Motorists, car enthusiasts, and aspiring mechanics often take to the Internet with the same question: How do car brakes work?
Almost everybody knows what a brake does. It stops something in motion, generally a car, truck, van, bus, train, or bicycle. It’s safe to say that most people who research the question are thinking about car brakes.
We use car brakes every day without paying them much thought. How many times did you use your brakes today (if you drove a car) – probably too many to count!
Yes, we want to go places. How do we stop when we arrive? How do we ready the vehicle for life’s little speedbumps? By slowing down… by using the brakes! That’s what makes the brakes such an important part of a car.
It’s important to remember that brakes are a safety feature of a car. They’re not about power nor the need for speed. In fact, they serve the opposite purpose. The brakes of a car help you to prepare to come to a standstill.
Without brakes, we would probably just be crashing into each other all of the time. That certainly wouldn’t be a safe world. Imagine what the insurance would cost!
Despite knowing what a brake does, many people have questions about how brakes actually work. Such questions include:
- How does the braking system of a car work?
- Do you have to break in car brakes for them to work?
- How do brake pads work?
- How often does a car need a brake job?
- How does the emergency car brake work?
- How long do brakes last?
- How much do new brakes cost?
How Does the Car’s Braking System Operate?
The simple response to questions regarding how car brakes work is this: the car is in motion; the brake slows the motion down to a stop. It’s trickier than that, though.
When you drive, the wheels are spinning and would spin forever if gravity wasn’t part of the action. Gravity and air resistance bring the car to a stop but without driver control. To control the stop, one would have to apply the brake.
On a car, all four wheels are stopped by brakes. The brakes operate as one via hydraulics.
Did you know that cars are more so stopped by the front brakes? They are usually stronger. In fancier cars, all four wheels will have top of the line brakes.
There are actually two types of brakes, drum and disc. Drum brakes are cheaper and don’t work as well as disc brakes.
Remember how the brakes at the front do more work? That’s why drums don’t find themselves at the front of the vehicle. They are okay for the back wheels, though.
The braking action begins as a piston inserts itself in to the cylinder, releasing “hydraulic fluid.” This initiates the braking process by putting pressure on the four brakes, back and front. The force causes friction which in turn brings the car to a sudden halt.
The actual engineering of a brake and the mechanics behind it are more complicated, but for the sake of the everyday reader, this description suffices. To learn more about how brakes work, talk to a mechanic or read up on the matter by visiting your local library.
The blog offers some additional advice on some popularly asked questions about brakes!
How Does “Breaking In” the Brakes Work? Is it necessary?
There is always some confusion on how car brakes work in general. Yes, you have to prepare them for use after installing them, but whether that would be referred to as “breaking in the brakes” is debatable.
The brakes are on, and all you’re all set! But did the mechanic “break them in?” That’s hard to say. They probably prepared the brakes for use (although it’s always wise to ask). That doesn’t mean they are “broken in.”
The name of the process is called “bedding.” The mechanic will drive the car at a speed of 45 miles per hour and then stop the car gently; they will repeat this process at least three times.
Next, the car sits as the brakes “cool down.” The following step offers a bit of fun for the driver.
The driver accelerates to 60 miles per hour and slams on the brakes until the car gets to about 15 mph. After ten rounds of this little game, the car is ready after another cooling down.
Look for a distinctive color change on the brake pads after completing this process. It means that the bedding is complete and that the car can now be driven safely from point A to point B.
In summary, yes – “break in” those brakes with the proper bedding process!
How Do Car Brake Pads Work?
It’s hard to ask how car brakes work without mentioning how brake pads work. Car brake pads work hard to ensure the vehicle comes to a complete stop. They provide a surface that facilitates the stopping action. The problem with brake pads is that they can wear down over time.
Many people don’t know how to tell brake pads and brake shoes apart. They are in fact different. They are in separate places within the system. Within the caliper lies the brake pad. It wraps around the disc and brake shoes – the whole package fits together within the drum.
What a lot of people don’t know is that brake shoes are more durable than brake pads.
The brake pads work by putting pressure on the rotors. This pressure is what brings the car to a complete stop when pressure is applied to the brake.
There’s a lot of pressure on those old brake pads! And they do the work for thousands of miles without complaint.
Today, there are many types of brake pads available on the market. For example, there are organic brake pads that don’t cause a lot of pollution which is so important these days. Everybody loves greener product options.
On the topic of thinking green, it could actually be better for the environment for people to recycle old cars rather than replacing the brakes, the windshield wipers, and the transmission. Newer cars offer options that are easier on the environment.
If you’re researching brakes for your old car, maybe consider sending it to the junkyard once and for all. Some auto recyclers and junkyards pay you cash money on the spot for your old car. It might be worth considering!
There are other types of brake pads out there, too. Metallic brakes are popular because they are cheap and last a long time. That’s what the everyday Joe likes to hear – more bang for the buck!
Some sports cars have ceramic brake pads. They work great, but they cost a pretty penny. Additionally, they are not cut out for all cars – ask your mechanic if ceramic brakes are right for you.
Brake pads are just one part of the equation. Keep doing the math until the number adds up the way you want. Chat with a mechanic about how much new brakes will run you, and determine if the investment in your current vehicle is worth it.
How Often Does a Car Need its Brakes Changed?
Not everybody has a great understanding of car maintenance (how car brakes work) unfortunately. Many of us drop the car off at the dealer for an oil change and call it a day. If they say we need new brakes, we don’t ask how brakes work. We pay for the brake job and move on with our lives.
Not everybody has it so easy. Used cars demand a lot of attention. Those who cannot afford dealership car repairs have to take matters into their own hands.
There are still plenty of neighborhood garages and friendly next-door-neighbor mechanics in the world today. They might do the job cheaper and faster, but they don’t always keep a computerized record of what you had done and when. You need to jot that down on your own.
Sure, they are the type to wish Junior happy birthday, but they don’t know when the last time you did your brakes was. You have to keep track for yourself.
Ask the mechanic at the time of installation how long the brakes will last. The answer is probably, on average, about 50,000 miles.
How do Car Emergency Brakes Work?
The emergency brake in a car works to offer a high degree of security. From stopping the car should the regular brakes system fail, to giving a little extra protection when parking up or down a hill, the emergency brake is your friend.
The emergency brake takes a different route to stop the wheels from moving. When it comes to drum brakes, the emergency brake pulls on the cables to engage the brake shoes.
On the other hand, if disc brakes are being used, the parking brake sends a small pin into the piston so the car stops.
To use the brake, you have a pull switch or a type of pedal on the floorboard of your car. Refer to the owner manual to learn more about how the emergency brake, also called an e-brake, works in your particular vehicle.
How Long Do Brakes Last if they Work as Designed?
The age-old question…how long do brakes last? Well, the answer isn’t so clear. It all depends on how you drive, how often you drive, and how often you brake. Some people “ride the brakes.” That’s sure to make those brakes need repair a lot faster than long drives down rural country roads.
Every mechanic is going to give you a slightly different answer on this one. Don’t be surprised if the box directions differ, too.
You can expect brakes to last three to seven year in general. Estimates range from 30,000 to 50,000 to even 70,000 miles.
The rule to remember here is that your driving style has a big impact on how long brakes last. If you are always “riding the brakes” or living in a city with a lot of stop-and-go traffic, you may need new brakes sooner than later.
How Do Brakes Work, Based on Cost?
When people search the Internet about brakes, they either want to know how brakes work in a car or how much new brakes are going to cost.
This is tough to answer. You could have a small problem or a big one when it comes to brakes.
Replacing one little part isn’t the same as new brakes all around. Per brake, parts range from $40 to $150. Labor costs vary, too. You could pay at least $200 easily.
You should probably change your rotors where you’re at it. This is going to run you another $50 (on average) per rotor. When you start to look at premium parts, you can expect costs to rise substantially.
If you’re thinking about a full brake job, be prepared to shell out $500, give or take a couple hundred. It all depends on the vehicle and your demands. Some brake repair bills are over a grand!
You could always go the DIY route if you’re handy like that. Many people enjoy doing car repairs as a weekend hobby. Some auto parts stores will lend tools or talk you through the repair.
If these numbers are making you second guess your car altogether, your always have the option of towing it to a junkyard and getting cash money for the car. From there, you could go green with a bus pass or buy a new energy efficient car that doesn’t need new brakes!
The Need of Knowing How Brakes Work isn’t Stopping Anytime Soon
Buying brakes can be overwhelming due the cost, the options, and the panic of knowing you aren’t able to stop your car like you should. However, with a little research, elbow grease, and ingenuity, you can certainly figure out both how brakes work and how to get them back on your car.