As far as safety features go, the braking system would have to be rated pretty highly in importance. Understanding the inner workings of the system can help you identify when there's a problem, and know what to do or where to go to fix it.

The hydraulic braking system found in most cars and pickups is a pretty impressive system: essentially, some fluid and some relatively small pieces of metal bring a one or two-ton machine to a stop. (Big rigs and buses use air brakes instead of hydraulic brakes.) Brakes turn the kinetic energy of the moving car into heat, produced by friction as the brakes bring the wheels to a stop.

Understanding Hydraulic Brakes

  1. Understanding disc brakes Know what "hydraulic" means. A hydraulic system uses a fluid that can't be compressed. Because it can't be compressed into a smaller space, it responds to a push with a push of its own. The fluid is used to transfer power from one part of the system to another--in this case, from the brake pedal to the brake pads.
  2. Know the difference between disc brakes and drum brakes. Most modern cars have disc brakes on the front tires, if not all four tires. In general, disc brakes are most efficient at stopping the vehicle quickly, and they are better at getting rid of brake dust so that it doesn't build up.
  3. Know the components of your braking system. Hydraulic brake fluid is housed in the master cylinder . The master cylinder connects to brake lines , which connect in turn to the brake caliper on each wheel. In a car with disc brakes, when you press the brake pedal, fluid is pumped out of the master cylinder and into the brake lines, toward the brake pistons within each brake caliper. When hydraulic fluid pushes against the pistons, they extend and push against the brake pads . The brake pads grip the brake rotors , and as they clamp down, the rotors stop the turning of the wheels.
  4. Know how your car's boosting system works. As powerful as your legs might be, the pressure of your foot on the brake pedal is not generally enough to stop the vehicle. That's why your car will multiply the force you exert on the brakes, using either a vacuum boosting method, hydraulic boosting method (mainly in older cars), or an electronic boosting method (in newer cars). Boosting makes it easier for you to bring your car to a stop, making it an important safety feature.
  5. Know how your anti-lock braking system (ABS) works. Older cars tended to skid when the brakes were applied on an icy or slick road, so the brakes had to be pumped in order to maintain control of the vehicle. However, since the 80s, ABS has been a standard safety feature. This system uses sensors to identify when a wheel is locking up, and then reduces the pressure on that wheel so that it keeps on spinning - no pumping required.

Problems in the Hydraulic Braking System

If you notice anything unusual, such as noises (braking, aside from ABS, should be quiet), vibrations when you press the brake pedal, or a change in how much pressure it takes to compress the brake pedal, it's time to take your car in for a check-up. Head to All in the Wrist Auto and Diesel Repair for all your car's brake maintenance and repair needs.

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