Introduction to Car Brakes

We’ve all seen that dramatic moment in a movie when a car’s brakes fail and the hero has to save the day by stopping the car in time. How does that even happen?

In reality, chances are that your brakes won’t suddenly and unexpectedly fail out of the blue. But let’s take a closer look at how your brakes work and what to watch out for.

What Are Car Brakes?

When you’re driving, you are behind the wheel of a very large and heavy object in motion. Power from the engine along with kinetic energy (energy of motion) moves your vehicle either forward or backward, until some sort of friction stops that movement.

Your brakes are there to stop that movement. You need to do more than just stop providing power to the engine to stop the car – you need to apply the brakes to stop the wheels in motion.

Importance of Car Brakes in Automobile Safety

Your brakes are one of the most important parts of your vehicle for keeping you safe on the road. Most automobile incidents involve a collision of some kind – your vehicle hitting another object, whether that be another vehicle, a pedestrian or cyclist, a barrier, wall, tree, etc.

Being able to stop safely, therefore, is the main way of avoiding and preventing injury and death.

Understanding Brake Components

When we talk about your car’s brakes, we’re actually talking about a complex system of brake components. These all work together to help safely stop your vehicle when needed – so it’s important to have all of these parts checked and maintained regularly.

Brake Pads

Brake pads are fitted in the brake calliper of each wheel, very close to the sides of the brake disc. They are made of heat resistant material that can withstand the heat caused by the friction created when they press against the brake discs.

Over time, the brake pads will wear down and need to be replaced.

Brake Rotor

The brake rotors – also known as the brake discs – are directly connected to each tyre. The rotor must stop spinning for your car to stop, and it does so by the friction created by the brake pad pressing against the rotor/disc.

Brake Master Cylinder

The brake master cylinder is the central part of your braking system which drives the pressure from the brake pedal to the brake mechanisms at the wheels. When you press on the brake pedal, the force pushes a piston through the brake cylinder converting it to hydraulic pressure, which begins the process of pushing brake fluid through the brake lines.

Brake Lines and Hoses

Modern brake systems are hydraulic, using fluid to operate. When you put your foot on the brake pedal, you set in motion the brake system. Brake fluid travels through the brake lines/hoses to the calipers, which put the brake pads into action. 

Signs of Brake Problems

Brakes usually don’t just suddenly stop working altogether. Brake failure is often the result of gradual breakdown of one or more of the many parts that make up your car’s braking system.

So it’s important to listen out for signs of brake problems and react when they occur.

Squeaking or Squealing Noises

Your brakes shouldn’t make any squeaking or squealing sounds, so if you hear any, it’s time to have your brakes checked. A couple of things might be happening.

Squeaking or squealing could be a sign that your brake pads need to be replaced. It could also be an indication that the drum shoes on your drum brakes are wearing out and nearing the end of their life.

Grinding Noises

This could be an indication that your brake pads have worn down and metal is now grinding against the brake rotor.

Vibration or Pulsation During Braking

This could be a sign that your brake rotors or brake discs are warped or damaged. The brake pads will rub unevenly against the discs, creating vibration or pulsation.

Reduced Responsiveness or Brake Fade

Over time, you may notice that your brakes take a bit longer than usual to respond. You may feel like you have to press the brake pedal further down or earlier when you want to stop the car. It may be subtle at first, but it’s worth paying attention to.

This is known as brake fade or reduced responsiveness. It’s a sign that your brakes need to be checked for maintenance. It may be time for a change of brake pads, or a check and change of brake fluid.

Warning Lights

Even if you don’t notice any unusual sounds, pay attention to the warning lights on your dashboard. If the brake warning light illuminates, don’t ignore it. Schedule your car in for a brake inspection.

Brake Maintenance and Care

The best thing you can do to keep your brakes operating properly and to keep you safe on the road is to schedule in regular brake maintenance.

Regular Inspection

A thorough brakes check is part of the regular vehicle servicing that we do to make sure your car is in its optimal condition to drive safely. But you don’t need to wait until your car needs a full servicing. Book your vehicle in for a brakes check if you notice any changes to the way your car drives or how the brakes perform. And definitely book in for a brake inspection if you’ve bought a used car.

Brake Pad Replacement

Looking after your brake pads and replacing them when needed is one of the smartest ways to avoid more expensive and avoidable brake repair work.

How often you need to replace your brake pads depends on a number of factors, including vehicle type, brake pad type, driving circumstances, driving behaviours, and the quality of the brake pads themselves.

Brake Fluid Check and Change

At Mt Roskill Collision Centre, our brake check is thorough and will give you the peace of mind you need to drive safely. We’ll check your brake fluid levels and condition so you can rest assured that the fluid is in optimal condition to keep the entire brake system working properly.

Brake Rotor Maintenance

Brake discs, or rotors, should be changed when they reach the minimum thickness recommended by the manufacturer, which can be tested by the team at Mt Roskill. The brake rotors may need to be replaced if they have become damaged in a collision, resulting in juddering or vibration.

When to Consult a Professional

When it comes to your brakes, you should always consult a professional panel beater or mechanic. Do not try to fix your brakes yourself.

Consult a professional:

  • if you suspect your brakes aren’t responding as they should
  • if you notice any unusual sounds or vibrations with your brakes
  • if it’s time for a regular maintenance check of your brakes

Mt Roskill Collision Centre has a team of experienced technicians who can help with any car repairs, maintenance or checks. 

Call us on 0800 227 762 or email [email protected] for professional and friendly car servicing advice.