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Brakes 101

As much as we all love our cars and enjoy hearing the engine, brakes are a less glamorous necessity that no one wants to think about. Truthfully, brakes are one of the most important parts of your car for safety. It is commonly believed that brakes stop your car. However, it is the friction and pressure of the brake pad material to the brake disc that slow down your vehicle; that is how your wheels stop spinning. 

Modern cars all have disc brakes, so this is what we will talk about here, let’s set aside anti-lock features for another time. Disc brakes have five major components:

  • Brake discs (or rotors)
  • Calipers
  • Brake pads
  • Brake lines
  • Master cylinder

Rotors are attached to the wheel. This plate type of disc is what your brake pads rub up against to slow your car. Brake pads have a couple of layers. The pad itself is much like an incredibly tough, well-engineered eraser; the second part is a metal backplate that holds the "eraser" in place. The metal backplate also serves to protect the caliper from too much heat build-up.

Master cylinders have hydraulic fluid that runs through the brake lines to the calipers. Calipers wrap around the brake disc and house a couple of small pistons inside. This hydraulic fluid is under pressure and is what causes the brake pads to rub against the disc when you press the brake pedal. High-performance calipers can have more pistons inside, which provide even pressure to the brake pads and rotors. When you hit the brake on your car, the master cylinder senses the amount of pressure you put on the brake pedal and sends hydraulic fluid to the pistons in ratio to your foot pressure, causing your car to slow or stop as you need.

Heat is an enemy of your braking system. The friction between your rotors and your brake pads generate a lot of heat. To deal with the heat issue, your discs have veins running through the inside, helping move cooler air from the center out to the edges. This helps prevent "fading" and boiling of the hydraulic fluid in your calipers. 

What is Fading you ask? Fading is something that happens when your brakes get overheated. If you notice that your brake pedal pushes closer to the floor, or it takes longer to stop, you sense a new smell of burning, then you may be experiencing fading of your brakes.

We expect our brakes to perform well even when it is wet outside, we don't want a lot of noise when braking, and we certainly don't want brake dust everywhere. Thanks to modern technology, we are able to use brake pads that meet our needs.

Brake fluid attracts moisture. This is not a good thing for a few reasons. If you have moisture in your braking system, you can get corrosion, and water boils at a lower temperature, which can cause damage to your braking system. A simple way to avoid this is to replace your brake fluid at regular intervals. It is a good rule of thumb to replace your hydraulic fluid every two years or so.

Well maintained cars usually have plenty of brakes, which is more likely to keep you safe on the road, so keep your brakes happy, and you will be able to enjoy your engine for many years ahead.

When you need help with preventive maintenance, brake work, or auto repair service, turn to the highly skilled auto mechanics at Mancinelli's Auto Repair Center. We will help you get the most out of every vehicle you own. We are located at 375 Logan Street, Denver, CO 80203. You can schedule an appointment online or visit us. See you soon! 


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