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How Do Car Brakes Work?

Technical  ·  September 17, 2019

How Do Car Brakes Work?

The brake system is one of the essential safety elements of a car. This mechanism offers protection, allowing you to slow down or completely stop your vehicle with a simple leg movement.

Fun Fact about Car Brakes

In the early stages in the history of automobiles, braking systems were large pieces of wood placed in front of the tyres to generate friction. It was subsequently upgraded to cast iron and metals due to the enormous wear and tear it caused tyres.

What Is a Brake System?

The brake system allows you to reduce the speed or completely stop the car when it is running. It implies a transformation process, where the mechanical energy of the movement is converted into heat. This heat is generated by friction when the brake pedal is operated. Most of the brake pressure is exerted on the front tyres.

How Does a Brake System Work?

The law of inertia is responsible for governing the braking system of a car. The basic principle for the correct functioning of the brakes is friction. The braking process is that one body contacts another in opposite directions. This generates a force that is known as friction, which opposes the movement of the body until it stops.

Friction depends on two essential elements:

In a car, the contact area consists of the elements that make the car stop. It refers to the contact area between the discs and the pads, which are the braking elements. In the case of drum brakes, they use bands and bells. Other areas of contact are the tyres and the surface where the car runs.

Types of Brakes

The brakes that are used today are drum and disc brakes. Each one works with a different mechanism, although both are based on the friction force produced by the contact of two surfaces.

1. Drum Brakes

They are also known as bell brakes. They are composed of a cylinder that turns with the corresponding wheel. Once the brake pedal is operated, the pads put pressure on the drum. It is connected to the axle that allows the wheels to rotate. When the drum is pressed, the tyre slows down, and the car can be stopped. This type of brakes is no longer widespread; however, they are still used in some vehicles and are more often than not at the rear of the vehicle diff assembly.

2. Disc Brakes (Rotors)

Disc brakes are commonly used due to braking efficiency. As the name implies, they work with a disc. Its operation is based on the friction that occurs between the pads and the disc. The brake fluid puts pressure on the pistons inside the calipers. They are responsible for moving the clamps that hold the pads. The pads exert friction on both sides of the disc generating friction, which will allow you to stop the car. 

The disc brakes are used on the tyres of the front train; however, they can also be used on the four tyres of the vehicle; this will depend on the manufacturer and the car. The discs that use the brakes of this type may vary. The brake disc is made with nodular cast iron, sheet graphite and ceramic. The type of discs you have will give your brakes a shorter or longer life span. There is an extraordinary diversity of discs in the market that change according to the shape and surface.

Types of Brake Discs or Rotors

Solid Disks: These are the conventional disk model and are factory installed. Its surface is solid or smooth and has no perforations.

Ventilated Discs: These discs have blades between the faces that are in contact with the braking surface. The blades allow the heat produced by the pads and discs to evaporate quickly.

Perforated Discs: They are discs with a perforated surface that allow evacuating the heat better. The most crucial difference with vents is that they get hotter because they don't have enough braking surface.

Scratched Discs: The surface is scratched and allows the remains of tablets to be easily cleaned. They do not suffer cracking but do not evacuate heat properly.

Mixed Disks: These are disks that implement several of the systems already mentioned. They combine perforations, stripes, vents, etc. This balances the qualities of each.

Ceramic Discs: Discs that are made out of Ceramic metal, giving them a longer life expectancy and the ability to cool down much faster than standard disc rotors.

3. ABS Brake System

This type of system prevents the wheels from locking and slipping at the time of braking. It allows the car to decelerate correctly and at the same time, remain stable while turning.
This system was created to help the driver to have some steering capacity and prevent the car from sliding during braking. 

More than a type of braking system, it is a complement to the traditional braking system that provides active safety and prevents accidents. When the brake pedal is pressed, the operator picks up a signal to check on the wheel sensors that they have not been locked. In case you need to brake suddenly, you should only press the pedal firmly until you can stop the car completely.

How ABS Brakes Work

ABS brakes work in the company of the conventional braking system. It is a pump that is placed in the circuits where the brake fluid flows. Further, in the detectors, these brakes are responsible for controlling the revolutions that occur in the wheels. If suddenly braking one or more wheels reduce the speed, the ABS detects it. This signal is translated as if the wheels were to be locked without the vehicle stops.

If this happens, the car will slide over the surface without control and unable to react to steering wheel movements. That is why the sensors send signals to the control module to prevent this from happening. The pressure on the brakes is reduced without the need for the driver to intervene in it. 

When everything is normalised, the wheels will turn correctly again, and the system will allow the pressure exerted on the brakes to act again with the required intensity. When this system intervenes, the procedure is repeated quickly, between 50 to 100 times every second. This results in brake pedal vibration.


Understanding your vehicles braking system is vital. Its proper functioning will depend on safer driving and regular servicing. Learn more about brake maintenance and telltale signs that your brake pads needs replacing. For auto spares and replacement parts, don't hesitate to use our auto part and supplies finder

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