How Do Brakes Work?

Ever Wonder How The Brakes In Your Car Work?

how do brakes work in cars

If you’ve ever narrowly avoided a collision by stopping just short, thank the modern vehicle braking system. They’ve come a long way over the decades and now the best of the best are capable of stopping even large trucks on a dime. But as advanced as they’ve become, the same essential parts are always in play. So let’s talk about brakes!

Types of Brakes

There are many kinds of brake systems in use today. Most brakes are frictional systems, meaning they stop your vehicle by creating resistance against a moving or rotating mechanism. Other common brakes you may be familiar with include the caliper brake you see on most bicycles, and band brakes which are used inside appliances like dryers. Band brakes are like rubber bands wrapped around a wheel and the rubber band tightens to slow rotation; caliper brakes, not unlike disc brakes in most cars, pinch the sides of a rotating mechanism to slow it, but in a different manner.

There are other types of brakes too, including drum brakes which are most commonly used for rear wheels, but we’re going to focus on the front disc brakes commonly known in most cars. Keeping that in mind, let’s learn about auto brakes!

Basic Parts of a Disc Brake System

To keep things simple, the primary parts of a brake are the housing, the caliper, which goes over the brake disc, which is slowed by pressure from the brake pads. The housing is fairly obvious: it holds everything together and joins to the piston. But let’s go into detail about the other parts.

The Caliper

The caliper looks like a clamp which goes over the brake disc (or brake rotor). It holds the brake pads that are used to squeeze the disc brake to slow it. As long as there’s no serious accident, calipers tend to last a long time. However a caliper replacement can become necessary after a serious incident, or if a replacement brake system is installed.

The Brake Disc

The brake disc, aka disc rotor, is the spinning mechanism that needs to be slowed by friction in order to stop your vehicle. It’s located behind the wheel and is “pinched” by the brake pads to reduce motion to a stop.

The Brake Pads

Between the caliper and on either side of the brake disc are the brake pads. Brake pads are pushed against the brake disc by fluid pressure from the brake lines. That’s why if someone in a movie gets their brakes lines cut, they can’t brake anymore: the brake system lacks fluid pressure from the brakes lines which is required to squeeze the brake pads against the brake disc/rotor.

If ever you suspect any of these parts are faulty or worn, or you just need brake line repair, please see a brake repair technician immediately.

Essential Physics of Braking

brake master cylinder repair
Found a internal leak on a master cylinder

Without getting too bogged down in complex math and other concepts best left to nerds, the core idea behind most brakes is that they use friction to cause resistance in order to slow and stop something. That resistance converts the motion energy into heat (or even electricity), and that heat dissipates into the surrounding environment (usually the brakes and the air).

Rather than use metal on metal friction however, brake pads use specialized composite materials to cause the perfect amount of friction while also dissipating heat. The need to control the spread of heat is such that asbestos is commonly used in some brake pads for its heat resistant properties, even though it’s traditionally treated as unsafe for human contact. Without controlling heat, it’s possible the brake housing could become warped which would reduce efficiency and potentially cause damage.

Some brakes, called “regenerative braking” systems, are even capable of powering electronics by converting the friction from the braking system into electrical energy. This can then be stored in a battery for later use, to improve mileage in an electric car for example, or be used to power auxiliary systems like your car air conditioner or stereo.

Making Braking Better

There are many different ways to improve the responsiveness of car brakes, either by technology or performance parts. Anti-lock Braking Systems has been standard in vehicles since the 1970s. ABS keeps the wheels from locking during braking, which improves control. Today, there are even advanced computer systems that can help prevent accidents by braking automatically. You can learn more about them in our article “Autonomous Cars Are The Future”.

One of the easiest ways to improve braking- especially in an old car with bad brakes- is brake pad replacement. It takes a bit of work but you’ll probably notice the difference right away. You can also buy performance brake systems with specialized calipers and disc rotors that are much stronger. These are often found on sports cars and other performance vehicles that need quality brakes in case of emergencies.

Regardless the type or qualities of your brakes, know that they’re always there to keep you safe as long as you keep your brakes fixed and maintained. Never put yourself or others at risk by using old, worn, or damaged brakes. Just remember: treat your car right and it’ll treat you right!


Need Brake Service?

Whether you have squeaky brakes, need brake fluid changed, want brake pad repair, or you’re just looking for cheap break service near you, you can trust Tedious Repairs to get the job done. Call ahead for a quote on brake service cost and we’ll be happy to help. We can also help you find the perfect brake system for your vehicle, and then do the brake installation for you!

We fix squeaky brakes! We also do brake rotor repair, caliper replacement, brake flushes, and more.

Call us at (530) 826-4275 or text (530) 828-3007.

You can also set an appointment online by CLICKING HERE.

If you prefer, you can also email us at tediousrepairs@hotmail.com.


To learn the essential criteria for a great brake shop, click here!

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