They’re not something you think about everyday, but brakes are an integral part of your vehicle. So, how can just a light push on you car’s brake pedal slow a speeding car to an abrupt stop? In this article, we’ll tell you how.
How It Works
A moving car has a lot of kinetic energy, which is energy in motion; to bring your car to a stop, your brakes use friction, which converts that kinetic energy into heat.
Modern cars have brakes on all four wheels, operated by a hydraulic system. When you press the brake pedal, the connected lever pushes a piston into the master cylinder. This sends the hydraulic fluid from the master cylinder into a system of pipes, and then into other wider cylinders positioned next to the brakes on each wheel.
Brake rotors (they’re also called brake discs) are what your vehicle’s brake pads clamp down on to stop the wheels from spinning. Pads are on the insides of each rotor, and smaller pistons inside the caliper push the pads on either side of the wheel as they squeeze the rotor. (Some cars have multiple pistons inside one caliper.) The rubbing of the brake pad against the brake disc generates friction, which converts kinetic energy into heat in the brake pad.
How much heat?
Stopping a speeding car can heat the brakes to 950º F or more. To withstand such heat, brake pads must be made of special materials that won’t melt at such high temperatures. Some of those special materials include composites, alloys, and ceramics.
The front brakes play a greater part in stopping the car than the rear ones, because braking throws the car weight forward on to the front wheels. Many cars therefore have disc brakes at the front and drum brakes at the rear. Read more about each type of break in our next article.
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