One of the most concerning issues with a vehicle is not being able to properly stop due to spongy brakes. On top of our own safety, a vehicle that can not stop properly is a threat to our loved ones within the vehicle and strangers on the road. This issue can come on suddenly or it can come on overtime but however it shows up, this is something you want to handle as fast as possible.
If you’re dealing with this issue on your vehicle, this article will help you learn more about the following topics:
- How brakes work
- Different types of brakes in vehicles
- What happens mechanically when you have spongy brakes
- How to prevent spongy brakes
How Brakes Work
Many people know of the Ford Model T, which was one of the first mass-produced, inexpensive vehicles. The only braking system on the Model T was a single drum brake that was attached to the transmission of the vehicle. While this worked fine for the Model T, which had a blistering top speed of 45 MPH, as car technology advanced, the need for proper braking on a mass scale also had to increase.
Originally invented in 1903 by Louis Renault, the drum brake would be the answer to a world that needed a brake system for the future. While the Renault system was a mechanical system that required heavy foot pressure to operate, Chrysler brought a hydraulic brake system to the market in 1924. The system was originally designed by the Lockheed Brothers (yes, of airplane fame) but needed improvement for mass production implementation. This system would be the basis of brake systems for years to come. Only the disc brake would prove more revolutionary to stopping technology.
Hydraulic brake systems use hydraulic fluid to move a series of mechanisms that put pressure on parts that move in sync with the wheels of a vehicle (matching vehicle speed). This pressure is applied to the surface via a shoe or pad that is made of high friction material that can sustain pressure on the surface without breakdown. In modern vehicles, hydraulic pressure is amplified by a brake booster to further aid in effective braking performance.
ABS or Anti-Lock-Braking-System is another component of modern systems that basically does exactly what it implies. Sensors attached to the wheels of the vehicle indicate a locked wheel due to heavy braking. This sensor activates and deactivates a servo motor that applies brake pressure to reduce lock-up. This prevents dangerous skids and allows vehicles to come to a halt faster.
Different Types Of Brakes In Vehicles
On a drum brake, a circular drum moves in harmony with the wheel and the pads push out from the center and against the rotating drum. On disc brake-equipped vehicles, the disc spins in harmony with the wheel between a set of calipers that clamp down on the spinning disc to slow the vehicle down when brake pressure is applied. The disc brake setup also uses pads to press against the surface of the disc. Very, very few modern cars still utilize a drum brake set up due to its inefficiency and propensity to quickly wear down.
What Happens When You Have Spongy Brakes
Your brake pedal, while varying from vehicle to vehicle should feel firm to the touch and provide a progressive depression with minimal force from your leg. Manufacturers design the brakes to provide their drivers with a sense of security and positive feedback that makes us more confident behind the wheel. If you’re dealing with spongy brakes, you’re dealing with a brake system that is not operating properly and could leave you in a very dangerous situation.
There are several reasons why you may have spongy brakes:
Air In Brake Lines
Over time, via poor seals, brake lines can encounter an issue with air in the brake line. Hydraulic systems only function properly without air impregnation and once this happens, it can lead to your pedal feeling a bit spongy due to resistance from the air. If you encounter this, it’s best to bleed the brake lines and flush out ALL fluid.
Damaged Brake Lines
Since brake lines are typically made of steel, they can possibly degrade, and spring leaks through microscopic holes. This will cause a loss of brake pressure due to the absence of fluid in the brake lines themselves. If this happens, an empty brake fluid reservoir would be the tell-tale sign for this particular issue. Also, take a look for any fluid loss around your vehicle.
Since the calipers themselves are part of the hydraulic system that powers modern brake systems, they are also susceptible to leakage via their seals. Weeping from calipers will also give that spongy brake feel and either yourself or a mechanic will need to pull the wheel off to take a look at the caliper for leakage. Caliper replacement will be necessary.
Worn Master Cylinder
One of the main components of a brake system is the master cylinder, which is the main piston that provides pressure within the brake lines. If this cylinder wears out or retains damage, the lack of pressure will cause a spongy pedal. To repair, a replacement of the master cylinder is in order.
ABS Assembly Malfunction
The ABS module is also pressurized, so if seals within this device fail, you could lose brake pressure. The ABS module is “inline” meaning it shares part of the hydraulic system that your brakes are on and therefore can weep fluid. If broken, you’ll need to replace the ABS module.
How To Prevent Spongy Brakes
Proper maintenance can make a great car last forever, and a junky car lasts nearly as long. Since, at the end of the day, cars are complicated machines with several systems that require regular maintenance, most cars will last forever if maintained properly. When it comes time for the braking system, this couldn’t be more true.
Here are the basic steps to maintaining your vehicle’s braking system:
- Check Your Fluid. Just like your oil must be checked so should the brake fluid be checked in your vehicle's engine bay to ensure that it is completely full. If the fluid is low, it will put more strain on the components of your braking system. If it’s too full, it can boil and also cause issues with seal breakage.
- Flush Brake Lines. You should periodically (every 25,000 miles or so) take the time to completely empty and refill the fluid in your braking system with new fluid. Brake fluid tends to attract moisture and it is this moisture that can corrode your brake lines.
- Bleed Brake Lines. Most vehicles have a bleeder valve that is designed to let off excess air that builds up in the system over time. This should be done after a brake job, and after a fluid flush, and every 2 to 3 years.
- Regular Inspections. Part of maintenance on your vehicle is to give the car a full once over visually to ensure there are no leaks. You can do this yourself or have a mechanic double check when doing regular maintenance like oil changes or tune-ups.
If you properly maintain your braking system, there’s no doubt that it can last you many, many years. When it comes time for your safety, there’s not really a corner here that you should cut. This is basic maintenance and this basic, relatively cheap maintenance can save you a ton of money in the long run.
How About Cash Cars Buyer?
Well, if you didn’t follow our advice and now your vehicle is looking like it needs substantial brake work – maybe it’s time to give the great people at Cash Cars Buyer a shot. All you have to do is visit their website and put in some basic information on your vehicle. Cash Cars Buyer will then give you a cash price, right there on the spot. Set up an appointment to have a professional appraisal so we can ensure all details match and you’ll get cold hard cash on the spot for your broken car, whether it has spongy brakes or not. When the safety of your family is on the line, don’t delay. Let Cash Cars Buyer help you out of your unsafe vehicle today.