Brake Safety Part 2: How Brakes Work

closeup of brake disc mounted on car

We all know what brakes do–they stop the vehicle. What you may not realize is that knowing a little bit about how the brakes actually work will help you understand how important it is to maintain your brakes.

The amount of force that you apply to the brake pedal is not actually enough to stop the car.  Brakes use hydraulics which are a system of fluid-filled pipes that multiply force and move it from one place to another.  Here’s what happens when you press the brake pedal.

  1. You push the brake pedal.
  2. The brake pedal pushes as class 2 lever that increases your pushing force.
  3. The level pushes a piston into a narrow cylinder full of hydraulic brake fluid which squeezes the fluid out of the end.
  4. The brake fluid squirts down a long, thin pipe until it reaches another cylinder at the wheel which is much wider.
  5. The fluid pushes a piston in that wider cylinder with greatly increased force.
  6. The piston pushes the brake pad bringing the pad into contact with the brake disc which generates friction (and head).
  7. The friction slows down the outer wheel and tire, stopping the car.

All this happens with a simple push on the brake pedal.  All the different parts of maintaining your brakes are to help keep the above process happening.

In the next article, you will learn about how to tell if there is a problem in the brake system.


What is ABS and What It Does for You

emergency braking car on wet road

When you are considering which car to purchase, you should factor in ABS.  Many people don’t know that ABS (anti-lock braking system) makes a difference:

  • Since ABS, there has been a 35% decrease in frontal collisions on wet roads.
  • There has been a 9% decrease in frontal impacts on dry roads.
  • In controlled test conditions, 58% of drivers without ABS strayed from their intended path after braking and only 24% of drivers with ABS did the same.

As you can see, ABS is a very good feature to have.  It comes as a standard feature on many cars, but sometimes it is an add-on. As you look at cars, think of ABS like an umbrella. It’s better to have one and not need it rather than need it and not have it.

You might have heard someone say, “I pushed the brake pedal, and they locked up!” When your wheels lock up, you skid, you can hear the screech of the tires and often you see smoke and/or skid marks on the pavement.  Skidding isn’t good, but it is especially dangerous in rain, snow or ice. When it happens, you are at serious risk for losing control of the car and having an accident.

To “unlock” your wheels, you need to lessen the pressure on the brakes until the wheels start spinning again.  If you drive a car without ABS, instead of pressing on the brake and holding it, you need to apply pressure until just before the wheels would lock up.  If the wheels lock up or you are trying to keep them from doing so, you lessen pressure on the brake and then apply it once again (which is called “feathering”).  In the midst of bad weather or bad drivers around you, it’s not always easy to do.

That’s where ABS comes in.  ABS is designed to keep your wheels from locking up when you press the brakes.  With ABS, a computer will handle all that for you using wheel speed sensors, hydraulic units and electronic control unit. All these combined make up an ABS.

ABS is very useful in bad weather or during an emergency when you need to suddenly stop your car. It takes care of feathering your brakes so your wheels don’t lock up. (The ABS use sensors to monitor your brakes and keep them from locking at a sudden braking.) As a result, you maintain better control of your car in order to avoid a wreck.