A fully functioning brake system is crucial to your safety, the safety of your passengers, and the safety of other drivers on the road. Your vehicle’s brake system involves highly engineered parts and precise movements that stop your vehicle by converting kinetic energy into thermal energy. When you press down on the brake pedal, the master cylinder pressurizes a system of hydraulic brake lines leading to each of the vehicle’s wheels, where brake pads or shoes press against a disc or drum and create the necessary friction needed to slow the vehicle to a complete stop. Over time, this friction and heat has the potential to wear down the brake shoes, brake pads, calipers, brake rotors, and other braking components. While the components comprising each brake system may vary, the warning signs for impending brake repairs are the same.


Brakes use friction to bring a vehicle to a complete stop. This friction creates a substantial amount of heat that can degrade the brakes and brake components over time. As a result, inspecting these components and ensuring proper operation has become a critical part of overall vehicle maintenance. Although brake systems vary from vehicle to vehicle, the responsibility and importance of the components remains the same. Today, some common brake types include drum and disc brakes. Drum brakes contain brake shoes, drums, wheel cylinders, springs, and self-adjusters. Disc brakes contain brake pads, rotors, calipers, and hydraulic components. Depending on the design of the rear brake system, the parking brake assembly, which keeps the vehicle from rolling once stopped, can be housed in either a drum or rotor. All of these components, including the brake pedal and brake fluid, should be checked during a brake inspection service to help ensure that a vehicle is safe to operate.


Your brake system’s rotors, in conjunction with the brake pads, help bring your vehicle to a complete stop. Commonly made of cast iron, rotors are discs that mount to the wheel hub. When you press the brake pedal, the brake pads compress against the rotors and slow your wheels. Rotor design may vary from vehicle to vehicle and from brake system to brake system. Variations in design help dissipate the heat created between the brake pads and the rotors when you slow your vehicle. Disc brake systems can account for heat dissipation in two ways: either the rotors will have a ventilated design, or the brake pads will contain a slot on the surface. These vents and slots provide passages so air circulation can effectively cool the rotor. Proper heat dissipation is extremely important for prolonging the life of your rotors. Drivers are encouraged to watch their brake rotors and seek rotor repairs or rotor replacements when necessary.


In the brake systems of modern vehicles, disc brakes are used in both the front and rear of the vehicle. Front disc brake systems contain brake pads, calipers, rotors, and hydraulic components. In a disc brake system, the rotor is mounted to the wheel hub, and calipers are responsible for squeezing the brake pads against the disc in order to slow the speed of the turning rotor and bring the vehicle to a complete stop. Because front disc brake systems convert kinetic energy into heat, ventilation slots, holes, or vanes are necessary for expelling heat from the brake system. While the brake pads are already designed to withstand heat, excessive amounts of heat are still damaging to the pads as well as other disc brake components. Brake systems that use disc brakes are known to possess strong stopping power. Like all brake systems, however, disc brakes will wear over time. This is why routine maintenance is extremely important.


Whether you have a disc brake system or a drum brake system, you have a parking brake that is responsible for locking your vehicle in a parked position. The parking brake, also known as the emergency brake, is applied independently of regular brakes and is engaged by either pulling the parking brake lever or pressing a special pedal. Most motorists use the parking brake when parking on a steep hill. However, the parking brake can also be used to stop suddenly and prevent an accident from occurring. There are three types of parking brakes that use a ratchet locking mechanism: stick, center level, and pedal. Each type of parking brake depends on the style of driver’s seat, and each operates differently depending on the brake system. You should always consult the owner’s manual to determine the correct position of a disengaged parking brake and whether or not your parking brake needs an adjustment.


Some brake systems use disc brakes in the rear of a vehicle. Most rear disc brake systems contain brake pads, calipers, rotors, and a parking brake assembly. Calipers are responsible for squeezing the brake pads against the rotor, which is mounted to the wheel hub. When you apply pressure to the brakes, the brake pads are hydraulically pressed against the brake disc to create the necessary amount of friction for slowing the turning rotor. A rear disc brake system converts kinetic energy into heat. Most brake rotors incorporate a ventilated design to release heat from the brake system. When the parking brake is applied, a piston is pushed into the brake pad to keep the vehicle from moving. In some systems, a “drum in hat” parking brake assembly uses parking brake shoes to keep the vehicle from moving. Brake systems with rear disc brakes are known to possess strong stopping power in even the worst driving conditions. However, they are still susceptible to the same type of wear and tear as any regularly used brake system.


Some brake systems use rear drum brakes instead of rear disc brakes. Drum brake components consist of brake drums, shoes, wheel cylinders, and hardware including springs and self-adjusters. The brake shoes sit against the drum until the brakes are applied. Once applied, brake fluid pushes the wheel cylinders against the brake shoes, which in turn press against the brake drum and create the friction required to stop your vehicle. When you let off the brakes, the springs return the brake shoes back to their original position. This self-adjusting system helps keep the brake shoes in position when the brakes are not applied. As the brake shoes gradually become worn, the self-adjuster compensates for the worn area by adjusting the original position of the brake shoe so that it is closer to the brake drum. Because rear drum brakes serve an important role in slowing your vehicle, it is wise to get them repaired and replaced as necessary.


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