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How Do Car Brakes Work to Keep You Safe?

Mechanic Adjusting Brake Pad

Your car’s brake system is hard at work every time you drive around Morrisville and Apex, keeping yourself and other drivers safe. But, have you ever wondered, “How do car brakes work?” If so, you’re not alone! Many drivers aren’t quite sure about the secrets that lie within their brake system. But, understanding how car brakes work can help you understand when there’s a problem with your brakes and what to do about it. With that said, you can learn all about your brakes in the guide below! 

How Does the Brake System Work? 

We’re about to dig into your question, “How does the brake system work?” But first, it’s important to distinguish that there are two primary brake types: disc and drum brakes. The third type is the handbrake. 

How Disc Brakes Work 

Have you ever looked through the hubcap on one of your wheels and noticed a metal disc? That’s the disc brake. When your foot presses the brake pedal from the driver’s seat, the action causes a brake disc pad to put pressure on the brake disc. This is what slows your car down and eventually, brings it to a stop when you press the brake pad. Try thinking about how the brakes work on a bicycle to visualize how disc brakes operate on cars.

How Drum Brakes Work

Some cars have drum brakes on the rear wheels. Drum brakes work a little differently than disc brakes. See, drum brakes are built inside the wheel, with two brake shoes. The brake shoes are pushed in and out by pistons which are housed in a cylinder. When you use the brakes, brake fluid enters the cylinder. This causes the cylinder to push the pistons out, and the brake shoes make contact with the drum. This is how drum brakes bring a car to a stop.

How the Handbrake Works 

If you live in a hilly area, you’re probably familiar with the handbrake. Also called the “parking brake” or the “emergency brake,” it’s often located between the front seats of a car’s interior. In some cars, it might be located on the floor to the left of the gas and brake pedals. 

The handbrake doesn’t use any brake fluid and its operation is purely mechanical. You pull up on the handbrake, and a lever system tugs on a pair of cables that put the brakes on the rear wheels. You can feel the handbrake tightening as the cables are tugged. The handbrake is sometimes used in emergency braking situations. But more often than not, you’ll be using it when you’re parking. Really, you should use the handbrake anytime you park, but it is especially important when you’re parked on an incline as the handbrake helps prevent your car from rolling backward.

Brake Maintenance Tips 

For starters, you should have your brakes and brake pads inspected at least once per year. Otherwise, there are a few routine checks you can cycle through when you’re out and about in Durham:

  • Look and Listen: Is your brake service light on the dash? Do you hear anything unusual when you use the brakes? 
  • Avoid Unnecessary Braking: We often brake on instinct when we see brake lights on the car ahead of us. Sometimes, simply letting up on the gas pedal is all we really need to do. 
  • Check the Fluid: You can check brake fluid at home relatively easily. Keep an eye on the volume and condition of the brake fluid to ensure there are no leaks or issues with the brake system.

Are Your Brakes in Need of Service? 

Here are some red flags that should not be overlooked in your brake system’s operation:

  • The brake service light is illuminated
  • You hear the brakes grinding or squealing
  • Brake fluid is leaking from your car
  • The brake fluid smells burnt
  • Your car bounces dramatically when you apply full force on the brakes

Schedule Brake Service in Cary! 

Our service center is here to help keep your brakes in excellent condition. Your safety is our top priority, so you can count on us to provide expert service. Book an appointment online to get started, and please don’t hesitate to contact us with any additional questions!


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