Vehicle Brake System-What Are the Different Types and How It Works

Brakes are a vital yet under-appreciated component of any vehicle. In fact, the whole car (literally) rides on them. And obviously, you and your loved ones. So, there’s no denying that your braking system will determine how safe you are on the road.

Consequently, learning about how a vehicle’s brake system works or what the types are can make a huge difference.  Doing so will not only keep you safe on the road but will also allow you to diagnose any potential problems and save money in the long run.

You may also read: Amazing Benefits of Proper Car Wheel Alignment

For your help, SPN America Towing network service providers have shared detailed information about a vehicle brake system in this article. So, let’s get started!


What are the main components of a brake system?

From the moment you press the brake pedal, several components come into action to stop your wheels. To better understand them, below are the main components of a brake system with their function.

  1. Brake Pedal: Present inside the cabin, the brake pedal is what a driver pushes to activate the brake. It moves the piston present in the master cylinder causing the brake fluid to flow through the system.
  2. Master Cylinder: The master cylinder holds the brake fluid. It is a plunger that converts non-hydraulic pressure to hydraulic pressure when the brake pedal is pushed.
  3. Brake Drum/Rotor: Your car will either have drum brakes on the rear wheels or rotors on the front wheels. They will create friction when the brake pads rub against them.
  4. Brake Pads: The brake pads rub against drum or rotor to convert the kinetic energy into heat that stops the car via friction.
  5. Brake Lines: These are steel lines that carry the brake fluid from the master cylinder to the vehicle’s wheels.
  6. Wheel Cylinders: There are 4-wheel cylinders in every car. They receive the brake fluid from the master cylinder and apply the pressure to the brake pads.

What is the brake fluid, and why is it important?

The brake fluid is a hydraulic liquid chemical used in hydraulic braking systems. Being non-compressible, the brake fluid is forced to move forward when pressure is applied. Through this action, it amplifies your foot’s force on the pedal to put enough pressure on the brake pads to stop a moving vehicle.

The brake fluid is crucial for the working of your brakes. If your car does not have enough brake fluid, your brakes might take longer to stop your vehicle. Or, in the worst-case scenario, they might not even operate, leading to a horrible accident.  

How does a car braking system work?

Car brakes work on the simple principle of friction. When you slam on your brakes, the brake pedal moves backward and pushes a connected lever. This lever, in turn, pushes a piston present inside the master cylinder that is filled with the hydraulic fluid. This push squeezes the hydraulic fluid through a system of brake lines and pipes. On reaching the wheel cylinders, the brake fluid creates an equal pressure on each wheel that presses the brake pads against the rotors or the drums.

The pressure generates friction that converts the moving car’s kinetic energy into thermal energy. Finally, this energy is what stops your heavy metal vehicle.

Different types of car brakes

Typically, there are two types of brakes; the Disc Brakes and the Drum Brakes. These are known as stationary brakes. However, most cars now come with two additional brakes: the Emergency Brake and the Anti-lock Brake.

  1. Drum Brakes: As the name suggests, they have a small drum and two brake shoes commonly present on the rear wheel hub. On pressing the brakes, the hydraulic pressure contracts the two shoes against the sides of the drum. Thus, creating friction that slows you down.

Though cheaper to replace, they are less prevalent than disc brakes. This is because their drum-like design can hold water, leading to rust and corrosion. Moreover, the drum brakes are not good at handling heat and tend to overheat, leaving you susceptible to brake failure.

  • Disc Brakes: Most modern cars have this type of brakes, sometimes on the front wheels and sometimes on all four. It consists of a rotor directly attached to the wheel and a caliper that holds the brake pads outside the rotor. When you brake, the hydraulic fluid squeezing through the master cylinder puts pressure on the calipers, which then clamps the brake pads on either side of the rotor. This action generates the necessary friction to slow or stop your vehicle.

Disc brakes are considered better than drum brakes since they are more efficient in handling heat and wet conditions.

  • Anti-lock Brakes: Commonly known as ABS, they are not technically brakes but a safety technology integrated into the newer braking systems. A brake module controls this feature to prevent the wheels from locking up in case of hard braking. When the service brakes are pushed abruptly, such as in panic, tires tend to lock up and cause the car to skid. The newer ABS is designed to prevent this locking up (hence the name “anti-lock”). The feature can be lifesaving, especially when driving on wet or slippery roads.
  • Emergency Brakes: Also known as Parking brakes. They work secondary to the service brakes as a last resort when an emergency occurs. But can also be used to keep a vehicle stationary when parked, especially on a hill or steep surface. Different vehicles come with different kinds of emergency brakes. It may be a lever between the driver and the passenger, a third pedal located beside the floor pedals, or a push-button/handle near the steering. These brakes are not powered by hydraulics like the standard service brake. Instead, they use cables to apply the pressure mechanically.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully, this article will help you better understand the type and working of your vehicle’s brakes. It is always recommended to be diligent about your brakes. If you are on the road and feel trouble with the braking system, pull over to a safe place and call the roadside help network.

SPN America Towing offers professional towing and prompt roadside assistance services around the country. We have skilled roadside mechanics who have experience dealing with any problems on the road. You can contact us any time of the day or night and our team will be happy to help you.