Car Brake System Parts Explained in Detail

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Multiple components make up the braking system of a vehicle. This includes the calipers, discs, clutch, throttle, drums, ABS, and others. These brake system parts are all important and contribute to effective braking at any speed level. If one of these components fails, the entire braking system will start to malfunction.

Understanding the functions of these brake system components is important, so you can easily identify issues with the system, going forward. Notwithstanding, brake problems should be fixed by a professional mechanic; it shouldn’t be part of the things to DIY unless you’re really experienced in this aspect.

Car Brake System Overview

brake system parts
Image credit: Pixabay

The brake system is a unit of components that work together to reduce a vehicle’s speed or bring the car to a complete stop. There are different types of brake system configurations used in modern cars, but the major types are disc and drum brakes. Some cars may come with one particular type throughout, while some may feature disc brakes on the front wheels and drum brakes on the rear.

Both disc and drum brakes perform the same function – the difference is how they perform the function and their design. Disc brakes appear sturdier, and as such, they are poised to be much stronger and more long-lasting than drum brakes. Notwithstanding, these two major brake system types are designed using the same set of components but in different arrangements.

Brake System Parts

1. Brake Booster

The brake booster is one of the most important parts of a modern brake system. It works like the “power steering” unit in the steering system, helping to reduce the pressure needed to operate the brakes. Brake boosters function with engine vacuum and pressure; they utilize the pressure to increase the force applied on the brake pedal and bring the car to a stop faster.

2. Brake Pads

Found on disc brakes, a brake pad is a mechanism mounted onto the brake caliper to increase friction inside the caliper when the brake pedal is pressed down by the car’s driver. Brake pads are designed using steel, graphite, or other metallic materials that can adopt high friction. It is important to understand that brake pads wear out over time, you should always watch out for this.

3. Brake Pedal

The brake pedal is the brake system component that a driver interacts with. A driver matches the brake pedals to activate the brake system; until the brake pedal is matched/pressed down, the brake system won’t engage.

However, in some modern vehicles with advanced driver-assist technologies, the brake system may engage on its own when the computer senses a potential crash or collision. The brake pedal is next to the throttle/gas pedal in the driver’s cabin.

4. Drums

Used in drum brakes, this component works in hand with the brake shoes to bring the vehicle to a stop quickly. It is designed like a drum, hence the name, and is placed behind the wheel – just over the wheels studs. Brake drums are either made from steel or cast iron, with the inner side (which is where the brake shoes touch), machined to be as smooth as possible.

5. Calipers

Brake Calipers are very much important and they are only used in disc brakes. The calipers are placed at each wheel – clamped to the wheels’ rotors or discs, and filled with pistons. The function of brake calipers is quite simple; when you press down the pedal, your car’s brake fluid activates a set of pistons in the caliper and presses the brake pads against the rotors to slow down the car.

6. Brake Rotor

Brake rotors are included in disc brakes; they provide a platform for the brake pads to rub upon and produce sufficient friction to stop the wheels. This component is very important, and due to its function, it wears out much faster. Whenever the rotors wear out, it is important to replace them immediately; else, your car won’t brake efficiently.

7. Brake Shoes

Drum brakes use “Shoes” in place of the “Pad” used in disc brakes. So, brake shoes perform the same function as brake pads. The brake shoe is mounted to the brake drum, so when you match the pedal, the shoe rubs against the drum and produces high friction to stop the wheels from rotating. Of course, brake shoes are subject to excessive wear, over time.

8. Backing Plate

Found in drum brakes, this is the component that holds the brake drum assembly. It is like the bolt that keeps all the components attached to the brake drum in place, so they don’t pull out at any speed you’re driving at. Backing plates are only used in drum brakes – found mostly on the rear wheels.

9. Master Cylinder

This is actually the “number one” brake system component you should know about. It is practically the most important brake component. The master cylinder is what pushes the rest of the brake components to action; it is activated the moment you match down the brake pedal.

Actually, when you match down the pedal, it pushes a piston through the cylinder to release brake fluid into the brake line, building up hydraulic pressure for the rest of the brake parts to carry out their respective functions.

10. ABS and Wheel Sensors

The ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) and wheel speed sensors work hand in hand. These two components monitor the rotation speed and consistency among the entire wheels in your vehicle; if one of the wheels is spinning, the ABS will transfer traction to the other wheels to maintain balance. Also, when driving on a slippery road, the ABS is the reason why your car won’t skid or slide when you match the brakes hard; it prevents the tires from locking up.

11. Brake Lines

These are the channels that pass the brake fluid throughout the components that make up the brake system. Brake lines start from the master cylinder (where hydraulic pressure is generated) and run through to the wheels. If the brake lines fail, you’d see the brake fluids leaking out from beneath your car, and braking won’t be efficient any longer.

What More?

These are the 11 most important brake system parts you should know. They are used in disc and drum brakes. It is important to keep an eye on all these components and try fixing them earlier when you notice any failure signs. The brake system is one of the most important systems of a car that should be taken very seriously.

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