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What are the parts of a car brake system?

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A car’s primary safety center is its brake system and all the parts that it’s made of. All cars use brakes to regulate speed by slowing down and stopping the vehicle in a controlled manner.

When you press on the brake pedal, friction between components designed to handle the job quickly make a one-tonne vehicle come to a stop.

As a driver,it is very important to know all the parts of the brake system.

Why should I know all the components of a brake system yet am just a driver and not a mechanic?

Learning about the parts of a car brake system can help you better understand your vehicle, signs that components need to be replaced or repaired, and when it’s time to seek out maintenance services.

brake system

Keep reading to learn what the main parts of a braking system are and what to look for when they wear out.

Understanding Disc Brakes

brake construction(1)

Here are the main parts of the disc brake system that you should know:

Brake Pad (Disc Brakes)

This is a block-like structure that presses itself against the brake rotor to stop the wheels from rotating.

Brake pads are mounted on the brake calipers, with their friction material facing the rotor.

They come in different materials that offer varying levels of stopping power, longevity, and brake dust generation. 

In other words, pads and rotors always work hand in hand.

As the friction material goes down with use, worn pads shouldn’t be less than ¼ inch thick before you acquire new brake pads.

And here’s some of what happens with worn brake pads:

  • A metal indicator creates a squealing noise When the brake pads are worn sufficiently
  • Excessively worn brake pads can cut into the rotor, resulting in a harsh grinding sound
  • Unevenly worn pads cause the car to longer braking distance

Brake Rotor (Disc Brakes)

This is another vital component of a car’s disc brake.

The brake rotor (or brake disc) is mounted to the wheel and spins with it.

The brake pad and caliper rub against the rotor and create the necessary friction to slow down the disc. This, in turn, slows down the wheel and vehicle.

Brake rotors are typically made out of cast iron. Cast iron is very heavy but can absorb a lot of heat.

To aid in heat dissipation, many rotors are vented drilled slotted designs.

Vented rotors have vents or vases between the two discs.

These vents direct airflow into the rotor, cooling the rotor as it spins.

Rear brakes tend to be solid rotors since rear brakes typically do less work to stop a vehicle.

Over time, the rotor surface will wear down from contact with brake pads.

As its thickness is a significant performance and safety factor, always consider changing the rotor during a routine brake pad change.

Here are some issues associated with damaged rotors: 

  • Warped rotors or one with corrosion or brake pad deposit buildup can cause vibrations in the steering wheel when braking
  • Heavy corrosion on the rotor surface may cause loud grinding noises
  • Cracks can develop in a rotor from temperature and repeated stress

Brake Caliper

The function of the brake caliper is to control the movement of the brake pad.

The brake caliper is mounted over the brake rotor, has pistons, and holds brake pads on either side of the rotor. 

There are two main types of brake calipers, these are floating calipers and fixed calipers.

If your brake calipers are leaking brake fluid, which can result in reduced braking power, you need to have them checked as soon as possible.

Brake pads, rotors, and brake calipers are the three main components of a brake system.

Understanding Drum Brakes 

brake drum system

A drum brake has a hollow drum that turns with the wheel. Its open back is covered by a stationary back plate on which there are two curved shoes carrying friction linings.

The shoes are forced outwards by hydraulic pressure moving pistons in the brake’s wheel cylinders, so pressing the linings against the inside of the drum to slow or stop it.

They’re more complex than disc brakes but cheaper to replace, and it’s also easier to install parking brakes in them.

So, you’ll still find them on economy models or rear brakes where less braking force is needed.

The main components of a drum brake kit include brake shoes, brake drum, and the backing plate.

Brake Shoes

Brake shoes function just like brake pads.

Each brake shoe has a pivot at one end and a piston at the other. A leading shoe has the piston at the leading edge relative to the direction in which the drum turns.

The rotation of the drum tends to pull the leading shoe firmly against it when it makes contact, improving the braking effect.

When you have worn brake shoes, this can happen:

  • Grinding noises turn up when the friction lining wears down
  • Rattling sounds can be pieces of peeled off, broken brake lining rolling around in the drum
  • The parking brake is less effective if it uses worn brake shoes to hold the car stationary

Brake Drum

The brake drum also rotates with the wheel, but it contains wheel cylinders and brake shoes that slow the rotation of the drum.

It’s typically made of iron, making it quite resistant to wear.

Here are some issues that occur with brake drums:

  • It’s subject to water ingress, and the water has nowhere to go until enough heat evaporates
  • The water gets between the drum and brake shoes, adversely affecting brake performance.
  • Excessive drum wear may cause wheel cylinder pistons to slip out of their bore.

Backing Plate

The backing plate itself is mounted to the suspension setup, providing stationary support in relation to the rotating drum.

It holds together the brake shoes, cylinder, and other pieces of brake hardware.

Brake System Hardware and Accessories


We’ve gone through the primary brake components.

Next, we become familiar with other brake parts that fall between either brake pads or brake drum systems.

They are there to make the brake system’s operation more efficient.

The main brake hardware includes:

Return Springs

This brake hardware is located on the drum brake system.

After you release the brakes, it is in charge of bringing the brake shoes back to their original position.

Wheel cylinder

The wheel cylinder is located inside the brake drum, mounted to the top of the backing plate.

It usually has 2 pistons attached to brake shoes and pushes them outwards in response to braking pressure.

The cylinder is also affected by wear hence you need to replace it after it shows signs of leaking.

Anti-Lock Brake (ABS)

Vehicles equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) have wheel speed sensors that detect how fast each wheel is spinning.

If your wheels lock up because you slam on the brakes, one or more wheels will be spinning at different speeds.

This speed difference is used by the ABS module to determine how to apply individual brakes to bring your car to a safe, controlled stop.

Remember that a rolling tire has more grip than a sliding tire. The ABS system gives a driver the ability to stop as fast as possible, even when they stand on the brakes as hard as they can.

What Are The Different Types of Brakes?

Most modern vehicles come with two to three different types of brakes installed.

These include disc brakes, drum brakes, and the parking brake.

Disc brakes and drum brakes perform the same task of slowing your vehicle when the brake pedal is pressed but use different parts to do so. 

Most cars have disc brakes on all four wheels, though some may have drum brakes on the back wheels as they are cheaper to manufacture.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each type of brake:

  • Disc Brakes: Standard hydraulic brake system that uses pistons housed in a caliper at each wheel to squeeze brake pads against a spinning disc rotor.
  • Drum Brakes: Less common hydraulic brake system that uses wheel cylinders to push brake shoes against a spinning drum inside each wheel.
  • Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS): An automatic emergency braking system that uses sensors to rapidly pump the hydraulic brakes to prevent them from locking up in sudden braking situations.
  • Parking Brake: A mechanical braking system (sometimes electronic) that typically uses a hand-operated lever to lock the wheels in place on inclines, also known as the emergency brake.


In conclusion, you should be aware that a normal car has two front and two rear brakes.

Much of the brake force is handled by the front brakes.

Knowing the parts of the braking system will make dealing with problems that develop with any component of the car brakes much easier.

You will know what to do whether the brake shoe, brake rotors, and brake shoe parts.


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