How Brakes Work: Understanding vehicle Braking Systems




Brakes are devices which stop something from moving, usually by applying force to a moving part that then converts the energy of movement into heat. In the case of cars, there are two main types of brake, namely drum and disc brakes, and both of these work by applying pressure to part of the wheel assembly, thus impeding movement. Ever since mankind first started moving around in carriages the quest has been to find the most effective way of stopping, and to this day improvements in braking technology continue.

What are the two main types of brakes?

As far as modern day motorists are concerned there are really two main types of brake, namely disc and drum. Although the basic principles and physics are the same, the actual technology has some key differences including:

  • A so called drum brake is a drum shaped device with brake pads inside it that expand and apply pressure to the drum
  • This pressure creates friction, which in turns impedes movement
  • One of the side effects of friction is heat, which is why brakes can get very hot if used often
  • A disc brake is a similar idea, only the pads pinch a rotating disc that is part of the wheel assembly instead
  • Much like drum brakes, discs can generate a lot of heat due to the friction being generated
  • A brake that has pads that contract around the outside of a drum is sometimes known as a band brake

Both of the two main types of car brake systems rely upon applying force to a part of the wheel assembly to create friction, and therefore impede movement.

Improving how brakes perform

Your brakes are a critical part of your vehicle's safety equipment and therefore need to be well maintained. The key is to ensure that the pads, or shoes - the parts which make contact with the disc or drum to help create friction - are not unduly worn. If they become too worn, they will slip over the surface they are meant to impact with, creating very little friction, and therefore minimal stopping power. Brakes also need to be adjusted regularly so the pads align properly. Dirt, especially oil residue from the road can also adversely affect how your brakes work. Effective brakes need to be clean, adjusted properly and not too worn.

Ensuring your brakes work properly

Considering how important brakes are in terms of being able to stop as effectively as possible, and how vital this is in the overall context of safety, it is advised that you make sure they are inspected and serviced regularly by experts. Excessive wear, bad adjustments and the build up of dirt and oil can all compromise your brakes' effectiveness. Regardless of what type of brakes your car has, there can be no shortcuts when it comes to safety.


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