Everything you need to know about Car Brakes

Everything you need to know about Car Brakes

by Bestparts .ca on November 30, 2023 Categories: bestblogs

Everything about brakes covers a critical area of knowledge in the automotive industry. In this article from the Best Parts website, our goal is to provide you with everything you need to know about car brakes.


How does a car brake work?

When it comes to vehicle safety, the braking system is critical. Understanding the complexities of how a car brake works is important not only for automotive enthusiasts, but for any driver who wants to navigate the roads with confidence. The following describes how a car brake works:


Basics of braking mechanism

At the heart of every car's braking system lies a complex mechanism that converts kinetic energy into heat, slowing down the vehicle. The brake pedal initiates a chain reaction involving brake fluid, brake pads, and rotors. Delve into the intricacies of this process, emphasizing the role each component plays in bringing your car to a halt.

read more: Everything about Brake caliper


Role of brake components

Understanding the synergy between brake pads, rotors, and other components is essential. Highlight how friction is generated, and kinetic energy is transformed into heat. This section will serve as a foundation for comprehending the nuances of effective braking.

What is mean by brake inspection?

A brake inspection is a thorough examination of the braking system of a vehicle to determine its condition and functionality. During this process, trained professionals, often automotive technicians or mechanics, inspect various braking system components to ensure they are in good working order. The primary goal is to identify any issues or potential problems that could jeopardize the brakes' effectiveness. The following are important aspects of a brake inspection:

Brake Pads and Shoes

Checking the thickness of brake pads and shoes to ensure they are within acceptable limits.
Looking for signs of uneven wear, which could indicate issues with the braking system.

Brake Rotors and Drums

Examining the condition of brake rotors and drums for scoring, grooving, or warping.
Ensuring that the braking surfaces are smooth and even.

Brake Fluid

Checking the level and condition of brake fluid.
Identifying any signs of contamination or moisture, which can affect brake performance.


Brake Calipers and Wheel Cylinders

Inspecting calipers and wheel cylinders for leaks or damage.
Verifying that these components are operating correctly and applying even pressure to the brake pads.

Brake Hoses and Lines

Examining brake hoses and lines for signs of wear, cracking, or leaks.
Ensuring that the hoses are properly secured and not damaged.

Brake Hardware:

Checking the condition of various hardware components, such as springs and clips.
Verifying that all parts are in good condition and functioning as intended.

Brake Pedal and Master Cylinder:

Evaluating the pedal feel and travel.
Checking the master cylinder for leaks and proper fluid pressure transmission.

A comprehensive brake inspection is crucial for maintaining vehicle safety. It allows for the early detection of potential brake problems, preventing more extensive damage and ensuring that the braking system operates effectively. Regular brake inspections are recommended as part of routine vehicle maintenance, and they become especially important if there are any signs of brake issues, such as squeaking, grinding noises, or reduced braking performance.

Squeaking or Squealing Noises

How often should car brakes be inspected?

The frequency of brake inspections can vary depending on driving conditions, vehicle usage, and the specific recommendations of the vehicle manufacturer. However, a general guideline for routine brake inspections is to have them checked at least once a year. Here are some factors to consider in ensuring the optimal performance of your braking system and knowing everything about brakes:

Annual Inspection

  • Normal Driving Conditions: For vehicles under normal driving conditions, an annual brake inspection is generally sufficient. This can be part of routine maintenance or a separate inspection.
  • Urban Driving: If you frequently drive in stop and go traffic or urban areas, where brakes are used more intensively, more frequent inspections may be advisable.

High Mileage Vehicles

Vehicles with higher mileage may benefit from more frequent inspections. For example, every 15,000 to 20,000 miles could be a reasonable interval for a thorough brake check.

Performance Issues

If you notice any signs of brake problems, such as squeaking, grinding, vibrations, or a soft brake pedal, it's crucial to have the brakes inspected promptly, regardless of the regular schedule.

Extreme Driving Conditions

Vehicles operating in extreme conditions, such as mountainous terrain or towing heavy loads, may experience increased brake wear. In such cases, more frequent inspections are recommended.

Manufacturer Recommendations

Always refer to the vehicle's owner's manual for specific recommendations from the manufacturer. They often provide guidelines on when to inspect and replace brake components.

DIY Inspection

In addition to professional inspections, drivers can perform visual checks of their brakes regularly. This includes looking at the thickness of brake pads, listening for unusual noises, and observing any changes in braking performance.


What are brake pads and brake rotors?

Brake pads and brake rotors are essential components of a vehicle's braking system, working together to slow down and stop the vehicle.

Brake Pads

  • Function

A brake pad is a component of a vehicle's braking system that clamp onto the brake rotors to create the necessary friction for slowing down or stopping the vehicle.

  • Location

Positioned on either side of the brake rotor, brake pads are housed within the brake calipers.

  • Material

Brake pads are typically made of composite materials that include a mixture of metals, resins, and other additives. Common materials include ceramic, semi metallic, and organic compounds.

  • Wear and Tear

Due to their direct contact with the spinning brake rotor, brake pads experience wear over time. Regular inspection is necessary, and worn out brake pads should be replaced to maintain braking efficiency.


  • Ceramic Brake Pads

Known for their durability and low noise, ceramic brake pads generate less dust and are often used in luxury and high performance vehicles.

  • Semi Metallic Brake Pads

Combining metal and non metallic materials, these pads offer good heat dissipation and performance across a range of driving conditions.

  • Organic Brake Pads

Made from non metallic materials like rubber, glass, and resins, organic brake pads are budget friendly but may wear out faster.

Brake Rotors (Discs)

  • Function

Brake rotors, also known as brake discs, are flat, disc shaped components mounted on each wheel. They work in conjunction with brake pads to generate the friction needed to slow down or stop the vehicle.

  • Material

Brake rotors are typically made of cast iron or composite materials. High performance or luxury vehicles may use composite materials for enhanced eat dissipation.

  • Design

Brake rotors come in various designs, including drilled, slotted, or a combination of both. These designs aid in cooling and dispersing heat generated during braking.

  • Wear and Tear

Like brake pads, brake rotors experience wear over time. Factors such as aggressive driving, heavy loads, or high speed driving can contribute to increased wear. It's important to monitor the thickness of the brake rotor and replace them if they fall below the manufacturer's specified minimum thickness.


  • Drilled Brake Rotors

Feature holes drilled into the surface to aid in heat dissipation and reduce brake fade.

  • Slotted Brake Rotors

Have slots machined into the surface to improve heat dissipation and clear away debris, reducing brake fade.

In summary, brake pads and brake rotors work together to convert the kinetic energy of a moving vehicle into heat, eventually slowing or stopping it. Regular inspection and maintenance of both components are critical for ensuring the proper operation of the braking system and, as a result, the vehicle's safety.


What are brake shoes and brake drums?

Brake shoes and brake drums are components of drum brake systems, which, although less common in modern vehicles, are still found in some cars and trucks.

Brake Shoes

  • Function

Brake shoes are curved components that press against the interior surface of a brake drum to create friction and slow down or stop the vehicle.

  • Location

Positioned inside the brake drum, brake shoes are connected to the wheel cylinder.

  • Material

Brake shoes are typically made of heat resistant friction materials, such as various types of resins and abrasive compounds.

  • Operation

When the brake pedal is pressed, hydraulic pressure is applied to the wheel cylinder, causing the brake shoes to expand and press against the brake drum. This friction generates the stopping force.

  • Wear and Tear

Brake shoes, like brake pads, undergo wear over time due to the friction generated during braking. Regular inspections are necessary, and worn brake shoes should be replaced to maintain braking effectiveness.

Brake Drums

  • Function

Brake drums are circular, drum shaped components attached to the vehicle's wheels. They work in conjunction with brake shoes to facilitate the braking process in drum brake systems.

  • Location

Brake drums are mounted on the inner side of the wheel, surrounding the brake shoes.

  • Material

Brake drums are typically made of cast iron. The drum's design allows it to dissipate heat effectively during braking.

  • Operation

When the brake pedal is depressed, the brake shoes press against the inner surface of the brake drum. This friction creates resistance, converting the kinetic energy of the rotating wheel into heat and slowing down the vehicle.

  • Wear and Tear

Brake drums, like other braking components, experience wear over time. Continuous contact with brake shoes can cause the surface of the drum to become uneven or develop grooves. If the drum's surface is beyond the manufacturer's specified limits, it may need to be resurfaced or replaced.

You should be aware that brake shoes and brake drums are essential components of drum brake systems, providing a means of slowing or stopping a vehicle through friction. While disc brakes are more common in modern vehicles, drum brakes are still used in some older models and certain types of vehicles. Regular inspection and maintenance are required to ensure that brake shoes and drums function properly for optimal braking performance and vehicle safety.

What is brake fluid?

Brake fluid is a specialized hydraulic fluid that plays a crucial role in the operation of a vehicle's braking system. It is a non compressible substance that transmits force from the brake pedal to the braking components, allowing for the conversion of kinetic energy into thermal energy, which ultimately slows down or stops the vehicle. Key characteristics and aspects of brake fluid include:

Hydraulic Transmission

Brake fluid is a hydraulic fluid, meaning it is used to transmit force through a hydraulic system. In the context of a vehicle's braking system, it transmits the force applied to the brake pedal to the brake components.


One of the critical properties of brake fluid is its incompressibility. This characteristic ensures that the force applied to the brake pedal is efficiently transmitted to the brake components without loss of pressure.

Compatibility with Materials

Brake fluid is formulated to be compatible with the various materials used in the braking system, including rubber seals and metal components. This ensures the longevity and proper functioning of the entire brake system.

Boiling Point

Brake fluid has a high boiling point to withstand the heat generated during heavy braking. This property is crucial for preventing the formation of vapor bubbles, which can lead to brake fade and a loss of braking performance.

Types of Brake Fluid

There are several types of brake fluid, including DOT 3, DOT 4, and DOT 5. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has established standards for brake fluids to ensure safety and performance. The main differences between these types often involve their boiling points and compatibility with certain materials.

Routine Maintenance

Regular maintenance of brake fluid is essential. Over time, brake fluid can absorb moisture from the air, reducing its effectiveness and potentially leading to corrosion within the braking system. Periodic brake fluid flushes or changes help maintain optimal brake performance.

Warning Signs

Monitoring the brake fluid level in the master cylinder and checking for any signs of contamination is part of routine vehicle maintenance. A sudden drop in brake fluid level or the presence of discolored fluid may indicate a leak or other issues that require prompt attention.


The difference between disc brakes and drum brakes

Disc brakes and drum brakes are two common types of braking systems used in vehicles, each with its own design and functionality. Let's explore the key differences between disc brakes and drum brakes:

Design and Components:

Disc Brakes

  • Components

Disc brakes consist of a rotor (disc), brake caliper, brake pads, and associated hardware.

  • Operation

When the brake pedal is pressed, hydraulic pressure forces the brake caliper to squeeze the brake pads against the rotor, creating friction that slows down or stops the vehicle.

Drum Brakes

  • Components

Drum brakes include a drum, brake shoes, wheel cylinders, springs, and an adjuster mechanism.

  • Operation

Hydraulic pressure causes the wheel cylinder to expand, pushing the brake shoes against the inner surface of the drum. Friction between the brake shoes and drum slows down the vehicle.

Heat Dissipation

Disc Brakes

  • Heat Dissipation

Disc brakes are generally more effective at dissipating heat due to the exposed rotor design. This helps prevent brake fade during prolonged or heavy braking.
Drum Brakes

  • Heat Dissipation

Drum brakes are enclosed, and heat dissipation is less efficient compared to disc brakes. This can lead to a higher risk of brake fade under heavy or sustained braking.

Maintenance and Inspection

Disc Brakes

  • Accessibility

Components are more accessible, making inspections and maintenance relatively straightforward.

  • Wear Indication

Many disc brakes have wear indicators that make it easier to determine when brake pads need replacement.

Drum Brakes

  • Accessibility

Drum brakes are enclosed, making visual inspection more challenging. Inspection often requires partial disassembly.

  • Wear Indication

Wear can be more challenging to assess visually, and routine adjustments are often necessary.

Weight and Cost

Disc Brakes

  • Weight

Generally lighter compared to drum brakes.

  • Cost

Components can be more expensive, but maintenance costs may be lower.

Drum Brakes

  • Weight

Typically heavier than disc brakes.

  • Cost

Initial components may be less expensive, but maintenance costs can vary.


Disc Brakes

  • Common in

Front wheel and all wheel drive vehicles. Also commonly used in high performance and sports cars.

Drum Brakes

  • Common in

Rear wheel drive vehicles and older vehicle models. Often found in less demanding braking applications.


Disc Brakes

  • Performance

Generally provide better stopping power and more responsive braking.

  • Consistency

Performance is often more consistent across various driving conditions.

Drum Brakes

  • Performance

May have limitations in terms of stopping power, especially under heavy or repeated braking.

  • Consistency

Performance can be affected by factors like heat buildup.

In summary, while both disc brakes and drum brakes serve the essential function of slowing down or stopping a vehicle, their design differences result in distinct characteristics. Disc brakes are often favored for their better heat dissipation and performance, especially in high demand situations, while drum brakes may still be found in certain vehicle configurations, particularly on rear wheels. The choice between the two depends on factors such as vehicle type, application, and performance requirements.


Tips on brake inspection

Performing regular brake inspections is crucial for maintaining vehicle safety and ensuring the optimal performance of the braking system. Here are some tips on how to conduct a thorough brake inspection: 

Check Brake Fluid Level

Inspect the brake fluid level in the master cylinder reservoir. Ensure it is within the recommended range. Low brake fluid may indicate a leak or excessive brake pad wear.


Inspect Brake Pads and Shoes

  • For disc brakes, visually inspect the thickness of the brake pads. Replace them if they are worn down to the minimum recommended thickness.
  • For drum brakes, check the brake shoe lining for wear. Replace shoes if the lining is worn thin.

Look for Signs of Fluid Leaks

Check for any signs of brake fluid leaks around the master cylinder, brake lines, calipers, and wheel cylinders. Leaks can compromise the brake system's effectiveness.

Inspect Brake Hoses and Lines

Examine brake hoses and lines for cracks, bulges, or signs of wear. Replace any damaged hoses or lines promptly.

Check Brake Calipers and Wheel Cylinders

Inspect brake calipers (for disc brakes) and wheel cylinders (for drum brakes) for leaks or damage. Ensure they operate smoothly and evenly.

Evaluate Brake Pedal Feel

Pay attention to the brake pedal feel. A soft or spongy pedal may indicate air in the brake lines or a potential brake fluid leak.

Listen for Unusual Noises

While driving, listen for any unusual noises such as squeaking, grinding, or clicking during braking. These sounds may indicate worn brake pads or other issues.

Check for Vibrations

If you experience vibrations or pulsations when braking, it could indicate warped brake rotors. Address this issue promptly to avoid further damage.

Perform a Road Test

After inspecting the brakes, take the vehicle for a test drive. Pay attention to the braking performance, and ensure there are no unusual vibrations or noises.

Remember that a proactive approach to brake maintenance can prevent more extensive and costly repairs in the long run. If you're unsure about any aspect of the brake inspection or if you discover issues, it's advisable to consult with a qualified mechanic for further evaluation and necessary repairs.

Problems you need to know when braking

Understanding potential problems that can occur when braking is crucial for maintaining vehicle safety and addressing issues promptly. Here are common problems you need to be aware of when braking:

Squeaking or Squealing Noises

Possible Causes:

  • Worn brake pads
  • Presence of brake dust or debris
  • Brake pad wear indicators making contact


  • Inspect and replace worn brake pads.
  • Clean or lubricate brake components as needed.

Grinding Noises

Possible Causes: 

  • Worn out brake pads.
  • Metal to metal contact between brake pads and rotors.


  • Replace brake pads immediately.
  • Address rotor damage or wear.

Soft or Spongy Brake Pedal

Possible Causes

  • Air in the brake lines.
  • Brake fluid leak.


  • Bleed the brake system to remove air.
  • Inspect for and repair any brake fluid leaks.

Hard Brake Pedal

Possible Causes: 

  • Brake booster issues.
  • Brake fluid contamination.


  • Inspect and replace the brake booster if necessary.
  • Flush and replace contaminated brake fluid.

Vibrations or Pulsations

Possible Causes:

  • Warped brake rotors.
  • Uneven brake pad wear.


  • Resurface or replace warped brake rotors.
  • Inspect and replace unevenly worn brake pads.

Pulling to One Side While Braking

Possible Causes:

  • Uneven brake pad wear.
  • Caliper issues.


  • Inspect and replace unevenly worn brake pads.
  • Address caliper problems, such as sticking or uneven pressure.

Delayed Braking Response

Possible Causes:

  • Worn brake pads or shoes.
  • Brake fluid contamination.


  • Replace worn brake pads or shoes.
  • Flush and replace contaminated brake fluid.

Overheating Brakes

Possible Causes:

  • Aggressive or prolonged braking.
  • Brake system issues.


  • Allow brakes to cool down
  • Address any underlying brake system problems


As we come to the end of our journey through the complex world of car brakes, it's critical to emphasize the importance of knowing everything about brakes. By performing regular inspections and staying informed about the complexities of brake systems, every driver contributes to safer roads for all.


  • How do I know if my brakes need inspection?

Look for signs like squeaking sounds, reduced braking efficiency, or unusual vibrations. Regular inspections can catch potential issues early.

  • Can I inspect my brakes at home?

Yes, you can perform simple DIY inspections, but professional inspections are essential for a comprehensive assessment.

  • What causes brake fluid to degrade?

Brake fluid degradation can result from moisture absorption, high temperatures, and contamination from external factors.

  • Are disc brakes better than drum brakes?

The choice between disc and drum brakes depends on driving conditions and personal preferences. Disc brakes offer better heat dissipation, while drum brakes have their own advantages.

  • How can I prevent common brake problems?

Regular inspections, prompt addressing of issues, and using the right brake fluid are key preventive measures that ensure the longevity and efficiency of your braking system.