Stopping Short: A Breakdown of Brakes

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We have another interesting guest blog from our friends at MEMBERS AutoChoice this week! Did you know how important your brakes are? Do you know the different types of brakes available and what will work best for you?

A quick flip of the TV channels over to any car channel will have you feeling hungry for speed. Commercials, endorsements, and the shows themselves all praise vehicles for their acceleration and horsepower. Intake systems and programming chips boast performance gains, and tire companies drone on and on about their latest model’s exciting handling and cornering abilities. When it really counts though, where should your money and loyalties lie? Efficient brakes can be vital in any extreme situation, as well as day to day driving.

There are many different types of brakes, but the most commonly seen on vehicles are disc and drum brakes.  Both are proven systems and both disc and drum brakes have their advantages and disadvantages.

Disc Brakes – A system made up of brake pads, calipers (which contain pistons) and rotors. The piston in the caliper creates pressure, which squeezes the brake pads to the rotor, in a very similar style to a bicycle. They are the most efficient braking system. Disc brakes are almost always found in the front of the vehicle. High performance cars will have disc brakes all around, to ensure adequate stopping at high speeds. (1)

Drum Brakes – Drum brakes work on the same principle: the piston pushes the brake shoes against the drum, and the car slows. Unlike disc brakes however, drums require a complicated system of springs and adjusters. This makes maintenance far more expensive, and service more frequently needed. This type of brakes is found in the rear of most vehicles, and on all four wheels of older small-model vehicles. (2)

Both types of brakes must be maintained and serviced, and some of the performed services are common to both. “Turning” your brake rotors, for example, is the process of filing off any excess brake material from the rotors. This is done to prevent warping and grinding, and will extend the life of your brakes. This should be done every time, or every other time that you replace your brake pads (unless any sign of warping, grooves, or any damage is visible, in which case replace them). Always consult with your mechanic, rotors can only be “turned” so many times before they need replacing as well. (4)

Brake pads, like rotors, come in all shapes, sizes and brands. The main difference between them, however, is the material used. The two most common materials are ceramic and “semi-metallic.” Ceramic pads are quieter, cleaner, and last longer, but are more expensive and damaging to rotors. Semi-metallic pads are cheaper, more versatile, and cause less rotor damage, but wear down quicker and are louder. (4)

No matter what type of brakes, no matter the brand or design, the most basic principle of them is universal: STOP. Automotive technology is ever changing. Cars are going faster and pushing new limits, and vehicle related deaths are at peak levels. In a time where speed is everything, stopping speed will always be more important than 0-60 times, because when lives are on the line, which pedal do you slam?

References: (1) (2) (4)

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