Stop Right There – All about Brakes

When it comes to safety and security on the road, nothing trumps your car’s braking system. However, despite its importance, few people really understand their braking system. Do you have disc brakes on all four wheels? Do you have ABS? Do you have drums on the rear? Do you know what those terms mean? Chances are you may have some passing familiarity with brakes, but you may not know the full story. Read on to learn more.

Brakes, Brakes and More Brakes

When it comes to braking systems, there are several solutions used by automakers. These include both disc and drum brakes.

Disc – Disc brakes are probably those you’re most familiar with. These systems use a disc-shaped rotor (hence the name), in conjunction with a caliper and brake pads. Disc brakes can be found on just the front wheels of cars or on all four wheels.

Drums – Once upon a time, drum brakes were the only option out there, but that changed some time ago. This really is older technology, but it’s still around today. You’ll find drum brakes in use on a wide range of vehicles, mostly on the rear wheels. Cars, trucks and vans can (and usually do) have drums in the rear and disc brakes on the front, unless the vehicle is noted as having 4-wheel disc brakes. Drums are very different from disc systems, and use a metal drum and brake shoes rather than a rotor and brake pads (the shoes push on the inside of the drum to slow the car).

ABS – ABS is not technically a standalone braking system. It stands for anti-lock brakes, and is a system designed to prevent wheel lockups from happening. For instance, if you’re driving down the interstate and have to slam on your brakes, the ABS system will keep your wheels turning, rather than allowing them to lock up and your car to skid. ABS is essentially a safety system. They’re found on disc brake systems, but that doesn’t mean that just because a car has disc brakes, it has ABS – the two are not mutually exclusive and you’ll find both ABS-enabled disc brakes and non-ABS systems on new cars rolling off the assembly line today.

How to Spot Wear

Spotting wear on your brakes can be tough to do (it’s impossible on drum brakes without taking the drum apart, by the way). For disc brakes, the best way to check your brake wear is to use a flashlight to gauge the pad thickness remaining by looking through the spokes of the wheel. It’s easier if you have the wheel off, though. You can also look for signs of wear on the rotors. Visible grooves are a definite sign of serious wear. Perhaps the simplest way to keep an eye on your brake wear is to have them inspected at every oil change and tire rotation – the mechanic should not charge for a simple brake inspection.

Change Them Yourself

If you’re a bit frugal and find that you need to change your brakes, doing it yourself can be a wise move. Most mechanic shops are going to charge much more than the price of the replacement pads, but if you have a little bit of extra time and a few basic tools, you can usually do this on your own at home.

Make sure you have a set of jack stands and tire chocks, though. You’ll also need a little bit of basic knowhow. As a note, if you have never changed brake pads before or don’t have access to a manual, doing it on your own might not be a good idea.

Your brakes are vital to road safety – make sure they’re in good condition at all times.

Don Elfrink is the owner and operator of AutoMatStore.com, a company selling auto mats throughout the nation. Before AutoMatStore, Elfrink was the operator of an automotive production site. AutoMatStore focuses on logo, carpeted, molded and all weather floor mats.

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