Car Care Brakes


  1. Anti-Lock Brakes
  2. Anti-Lock Brakes Warning Light
  3. Brake Hardware
  4. Brake Hydraulic System
  5. Tire Selection
  6. Brake Booster
  7. Brake Pads & Shoes
  8. Brake Rotors & Drums
  9. Parking Brake Warning Light

Anti-Lock Brakes

Description: Today, virtually all cars come with ABS as standard equipment or as an option. The typical ABS system includes wheel-speed sensors, a hydraulic control unit, and an electronic control unit. When you apply the brake pedal, the electronic control unit monitors and compares the signals from the wheel-speed sensors. If the electronic control unit senses rapid deceleration (impending lock-up) at a given wheel, the electronic control unit commands the hydraulic control unit to reduce hydraulic pressure to that wheel. This type of pressure limiting is similar to pumping the brake pedal, only much faster. Some pick-up trucks and cargo vans have rear-wheel only ABS to handle different braking needs under different loading conditions. This type of ABS system controls only the rear wheels and limits pressure to both of them when either is about to lock.

Purpose: ABS was designed to help you maintain directional control during emergency stops and when road conditions are poor. By maintaining control, you have better chances of avoiding a crash. ABS is especially useful on wet and slippery roads. You should never pump the brake pedal on a car with ABS, since the system itself the brakes automatically. All you need to do is apply firm and continuous pressure to the brake pedal to activate ABS operation. When the ABS system operates, you may feel a pulsating sensation from the brake pedal. When ABS operation is no longer needed, the braking system reverts to conventional hydraulic operation without intervention from the ABS system.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: When turning the ignition switch to the on position, the amber BRAKE, ANTILOCK or ABS light on the instrument panel should glow momentarily, and then turn off. If the light stays on or flashes, or comes on while driving, it indicates a fault in the ABS system. Have your car’s ABS system inspected immediately by a professional technician to determine the source of the problem. Your owner's manual may specify periodic flushing and filling of the brake hydraulic system, which should not be overlooked. This is a service best left to professional technicians, as many cars with ABS have specialized brake-bleeding procedures. Braking systems with ABS can also generate extremely high hydraulic pressures, which can be dangerous. Once again, consult a professional service technician if your car needs ABS or hydraulic system service.
 

Anti-Lock Brakes Warning Light

Description: Located on the instrument panel, this warning light may be labelled BRAKE, ANTILOCK or ABS.

Purpose: The ABS warning light alerts you to problems in the ABS system.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: When turning the ignition switch to the on position, the amber BRAKE, ANTILOCK or ABS light on the instrument panel should glow momentarily, and then turn off. If the light stays on or flashes, or comes on while driving, it indicates a fault in the ABS system. Have your car's ABS system inspected immediately by a professional technician to determine the source of the problem.

Brake Fluid
Description: Brake fluid is a specially formulated liquid used in the brake hydraulic system. Brake fluid must meet one of three specifications. DOT3 and DOT4 are glycol-based fluids, which absorb water. DOT5 is a silicone-based fluid and does not absorb water. The main difference is that DOT3 and DOT4 absorb water, while DOT5 doesn't. Most cars use DOT 3 fluid from the factory.

Purpose: Since liquids can't be compressed, brake fluid transmits force to various parts of the braking system when you step on the brake pedal. Brake fluid must also have a high boiling point because of the heat generated during braking and must not freeze during cold temperatures. DOT 3 and DOT 4 fluids also attract small amounts of water that may collect in the brake system.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Check the brake fluid level in the master cylinder reservoir regularly, ideally at every oil change. Most cars use semi-transparent reservoirs that have level markings to make fluid monitoring easy. If you need to add fluid, use only the type of fluid recommended in your car's owner's manual. Do not leave the cover off the master cylinder any longer than necessary; DOT 3 and DOT 4 brake fluids attract water. Use extreme care when handling DOT 3 and DOT 4 fluid as it quickly destroys paint if spilled.

On cars with disc brakes, it's normal for the fluid level to gradually drop as the brakes wear. This fluid fills up the space left by the disc brake calliper pistons as they move outward with brake wear. However, if you find that brake fluid needs to be added frequently, there may be a leak in the hydraulic system. Have the system inspected as soon as possible by a qualified service technician. Your owner's manual may specify periodic flushing and filling of the brake hydraulic system, which should not be overlooked. This is a service best left to professional technicians, as many cars with ABS have specialized brake-bleeding procedures. Braking systems with ABS can also generate extremely high hydraulic pressures, which can be dangerous. Once again, consult a professional service technician if your car needs ABS or hydraulic system service.

Brake Hardware

Description: Brake hardware generally refers to the supporting hardware for disc and drum brakes. Hardware related to disc brakes usually includes anti-rattle springs, pad-retaining springs, silencing shims, calliper pins, support keys, return springs, and retaining screws. Typical drum brake hardware includes return springs, hold-down springs, tension springs and star wheel adjuster. It's important to note that the exact hardware configuration and names of the hardware vary considerably with different makes and models of cars.

Purpose: Brake hardware is used to retain brake parts in certain locations and can also be used to return parts to certain positions when hydraulic pressure is released. Certain types of brake hardware are also used to silence disc brakes.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Symptoms of brake hardware problems may include dragging brakes, squealing while braking, grinding brakes, a low brake pedal or pulling when braking. If your car exhibits any of these symptoms, have it checked out by a qualified technician as soon as possible. When your car is due for brake service, ask if the brake hardware will be replaced. Having the hardware replaced during brake service is the best investment you can make to ensure safe braking and longest life from your new brakes.

Brake Hydraulic System

Description: The brake hydraulic system consists of the master cylinder, disc brake callipers (disc brakes), wheel cylinders (drum brakes), hydraulic lines and hoses, and combination/proportioning valve. When you push on the brake pedal, the force of your leg generates hydraulic pressure in the master cylinder, which then flows through the hydraulic lines and hoses to the wheel cylinders and callipers. The hydraulic force applies pressure through the wheel cylinders and callipers, forcing the shoes against the drums (drum brakes) and the pads against the rotors (disc brakes).

In the early 1960s, cars began using split hydraulic systems and tandem master cylinders. Essentially, this divided the hydraulic system into two separate systems (front and back), ensuring proper hydraulic and braking on one side of the system, if a leak developed on the other side. In the 1980s, some carmakers began to use diagonally split systems, which took safety a step further. Instead of splitting the system into front and rear, the system was now hydraulically divided into left-rear/right-front and right-rear/left-front. By maintaining one front and one rear brake, the result is more balanced braking when the system develops a leak.

All of today's cars are required to use some type of hydraulically split system.

Purpose: The hydraulic system transmits and multiplies force as needed to provide braking action throughout the brake system.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Check the brake fluid level in the master cylinder reservoir regularly, ideally at every oil change. Most cars use semi-transparent reservoirs that have level markings to make fluid monitoring easy. If you need to add fluid, use only the type of fluid recommended in your car’s owner's manual. Do not leave the cover off the master cylinder any longer than necessary; DOT 3 and DOT 4 brake fluids attract water. Use extreme care when handling DOT 3 and DOT 4 fluid as it quickly destroys paint if spilled.

On cars with disc brakes, it's normal for the fluid level to gradually drop as the brakes wear. This fluid fills up the space left by the disc brake calliper pistons as they move outward with brake wear. However, if you find that brake fluid needs to be added frequently, there may be a leak in the hydraulic system. Have the system inspected as soon as possible by a qualified service technician. Your owner's manual may specify periodic flushing and filling of the brake hydraulic system, which should not be overlooked. This is a service best left to professional technicians, as many cars with ABS have specialized brake-bleeding procedures. Braking systems with ABS can also generate extremely high hydraulic pressures, which can be dangerous. Once again, consult a professional service technician if your car needs ABS or hydraulic system service.

Tire Selection

Description: Tires have a coding system all their own that indicates key things like size, application, speed rating, treadwear factors and some others. All of this information is represented through an ordered series of numbers and letters on the sidewalls of tires.

Purpose: Tires are a normal wear item and eventually you’ll be faced with replacing them. When you do, making the right choices can make a big difference in your satisfaction once your new tires are installed.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: With a P225/75R15 tire as an example, represents passenger car applications (LT=Light Truck), 225 indicates the width of the tread in millimetres, 75 represents the aspect ratio (width of the tread, divided by sidewall height), means radial construction (most tires nowadays) and the 15 means the diameter of the wheel in inches. A tire may also carry a speed rating, which represents the maximum safe driving speed for a given tire. If this is the case, the rating will precede the “R”. Speed ratings range from "S" to "Y", which represent 112 and 186 miles per hour respectively. (Speed-rated tires are usually used in high-performance applications.)

In most cases, cars and minivans are originally equipped with passenger car tires, whereas larger vehicles like pickups, SUVs and the like come equipped with light-truck tires. It's important to stick with the size tires and types as recommended by your car’s manufacturer or in a tire application guide from a tire maker. Using tires of the wrong size can interfere with steering and suspension parts and it can affect the accuracy of your car's speedometer along with onboard control technology such as the transmission and anti-lock brakes.

There are three other factors that may be helpful in your tire selection process. These three are treadwear, traction and temperature. As with tire sizes, the codes for these are marked on the sidewall of the tire, too. The treadwear number is a relative indicator of just that the higher the number, the better. In theory, a treadwear index of 200 means that the tire will last twice as long as a tire with a 100 index.

Next, comes the traction index, which is expressed as a letter. A tire that performs well during braking on both wet concrete and asphalt gets an "A" index; a tire that performs well on only one of the surfaces gets a "B" index; and a tire that performs poorly on both surfaces gets a "C" index.

The last of the "T" is temperature resistance. An "A" index means the tire has a high resistance to temperature; "B" means a medium temperature-resistance and a "C"" index indicates that the tire meets basic safety standards.

There are still other considerations that go into formulating a tire choice that's just right for your car, based on personal preferences. This may include the type of tread for on- or off-road use, the amount of noise the tires produce when driving on paved surfaces and other appearance-related options like raised white letters or black sidewalls.

Brake Booster

Description: Located on the driver's side of the car towards the back of the engine compartment, the vacuum-operated brake booster is the heart of a "power brake" system. The master cylinder mounts to the front of the brake booster.

Purpose: The brake booster uses the differential of engine vacuum (negative pressure) and atmospheric pressure (positive pressure) to multiply force from the driver's leg. This applies increased force to the pushrod of the master cylinder, generating more pressure from the master cylinder than from use of the driver's leg alone.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Brake boosters are generally very reliable and require no maintenance. Some boosters have a small filter in the vacuum line supplying the booster. This filter should be replaced periodically to ensure a consistent flow of vacuum to the booster. It should be inspected regularly to make sure that its vacuum connection and hose are sound and that the connection grommet seals tightly around the vacuum connection. Symptoms of brake booster problems include excessive brake pedal effort, a rough running engine, excessive idle speed, or a whooshing or hissing noise. Have the symptom checked by a professional technician to pinpoint the cause.

Brake Pads & Shoes

Description: Historically, pads and shoes contained a lining material made of asbestos or asbestos compounds. Today's friction lining may contain semi-metallic compounds, non-asbestos organic compounds, and ceramics, among others.

Purpose: Pads and shoes are the wearable friction elements of the braking system. When installed properly, they should provide reliable and quiet braking for many miles.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Have your car's brakes inspected annually to make sure everything’s OK. It’s always best to be able to plan ahead for brake work by knowing brake condition as your car ages. Brakes are a normal wear item for any car, so sooner or later they're going to need replacement. Planning can also save you money, because the brakes won't get to the "metal-to-metal" point, which usually means expensive rotor or drum replacement. Symptoms of brake problems may include dragging brakes, squealing brakes, a pulsating brake pedal (with ABS not functioning), grinding brakes, a low brake pedal or pulling when braking. If your car exhibits any of these symptoms, have it checked out by a qualified technician as soon as possible.

Brake Rotors & Drums

Description: Brake drums and rotors are the spinning members of the braking system that come in contact with the lining material from the brake shoes and pads. Drums are usually made of cast iron and rotors may be made of cast iron, or a composite of cast iron and a stamped steel center section.

Purpose: Drums and rotors provide the mating surface for brake shoes and pads. Because of the heat generated from all the friction, a drum or rotor must be able to remain stable even when subjected to the temperatures of repeated braking.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Have your car's brakes inspected annually to make sure everything's OK. It's always best to be able to plan ahead for brake work by knowing brake condition as your car ages. Brakes are a normal wear item for any car, so sooner or later they're going to need replacement. Planning can also save you money, because the brakes won't get to the "metal-to-metal" point, which usually means expensive rotor or drum replacement. Symptoms of brake problems may include dragging brakes, squealing brakes, a pulsating brake pedal (with ABS not functioning), grinding brakes, a low brake pedal or pulling when braking. If your car exhibits any of these symptoms, have it checked out by a qualified technician as soon as possible.

Parking Brake Warning Light

Description: Located on the instrument panel, this warning light is usually red and labelled BRAKE. The light glows with the ignition switch in the on position.

Purpose: The parking brake warning light notifies the driver that the parking brake is engaged. This reduces the chances of driving off with the parking rake engaged, causing premature wear of the rear brakes.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Use your parking brake regularly. Not using the parking brake for a long period of time and then activating it may cause cables and other parts to seize because of corrosion. If the BRAKE light stays on after you've released the parking brake, it may indicate a hydraulic system problem because the same light may be used for multiple purposes. There's also the possibility that the parking brake cable or switch may be sticking or is out of adjustment. Consult a professional technician to isolate the cause.