Learn the braking basics and stay ahead of common problems.
How do brakes work?
Behind every wheel is a complex brake system. This essential safety feature needs to work properly to bring your vehicle to a precise stop. So, how does it do it?
When you step on your vehicle’s brake pedal or “hit the brakes,” cylinders push fluid through the brake lines to your calipers. Calipers apply pressure to the brake pads, pushing them against your vehicle’s rotors. This creates friction and slows each wheel to a safe stop.
What are brake pads?
Brake pads are a source of friction. They apply pressure to the rotors or disc brakes, which causes your vehicle to a stop.
Brake pads are commonly available in non-asbestos organic (NAO), semi-metallic and ceramic types. NAO pads are made from materials like glass and rubber and are softer, generally wear faster and create a lot of brake dust.
Brake pads are commonly available in non-asbestos organic (NAO), semi-metallic and ceramic types. NAO pads are made from materials like glass and rubber and are softer, generally wear faster and can create a lot of brake dust.
Semi-metallic pads are 30 to 65 percent metal and contain fibers like steel. While more durable than NAO pads, they can be noisy, tough on rotors and don’t work well in extreme low temperatures. Ceramic brake pads contain ceramic and softer metal fibers, such as copper. They’re cleaner, quieter and more durable than other types of pad, but they are also the most expensive.
What’s a rotor?
Rotors are the heart of the braking system. On all modern cars, the front brakes (and often the rear brakes) use a rotor-and-pad design. Brake pads are attached to and press against each rotor to create the friction necessary to halt your vehicle.
No matter what type of pad you use, brake rotors eventually wear out, becoming warped, grooved or even cracked. When this happens, the rotors fail to dissipate heat properly and must be replaced.
What’s a caliper?
The brake caliper fits over the rotor like a clamp. It contains one or more pistons, which, in response to hydraulic pressure, activate the brake pads and stop your rotors spinning. Calipers need brake fluid to function properly.
What is brake fluid?
Brake fluid, also known as hydraulic fluid, is key to moving various components within your car’s brake system. It lies within the brake lines and travels through the brake hose, to deliver the force created by your push on the brake pedal to each corner of the vehicle. When this fluid reaches the calipers, your brake pads are activated.
What are the warning signs of brake wear?
Hearing screeches? Smelling strange odours emitting from your tires? Feeling pulsations when you brake at high speeds? If these symptoms apply to your vehicle, you may have damaged rotors, worn out brake pads or other problems that can shorten the life of healthy brake parts due to metal-on-metal grinding. For this reason, it’s important to have your brakes checked at the first sign of trouble.
Here are some of the sounds, smells and sensations to look out for:
• Screeching, squealing, grinding and other unusual braking sounds
• Vibration and pulsation in the pedal or steering wheel
• Requiring more brake pedal pressure to complete braking functions
• Pungent burning smell coming from your tires
• The brake warning light is on
How often should I get my brakes inspected?
Just as your car’s gas mileage varies depending on where and how you drive, the same applies to the life of its brakes. However, on average, brake pads need to be replaced after every 75,000 km.
Detecting brake problems early is key to ensuring you have effective stopping power. We recommend having your brakes inspected at least once a year or follow the brake maintenance schedule in your vehicle manual.