At Bowers Automotive in Colorado Springs, we can help you understand all about your car’s braking system. Brakes are one of the most important components for vehicle control. If you experience a malfunction in your braking system, you will be unable to decelerate the vehicle and driving will become a dangerous and frightening experience. Keeping your brakes maintained is part of general vehicle upkeep. Our team of auto technicians offers repair and replacement of all types of brake systems.
How Do My Brakes Work?
The first step in understanding all about your car’s braking system is to know how it works. Depending on your car, you will either have traditional hydraulic brakes or regenerative brakes. All braking systems have some components in common. To activate the brakes, the driver applies pressure to the brake pedal with their foot. The force applied by the foot is transferred proportionally by hydraulics or electronically to the wheels of your vehicle. Most drivers will be more familiar with hydraulic braking systems that incorporate either disc brakes or drum brakes to generate friction.
Hydraulic technology in basic terms is using the movement of liquid in confined spaces to transfer force. In a typical hydraulic braking system, the force applied to the brake pedal by the driver’s foot will cause a piston to slide into the master cylinder. The master cylinder converts non-hydraulic pressure into hydraulic pressure. It does so by pushing brake fluid along the brake lines and into one or more slave cylinders. In a vehicle usually, there will be four slave cylinders, one for each wheel.
Upon reaching the wheels of the car, the hydraulic pressure is converted back to mechanical pressure and used to apply friction to the moving wheels, slowing their rotation. By varying the diameter of the pistons pushed by the pressure of the liquid, the force can be multiplied many times. This is how a small force such as that of the driver’s foot on the pedal can be harnessed and converted by hydraulic pressure into a force large enough to apply the necessary friction to slow down the momentum of a moving car.
Disc or Drum?
If you want to know all about your car’s braking system, this is a key area. Your brakes work by creating friction between the brake pads and either a disc or drum. Disc brakes consist of a caliper clamp that is placed over the rotating disc attached to the wheel hub. When the brake is engaged, hydraulic pressure is converted into mechanical pressure in the caliper, and this closes onto the disc, applying pressure from both sides with the brake pads. Over time, both the rotary disc and the brake pads will wear down. Brake pads must be replaced regularly and the disc can either be resurfaced or completely replaced by a qualified auto technician, depending on the degree of wear.
Drum brakes are found on the rear wheels of some older vehicles, but they are no longer the industry standard. A drum brake consists of a hollow rotating drum attached to the wheel hub that is slowed down by pressure from brake shoes located inside the drum. A wheel cylinder converts hydraulic pressure into mechanical pressure, forcing the brake shoes outwards to push against the inner surface of the rotating drum. Brake shoes are covered in a hard-wearing friction material, similar to that of brake pads.
Even if you know all about your car’s braking system, you may not know that hybrid and fully electric cars us a new type of braking system in order to maximize efficiency. These vehicles use an electric motor to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy to power the wheels. When such a motor is run in reverse, it is possible for mechanical energy to be converted to electrical energy and stored in a battery for later use. An electronic brake controller monitors the speed of the wheels, and when the driver engages the brake, reverses the motor, slowing the rotation of the wheels and collecting otherwise wasted mechanical energy from the momentum of the vehicle.
The electronic sensors and brake controller are vital in the successful operation of this system. If the brake controller detects insufficient power in the motor to handle the torque exerted by the rotating wheels, it will engage backup friction brakes to complete the deceleration. Taking advantage of this energy to keep the electric battery charge means that hybrids will rely less on their combustion engines and fully electric cars will be able to complete longer journeys between charging. Brake technology, in general, is moving away from being dependent on mechanical components and towards a ‘brake by wire’ system.
Troubleshooting Your Brakes
Once you understand all about your car’s braking system, you’ll be able to detect tell-tale signs if all is not well with your braking system. If you experience any of the following, do not delay in taking your car to a qualified mechanic:
- Brake pedal goes all the way to the floor. This is not normal, a lack of resistance from the brake pedal could indicate that you are leaking brake fluid.
- The car takes longer than usual to stop. This problem could be a result of a fault in the hydraulics or the brake rotors and shouldn’t be ignored.
- If the steering wheel or brake pedal shakes when you engage the brake, you may need to replace warped brake rotors.
- Squealing or grinding noises. These noises are your brake pads telling you that they are worn down to their limit. If they are not replaced soon, your braking will be less effective, and you can damage the disc.
- Dashboard ABS light is on. This can mean that you are low on brake fluid or that there is a leak somewhere in your brake lines.
- The car pulls to one side when braking. Your brakes are worn unevenly or misaligned. They will need to be adjusted by a technician.
Now that you know all about your car’s braking system, you know what goes into keeping it well maintained. Remember that at Bower’s Automotive, we can service all types of brake systems, from drums and discs to ABS electronic systems. As soon as you hear or feel signs of brake wear or malfunction, drop into our auto shop on Ford Street in Colorado Springs. Our team can get you back out on the road again as soon as possible.