The typical brake system consists of disk brakes in front and either disk or drum brakes in the rear connected by a system of tubes and hoses that link the brake at each wheel to the master cylinder. Other systems that are connected with the brake system include the parking brakes, power brake booster and the anti-lock system.
When you step on the brake pedal, you are actually pushing against a plunger in the master cylinder, which forces hydraulic oil (brake fluid) through a series of tubes and hoses to the braking unit at each wheel. Since hydraulic fluid (or any fluid for that matter) cannot be compressed, pushing fluid through a pipe is just like pushing a steel bar through a pipe. Unlike a steel bar, however, fluid can be directed through many twists and turns on its way to its destination, arriving with the exact same motion and pressure that it started with. It is very important that the fluid is pure liquid and that there are no air bubbles in it. Air can compress, which causes a sponginess to the pedal and severely reduced braking efficiency. If air is suspected, then the system must be bled to remove the air. There are "bleeder screws" at each wheel cylinder and caliper for this purpose.
Disk Brake Assembly: On a disk brake, the fluid from the master cylinder is forced into a caliper where it presses against a piston. The piston, in-turn, squeezes two brake pads against the disk (rotor), which is attached to the wheel, forcing it to slow down or stop.
This process is similar to a bicycle brake where two rubber pads rub against the wheel rim creating friction.
There are two brake pads on each caliper. They are constructed of a metal "shoe" with the lining riveted or bonded to it. The pads are mounted in the caliper, one on each side of the rotor. Brake linings used to be made primarily of asbestos because of its heat absorbing properties and quiet operation; however, due to health risks, asbestos has been outlawed, so new materials are now being used. Brake pads wear out with use and must be replaced periodically. There are many types and qualities of pads available. The differences have to do with brake life (how long the new pads will last) and noise (how quiet they are when you step on the brake). Harder linings tend to last longer and stop better under heavy use but they may produce an irritating squeal when they are applied. Technicians that work on brakes usually have a favorite pad that gives a good compromise that their customers can live with.
Brake pads should be checked for wear periodically. If the lining wears down to the metal brake shoe, then you will have a "Metal-to-Metal" condition where the shoe rubs directly against the rotor causing severe damage and loss of braking efficiency. Some brake pads come with a "brake warning sensor" that will emit a squealing noise when the pads are worn to a point where they should be changed. This noise will usually be heard when your foot is off the brake and disappear when you step on the brake. If you hear this noise, have your brakes checked as soon as possible.
The disk rotor is made of iron with highly machined surfaces where the brake pads contact it. Just as the brake pads wear out over time, the rotor also undergoes some wear, usually in the form of ridges and groves where the brake pad rubs against it. This wear pattern exactly matches the wear pattern of the pads as they seat themselves to the rotor. When the pads are replaced, the rotor must be machined smooth to allow the new pads to have an even contact surface to work with. Only a small amount of material can be machined off of a rotor before it becomes unusable and must be replaced. A minimum thickness measurement is stamped on every rotor and the technician doing the brake job will measure the rotor before and after machining it to make sure it doesn't go below the legal minimum. If a rotor is cut below the minimum, it will not be able to handle the high heat that brakes normally generate. This will cause the brakes to "fade," greatly reducing their effectiveness to a point where you may not be able to stop!
Caliper & Support
There are two main types of calipers: Floating calipers and fixed calipers. There are other configurations but these are the most popular. Calipers must be rebuilt or replaced if they show signs of leaking brake fluid.
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