How to Take Care of Your Cars Braking System

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How to Take Care of Your Car's Braking System with the Correct Callipers and Parts

The braking system is arguably the most important of a car's systems. Even the engine is less important in that when the engine does not work when needed, it is an inconvenience, but if the brakes do not work when needed, people could die. Responsible car owners do whatever is needed to keep the braking system in good working order. However, many drivers do not know how to take care of the brakes, and might simply plan to fix any problems as they happen. Some people even put off attending to the brakes for financial reasons. However, the braking system is one area where maintenance and repair cannot be put off.

Aside from the risk of injury or worse, simple problems, such as worn brake pads, can become serious, very expensive problems if not attended to promptly. An overview of the braking system can help the driver put information about the components of the system in context, making it easier to prioritise dealing with potential problems. Information about what kinds of problems can happen, what actions are necessary, and what basic braking system care actually entails can get the driver off to a good start. Finally, any driver working on a braking system needs some supplies and can use some suggestions on how to shop for parts and supplies online.

The Anatomy of a Car's Braking System

Stepping on the brake pedal is the first step in a long chain of events that ends when the wheels stop moving, which in turn stops the car. A lever system uses mechanical advantage to magnify the force the driver applied to the pedal and to transfer that force to a hydraulic system, which directs it to the brakes on the four wheels. Since any of these components could potentially go bad, the driver needs at least a general understanding of how each part of the braking system works.

The Hydraulic System

Hydraulic systems are based on the principle that fluid cannot be compressed. Imagine a hose full of water with a rubber balloon affixed to each end; squeeze one balloon, and the balloon on the other size bulges out. The hydraulic fluid in a car is a toxic kind of oil, but it transmits the force from the brake pedal's levers in the same way, even dividing the force and sending it to all four wheels. If the brake fluid leaks and pressure in the system falls, the brakes stop working. If the leak is fast enough, there could be no warning.

Disc Brakes

Disc brakes feature a flat disc or rotor that spins as the wheel spins. When the brakes are applied, callipers pinch each rotor; brake pads on the inside of the callipers slow the rotors through friction. When the rotors slow and stop, so do the wheels. The callipers can be either fixed or sliding, depending on whether the calliper itself moves or simply holds the pistons that move the brake pads. Brake pads are designed to wear away with use and must be replaced periodically.

Drum Brakes

Drum brakes work on the same principle that disc brakes do, but are enclosed; friction between the shoes and the drum stops rotation. Drum brakes are an older design than disc brakes and, while they are less expensive to build, they can fail due to heat build-up during hard braking. Drum brakes are also more difficult to service. They can still be found on older cars and on the rear wheels of some modern cars, where less braking power is needed.

Anti-Lock Brakes

The braking system itself cannot stop the car; the brakes only stop the wheels from turning, it is the wheels that must stop the car. If the wheels cannot grab the road, the car skids. Not only does a skidding car keep going forward, there is also no way to steer it. Drivers used to try to prevent skidding by pumping the brakes. When the brakes are released for a moment, the wheels turn and stop the skid. Anti-lock technology is a common feature that pumps the brakes automatically much faster than a driver could. Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) make some maintenance tasks more difficult, but they do save lives.

Maintaining and Repairing Braking Systems

Taking care of a car's braking system begins with knowing what can go wrong and what the early symptoms of trouble are like. It is also important to know how to inspect the braking system visually for problems that might not yet be showing any symptoms. Finally, attending to regular maintenance tasks and repairing minor problems promptly are a good way to prevent major, more dangerous and expensive problems from developing.

Signs of Trouble in a Braking System

Some brake problems have symptoms that can be spotted without even driving anywhere. It is a good idea to periodically test the braking system, first with the car in park and then, if it passes the initial tests, while driving carefully. Test newly purchased cars as well. Some symptoms indicate possible problems that require more investigation, others mean a drive to the auto mechanic, while still other symptoms mean the driver must stop immediately and call a recovery lorry to avoid causing further damage. Any of these symptoms may appear during ordinary driving, but should also be looked for during periodic tests of the braking system.

Symptoms of Brake Problems

What the Symptom Indicates

Explanatory Notes

Takes too long to stop

Adjust the brakes or change the brake pads

Brakes self-adjust, but drum brake self-adjusters can fail

Car pulls to one side during braking

A stuck calliper or a brake fluid leak


Brake pedal pulses even when the ABS should not have engaged

The brakes are overheating


Steering wheel shakes during braking

The discs or rotors are damaged

Rotors can be repaired, if not too badly damaged

The brakes squeal when used

The brake pads might need to be replaced

Several other mechanical problems can cause squealing

A grinding sound happens that can be felt through the pedal

The brake pads, or the lining in drum brakes, have worn away completely

Call the recovery lorry; the sound means the rotor or drum is being destroyed

Requires excessive effort to push the pedal down and stop the car

The power booster may need to be replaced


The pedal pushes in too far before the car stops

Either brake fluid is low or the brakes need to be adjusted


The brake pedal feels spongy or mushy when depressed

Probably air in the brake lines

Can be checked while the car is parked

The brake pedal is not firm under pressure but slowly sinks farther down

The master cylinder may be defective

Can be checked while the car is parked

Note that while the above problems vary in their severity, none can be safely ignored. Putting off dealing with brake problems could cause severe damage to other elements of the braking system or could result in brake failure with no further warning. Brake failure can kill the driver or someone else. Visual inspection of the braking system is also important in order to catch problems before symptoms develop.

Inspecting the Brakes

There are two good reasons to visually inspect the braking system. If there is a problem, an inspection can catch it before brake function is impaired. Inspecting the system when there is no problem is a way to get familiar with how everything should look, so the driver can spot problems when they do develop. Disc brakes can be visually inspected fairly easily just by taking the wheel off. Look for excessive rust, worn brake pads, and other damage.

Drum brakes are more difficult to inspect as they must be partially disassembled. Drivers who are not competent about doing this should get qualified help. Check the fluid level in the master cylinder; if it is not full, there is a leak. Brake fluid leaks are always dangerous and must be repaired promptly; a fast leak can cause complete brake failure without causing any sign of impaired function first. Look for drips and discolouration anywhere in or underneath the hydraulic system and for places where the brake lines seem thin, strangely textured, or otherwise damaged. Clean off any rusty spots and inspect those areas closely for damage.

Common Maintenance and Repair Tasks

Besides regularly inspecting and testing the braking system, brake pads must be replaced periodically and brake fluid must be bled out and refilled. Brake fluid chemically degrades on contact with air. Most types of brake fluid also soak up water; fluids that do not absorb water can develop puddles of water within the system. Either way, water in brake fluid is bad. If the hydraulic system is not working properly, air or water contamination may be the problem and the contaminated fluid must be removed and replaced. The fluid should also be replaced as part of a regular maintenance schedule according to the manufacturer's recommendation. At least with some cars, this can be done at home, but make sure to do it properly or the fluid becomes re-contaminated.

Upgrading a Braking System with More Powerful Callipers

Cars are made with the braking systems they need, but upgrades that dramatically increase the weight of the car increase the car's momentum and therefore require a more powerful braking system. This is particularly an issue with pickups and similarly large vehicles, especially since these are the vehicles most likely to be enlarged through upgrades. Upgrading a braking system involves buying new, larger, more powerful callipers. Some drivers opt to paint the callipers on their cars, an alteration that is almost entirely cosmetic, but some kinds of paint may protect the callipers from rust. Do not chrome callipers, as this may cause overheating.

Deciding Who Is Going to Do the Work

Some braking system maintenance can be done at home, but some cannot. Any task a driver does not feel completely comfortable doing should be left to a more experienced mechanic because the braking system is too important to risk making any mistakes. Because mechanics are seldom willing to install products they did not sell, a driver with a brake problem needs to be sure he or she can do the work before going shopping for new brake pads or other parts. Remember that not all braking systems are equally easy to work on. Disc brake pads are relatively easy to change, while working on drum brakes is usually a task for a mechanic. If there is an ABS, then bleeding the hydraulic system is likewise best left to professionals.

Buying Braking System Parts, Tools, and Supplies on eBay

Car owners can buy brake callipers, brake pads, brake lines, and other equipment pieces on eBay. Maintaining a braking system requires specialised tools, such as a bleeder wrench, which can also be bought on eBay. Even drivers who do not plan to do much heavy maintenance and repair on their own need to buy supplies such as brake fluid. Making these purchases through eBay is a good option, both for convenience and for price.

There are two main ways to search for anything on eBay. Either type a general term, such as 'brake callipers' into to search box and then use the menu option, if necessary, to narrow down the options, or use the Advanced Search feature to search for something very specific. Most parts, including callipers, brake pads, and brake lines, are specific to vehicle make, model, and often model year. When upgrading callipers, or other parts of the system, make sure the new parts are compatible with the existing system before buying.

Three simple steps keep the purchase process smooth. First, communicate with the seller; use the contact link on the seller's profile page to ask any questions and, for big purchases, ask the seller to insure shipping. Second, use the seller's profile page to look up his or her feedback score and the details of the return policy. Third, reread the product listing before buying to make sure it has not been misread.


Responsible car ownership begins with making sure the car can be operated safely, and this means taking good care of the braking system. Any new car should be inspected for damage or leaks in the braking system and the brakes tested for proper function before being driven anywhere. The driver should know the symptoms of brake problems and take them seriously. Regular maintenance tasks, such as replacing worn brake pads and checking brake fluid levels, are also important. If something goes wrong, then deal with it promptly.

Some brake maintenance and repair, including upgrading callipers, can be done at home, provided the driver has the requisite skills, although the braking system is not the place for a beginner to try his or her skill at auto mechanics. When in doubt, hire a competent auto mechanic. But it should not be supposed, from all this, that the braking system must be a source of anxiety, like some sort of problem just waiting to happen. On the contrary, braking systems are built with care, and following the manufacturer's recommendations is a good way to make sure that nothing goes wrong. Indeed, proper maintenance is simply a way to make sure there is nothing to worry about.

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