Understanding How Brake Systems Work for Students in Online Automotive Courses

Brake systems save many a life, human and animal, on an hourly basis. When you notice a squirrel scurrying across the road, or a tree branch suddenly in your car’s path, you slam the pedal and the brake system thankfully brings your vehicle to a safe halt. 

Though every driver relies on their brake system, few know just how they work. As a future car mechanic, servicing these life-saving parts will be a crucial part of your job, so it’s important to thoroughly understand how they work. Keep reading for a quick overview. 

The Creation of the Modern Braking System 

Braking technology has gone through a century-long journey to get where it is now. The first brake systems were just wooden blocks that were moved against the wheels with a level. When rubber tires were introduced in the late 1800s, the wood blocks could no longer be used because they wore down the rubber too much. 

After this, the mechanical drum brake became popular. Drum brakes work by using a spinning drum that is attached to a rotor anchored to the vehicle’s chassis. Hydraulic pressure is transferred to the drum, which squeezes the rotor and stops the car. 

Drum brakes can still be encountered in some car models today

Online brake systems course students might be surprised to learn that some cars still use drum brakes, especially on the back wheels. But generally speaking, disc brakes are what most cars use today. Disc brakes were actually invented all the way back at the end of the 1800s, yet manufacturers didn’t start to use them in their models until the 1960s. The problem was that the brakes produced horrible screeching sounds when used. This was eventually solved by lining them with material that dampened the sound. 

Disc Brakes Explained for Online Automotive School Students 

But how exactly do disc brakes work? If you’ve ever seen the brakes of a bike in action, it’s a similar principle, only slightly more complicated. The three main parts of disc brakes are the brake pads, a caliper that contains a piston, and a rotor housed inside the wheel hub. The rotor spins alongside the wheel at a rate equal to the wheel, and if the rotor stops, the wheel stops as well. 

The braking system operates using hydraulic pressure, which is created using fluids. It also includes a master cylinder containing the brake fluid, and a set of brake lines and hoses that transfer fluid and pressure between parts of the braking system. 

When the disc brake is activated by pushing on the pedal, brake fluid is compressed within the master cylinder. This creates a large amount of pressure, transferring force to the braking system. The use of hydraulic pressure is how the braking system can generate enough force to stop the car, just from the small effort of pushing on the brake pedal. Without it, stopping a car would take a lot of leg strength. 

Car mechanics frequently service and replace parts of disc brake systems

The hydraulic pressure causes the pistons in the caliper to push the brake pads, which in turn squeeze the rotor. The friction between the brake pads and the rotor slows the rotor down, and the car comes to a halt. 

Caring for Braking Systems 

Most car disc brakes need to be vented because they convert the energy generated by movement into heat when they stop the wheels from turning. It gets very hot in there, and air needs to be pumped into the disc through vanes to provide cooling. Because of this transfer of heat and energy, the brake system gets strained over time, and should be regularly maintained.  

Once they begin their careers, graduates of online automotive courses should remember that brake pads need frequent replacement, and brake fluid needs to be checked every 24-36,000 miles. The pistons and caliper should last for a long time, but they can also be damaged by mechanical problems, debris, or collisions, as can the brake lines and hoses.  

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