:

  • Pads/shoes
  • Drums or rotors
  • Calipers
  • Wheel brakes
  • Hardware
  • Cables
  • Fluid condition
  • Grease seals and wheel bearings
  • Exchange in master cylinder fluid
  • Brake hoses

Driving Habits You Can Do

You can take the following action steps to prevent brake pads from wearing out instantly:

  • Abstain from sudden braking
  • Limit your speed
  • Drive cautiously
  • Avoid “riding” the brake
  • Avoid driving in stop-and-go traffic as much as possible

Although you have little control over the area where you do most of your driving, keep in mind that frequent braking in mountainous or hilly areas will wear down your brake pads more quickly.

Final Thoughts

A basic understanding of your car’s brake system will help you maintain the entire system and the individual parts to provide protection and safety as you drive on the road regularly.

An important note from all of us at Car Geeks is never to overlook your worn-out brake pads. Always have them checked.

When unsure about the current conditions of your brake pads or any other components, make Car Geeks your go-to auto service shop. We offer auto repair financing no credit check so that you can work on unexpected car repairs.

Book an appointment with us or visit our shop today!

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