Many drivers don’t think much about their vehicle’s brakes unless they have trouble stopping. What does that squeaking, squealing or grinding really mean, though? The braking system is a complex collection of parts. Here’s a list of basic braking system components to help get you acclimated.
: The brake pads are what convert the kinetic energy of your moving wheels into thermal energy and actually bring you to a stop. When you press your brake pedal, the pads are squeezed against the rotors (more on those below) to slow and then halt the rotation of your vehicle’s wheels. Some pads have built-in wear indicators that produce a high pitched squealing when the pads need to be replaced. Making sure you get the right brake pads for your specific model is important to ensure even wear, proper stopping and minimal noise.
Calipers: Brake calipers house the brake pads and are normally found in one of two types: floating or fixed. Dirt or corrosion can negatively impact caliper performance and can even cause them to stick, leading to the pads dragging on the rotors even when the brake pedal isn’t depressed. This can cause reduced fuel economy, overheating and excessive wear.
Rotors: When you press down on your brake pedal, the pads clamp down onto the rotors (also known as discs) and stop the wheels from spinning. There are various kinds of rotors, including drilled and slotted, which provide less surface area than traditional solid rotors but help distribute heat and minimize wear. Brake rotors are as important as the pads. If you feel pulsing when you decelerate or your steering wheel shakes (sometimes extremely hard), your rotors may be warped. They should be inspected for damage and replaced if necessary.
Brake Fluid: Hydraulic braking systems rely on brake fluid to convert the force you exert on the brake pedal into the pressure braking components exert on your wheels. Brake fluid also amplifies braking pressure. The Department of Transportation has several classifications for brake fluid––DOT 3 and DOT 4, for example––which reflect a fluid’s boiling point, viscosity and formulation. Consult your owner’s manual or your dealer’s factory trained technicians for information about the type of fluid recommended for your make and model and how often it should be changed.
Brake Line: As most automobiles on the road today have hydraulic brake systems, they also have brake lines that channel the brake fluid to the brakes themselves. Air in brake lines or a ruptured line can cause complete brake failure, so brake lines should be periodically inspected by trained technicians to insure safe operation.
Your dealer’s service technicians know the right parts to use for your specific make and model, so whether your brakes are squeaking, squealing, grinding or simply not stopping the way you want them to, the best place to go for brake system diagnostics and service is your dealership. You’ll never have to wonder if they’re using the right parts or the right tools, and you’ll have added peace of mind and confidence behind the wheel.
This article is presented by Perkins Motors in Colorado Springs, Colorado.