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What do the various brake components do?
Today’s vehicle braking systems involve many different components working together to help you to stop and manoeuvre your vehicle in a controlled manner. The typical braking system is made up of many different components, all designed to work together to slow or stop your vehicle depending on the amount of pressure applied to the brake pedal. Braking systems are hydraulic and work by moving brake fluid around a system of pipes to bring components into contact with each other in order to generate friction and to slow the wheels.
The key components of your vehicle braking system include:
- Master cylinder and Brake Servo- The heart of the braking system is controlled by a servo linked to the brake pedal. When you apply pressure to the pedal, the servo controls the amount of brake fluid that the master cylinder moves through the brake pipes to either the disc brakes (at the front of the vehicle) or drum brakes (usually used on a vehicle’s rear axle).
- Brake calipers, the role of the Brake Calipers are to apply the pressure needed for the brake pads to grip the rotating Brake Disc and slow or stop the vehicle. Brake Calipers hydraulically operate Brake Pads to create the friction onto the Brake disc.
- Brake fluid- The lifeblood of the braking system. When you press the brake pedal this force is transferred through the brake system to the caliper or wheel cylinder by the brake fluid.
- Wheel cylinders, the Wheel Cylinder is located inside the Brake Drum in between the tops of the Brake Shoes, they are connected to the brake hose and expand when the brake pedal is depressed, pushing the Brake shoes onto the Brake Drum to slow or stop the vehicle.
- Brake discs and Brake pads -The disc brake assembly consists of a steel disc which is connected to the vehicle axle and a caliper which houses two brake pads – one either side of the disc. When you press the brake pedal and brake fluid is moved through the brake pipes to the caliper, pistons inside the caliper force the brake pads onto the disc to slow its speed of rotation and in turn slowing the axle and wheels to slow or stop the vehicle.
- Brake drums and Brake Shoes- drum brakes consist of a drum that is connected to the vehicle’s rear axle which houses the Brake Shoes. When you press the brake pedal, this time the brake fluid is forced down the brake pipes into a wheel cylinder which pushes two brake shoes outwards against the inside of the drum, causing the rotating axle and wheels to slow or come to a stop.
- Brake pipes and Brake hoses- the brake pipe is a rigid pipe made from steel or copper and carries pressurized Brake fluid from the Master cylinder to the Brake Hoses. The Brake hoses are flexible and are made from reinforced rubber to withstand high pressure and temperatures, these link the Brake pipe to the Caliper or Wheel Cylinder.
- Handbrake Cable- The handbrake operates the emergency brake usually located on the rear of the vehicle. The handbrake cable is used to connect the handbrake lever to the parking brake to secure the car from moving when stationary.
All the components are linked by a series of brake hoses and brake pipes containing brake fluid, so when you press your brake pedal the vehicle slows down and stops. The rate at which your brakes reduce the vehicle speed is determined by the amount and duration of foot pressure is applied to your brake pedal, and of course your braking system’s condition.
Most modern cars are now also equipped with ABS (Anti-lock Braking Systems) and ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) which use electronics to control the brakes and apply them when the system considers it necessary to assist the driver.
Regular brake checks are an important part of any vehicle preventative maintenance plan. Brake checks can identify a problem before it begins to impact your braking efficiency, thus providing an opportunity to restore the effectiveness of your vehicle’s braking system to its intended operating performance. The effects of a sudden brake failure can be devastating and in the event of an accident attributed to faulty brakes, the consequences of not maintaining an effective braking system could result in prosecution. Your vehicle will also fail its MOT test if braking efficiency is below specification.
Brake fluid is designed to withstand normal brake system operating temperatures, however under the extremely high temperatures caused by heavy or prolonged braking, brake fluid can deteriorate and lose its effectiveness – and if the temperature rises above its boiling point it can even lead to total brake failure. As it moves around the brake system during its lifespan, brake fluid also absorbs moisture and gradually becomes contaminated, significantly reducing its effectiveness. We can check the levels of contamination using a Brake Fluid Tester, however most vehicle manufacturers recommend that brake fluid should be replaced every two years.