How do car brakes work?
The braking system in a car is responsible for bringing your vehicle to a stop while you’re driving.
Modern cars have brakes on all four wheels which are operated by a hydraulic system and are made up of several components all of which are subject to stress which could result in breakage.
The front brakes in a car are typically the ones which play the greater part in bringing a car to stop as the weight of the car is thrown forward every time the vehicle comes to a stop.
There are different systems used for braking from one car to the next which suits the needs of the vehicle size and function.
The common hydraulic system uses fluid to apply pressure to pistons in the car close to its wheels to bring the car to a halt.
Some cars also have power brake assistance which helps to reduce the amount of effort required to apply stopping power.
Brake Fault Symptoms
If you need to have your brakes repaired there are several issues that could have caused the problem and several things that could be affected.
If you suspect you need your brakes repaired but your car is still drivable, there are some symptoms which could give you clues as to what the problem is.
The brakes are often the noisiest part of a car if there is an issue which means you should be able to hear a problem which cannot be said of many other broken car parts.
Here are the tell-tale sounds and signs to look out for if your cars brakes have an issue.
Metallic grinding noise
This may be caused by worn out brake pads. If they are so worn down, metal will be clutching metal to stop, so the noise will not be pleasant!
This is caused if there is friction being created from the linings of the brakes which will lead to further damage being caused to the brake pads, brake linings, brake drums and rotors.
If you have squeaking brakes you could even have a stone or debris stuck in between the brake caliper and the brake pad, though this is rare.
If you would like to know more about why my brakes are squeaking, we have written a full guide for you to understand what do do and how much the repair would be to fix squeaking brakes.
All you have to do to find out why your brakes are squeaking is clicking here
Fading of low brake pedal
This can be caused by three issues, leakage in the system, air getting into the brake linings or there is a need to adjust the brake.
You will know if there is a problem if you need to pump the brakes to just stop the car, alternatively if the pedal sinks all the way to the floor when the car is stopped the problems listed above are the most likely to be causing issue.
Pulling to one side
This happens when you have a damaged brake line, have worn the brake linings down or have uneven linings.
If you can feel brakes dragging, this is likely to be caused by contaminated fluid being in the system or the brakes not being adjusted properly.
Abnormal brake behaviour
If the brake pedal feels mushy, spongy or is slow to sink to the floor, there is a good chance that the master cylinder is to blame. The cylinder is the part responsible for applying pressure to the brakes so when that pressure is not there, there is a high chance that the master cylinder is the problem.
Contaminated brake fluid
If the rubber seals on a master cylinder break down over time, the debris and lack of effectiveness of the part will result in the contamination of brake fluid, which turns dark brown or black in the eventuality of seal degradation.
Check engine light switched on
If the engine warning light switches on, there are a huge variety of problems which could be the cause including the master cylinder. Modern cars carry a huge number of pressure sensors to detect issues within the engine. If there is a pressure change, it could be the result of the master cylinder breaking.
As soon as you notice any of these problems, it is vital that you address the issue.
A mechanic is best qualified to carry out checks due to the variety of components, fluids and materials used to make up a braking system.
If you choose to ignore a drop in performance, you are putting your vehicle and everybody inside at risk.
Top Tips for Brake Repair
When you have your brakes repaired, it is also important to ensure that you and your mechanic keep the following points in mind.
When you are having your brake pads replaced, you should also have your discs replaced and ensure each axle has its own new set.
During the first 200km the performance of your new brakes may not be tip top as they need to ‘bed in’ you should therefore avoid heavy braking if it can be helped during this time.
After the installation you should also pump the brake pedal until it becomes stiff to break the new equipment in however you should also ensure the wheels freely rotate when the pedal is not pushed down.
By following this advice you will ensure your brakes serve your vehicle in the best possible way.
Brake Pads and Discs
Brake pads and discs are the most common form of brake repair. The brake discs spin with your car's wheels and the brake pads are pushed against the discs when you apply the brake pedal in order to bring your car to a halt.
For more information visit our brake pads and discs page.
Brake calipers hold the brake pads against the discs when the brakes are applied so a car cannot come to a stop without them being fully operational.
The brake caliper acts like a clamp when bringing the car to a stop and it needs to be able to grip the disc properly and apply enough pressure to work properly.
Brake caliper repair can consist of fixing the existing part, however, there is a high chance that the brake caliper will be replaced if there is a major problem as refurbishing a brake caliper or attempting to apply a fix may not completely repair the part.
Brake fluid is critical for the brake system and brake fluid problems are common when it comes to brake repairs. If the brake fluid drops below a certain level, a drivers ability to bring a car to a halt will drop rapidly. This often happens due to a leak as a result of rust.
Brake fluid will always be checked during a full service or an MOT and if the level is too low, a mechanic will check for a leak as this is the most common cause of low brake fluid.
If you have not had a full service and you are not due an MOT for a good while, it is always good practice to check your own car fluid levels, including brake fluid levels. The brake fluid container is located beneath the hood of the car and close to the bottom of the windshield. Check the brake fluid level by unscrewing the lid and peering into the container. Our fluid levels guide gives more information on checking your brake fluid.
An anti-lock braking system is used by many modern cars. This method of braking has been implemented as a safety measure as it allows a car to maintain tractive contact with the road as the brakes are applied and a car comes to a stop.
If you are wandering how do you use ABS brakes, then don’t worry, the ABS braking system is automatically applied to a car when the brakes are pressed, you don’t need to do anything different.
Cars with an ABS system will also be subject to the ABS light coming on at one time or another and if this happens, you need to take the car to a garage to have the issue looked at as the system may no longer be fully operational. If the ABS light AND brake light switch are on at the same time, it is critically important that you get to a local garage as soon as possible.
Brake rotors is another name for brake discs and if you would like more information on this subject, we have an entire page dedicated to brake pads and discs.
The master cylinder is a vital part of the braking system as it serves as the main valve through which brake fluid is channelled to the brake lines and onto the brake calipers which in turn, grip the brake pads which clamp onto the brake disc to bring a car to a halt.
A master cylinder controls the flow of brake fluid and so if there is a fault, the car will not be able to stop properly.
Brake lines carry brake fluid from the master cylinder to the brake calipers. Brake lines are subject to deterioration from the result of rust damage and brake fluid leakage. If the brake lines break, then fluid cannot be carried to the brake calipers and you will not be able to stop your car. That is why it is so important to keep an eye on a drop in performance of your braking power as a reduction may highlight a problem with the brake lines.
Backing plates hold brake discs in place and are what they are mounted upon. There is not a huge amount of problems when it comes to backing plates as the part is simply there to hold another part in place. The biggest issue could be that the part becomes dislodged from the result of an impact.
The most common form of handbrake problems is when the handbrake cable snaps and a new one needs to be fitted. A new handbrake cable is not expensive and fitting the part is not a complex job so you should not have to pay a lot in labour.
If you think your handbrake is close to snapping, it is critical that you take your car to a garages as soon as possible. If you leave your car parked on an incline and the handbrake cable snaps while you are away from the vehicle, it could suddenly start rolling down a hill and pose a serious risk to pedestrians and other drivers.
The handbrake cable is made of metal and so, being exposed to the elements, will deteriorate over time. Rust may be a cause of the handbrake cable to weaken and snap.
One of the most obvious signs that your handbrake cable is close to snapping, is that the handbrake itself will pull up higher than usual.
Brake Specialists Near You
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