How Your Brakes Work & When to Replace Your Brake Pads
Modern vehicles are equipped with extremely advanced braking systems. A typical brake system contains a whole maze of hydraulic lines, valves and mechanical components, as well as numerous electronic sensors to keep everything in check.
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Nevertheless, the basic function of automotive brakes remains the same as it ever was: you press the pedal, your brake pads rubs against the brake rotor, and the resulting friction slows your car down.
Understanding the ins and outs of your brake system can help you diagnose issues before they get worse and cause a costly repair bill. It's also a good idea to have a basic understanding of how your car works in general so you are a more informed consumer when purchasing repairs.
The Basic Setup of an Automobile Brake System
Your brake pedal is connected to a series of hydraulic lines that are ultimately routed to your brake pads. There is a lot that happens in between though.
Perhaps the most important device in the system is the master cylinder. It converts the mechanical force of your foot pressing the brake pedal into hydraulic force to modulate the brake pads.
Virtually every modern car also has a device known as a brake booster, which works in conjunction with the master cylinder. Brake boosters essentially amplify the pressure of your foot on the pedal so that you don't have to stomp the pedal hard to get your car to slow down.
Manufacturers refer to systems equipped with boosters as "power brake" systems. However, you don't often see that touted as a feature, due to the fact that almost every car produced in the last several decades has a brake booster of some kind.
Finally, at the opposite end of the system, you have a brake caliper and rotor tucked behind each wheel. The brake pads themselves are mounted inside of the calipers, parallel to the rotors.
How Your Car's Brake System Works
Pressing your brake pedal actuates the master cylinder. The actuation of the cylinder forces hydraulic fluid through the lines, the pressure of which is amplified by the brake booster. The fluid is forced against movable pistons in the brake calipers. The pistons themselves are pressed against the brake pads.
Essentially, the entire brake system's function is to convert the force of your foot against the brake pedal into force against the caliper pistons at the other end of the lines. That force presses the pistons against the brake pads and forces the brake pads to squeeze both sides of each rotor.
The rotors themselves are mounted onto your car's axles. The axles are what your car rolls on whenever it is in motion. When you press your brake pedal and the pads rub the rotors, the resulting friction slows the rotation of the rotors and axles. That's what slows down your car and eventually brings it to a stop.
Why Do Brake Pads Wear Out?
The same friction that slows your car down also wears away the rubberized compound of your brake pads. Every time you hit your brakes, a tiny bit of pad material is worn off by the hot, spinning rotors.
The pads eventually become so thin that they can no longer grab onto the rotors efficiently. That translates into longer stopping distances and less responsive brake pedal feedback.
To maintain your vehicle's full braking performance, you need to replace the pads periodically to get some fresh rubber between your calipers and rotors.
Inspecting and Maintaining Your Brake System Is Imperative
Replace your brake pads as soon as they show signs of wearing out and inspect the rest of your brake system while you're at it. Warped rotors, scorched discs, and leaky brake lines are other common issues that you can troubleshoot with a careful visual inspection.
Proper brake maintenance is imperative to ensure that you and your passengers remain safe on the road. After all, a healthy brake system is the only thing standing between you and the speeding cars commuting around you every day.
If you have questions about your brkes or any vehicle maintenance, please give us a call at (307) 237-3700 or to schedule a service appointment, please click here