Understand Your Brake System

What is It?

Your car’s brake system is one of its most critical safety systems and as such, it is imperative to keep it maintained and functioning properly. Doing so helps ensure safe vehicle control and operation under a wide variety of conditions. If you suspect any problems or have any concerns, you should have it inspected as soon as possible.

What Does it Do?

As the brakes are a very complicated system, the average car owner may not be familiar with how they work. You may have heard terms thrown around, “caliper”, “drum brakes”, “hydraulic system”, but not understood how they work together from pushing the brake pedal to stopping the car. A very basic explanation is as follows to help you gain a little insight about the brakes in your vehicle: It all starts when you push the brake pedal. That force generates hydraulic pressure in the master cylinder. The master cylinder uses brake fluid to transfer pressure through the hydraulic lines and hoses to the calipers and/or wheel cylinders (one at each wheel). The calipers and wheel cylinders use that pressure to squeeze the brake pads and/or shoes against rotors and/or drums to stop your car.

Disc Brakes or Drum Brakes?

Now, there are different types of brakes: drum and disc. Disc brakes are made up of rotors, pads and calipers, among other, smaller parts. The rotor is a metal disc that rotates with the wheels. The stationary mounted caliper holds a pad on each side of the rotor and slides to force the pads against the rotor when pressure is applied. Drum brakes are made up of shoes (which function as the pads in a disc brake system) and are enclosed in a drum (which functions as the rotor in a disc brake system). The shoes push against the drum when pressure is applied. The resulting friction, from the pads against the rotor or the shoes against the drum, slows the vehicle and is relative to the amount of force applied to the brake pedal.

Typical Wear and Tear

Brakes are a normal wear item for any car and are eventually going to need replacement. Some vehicles have indicators to help alert you when new pads are needed; however, it is recommended that as a car owner you are proactive about knowing the condition of your brakes. Cary Car Care checks the brake pad wear each time we take the wheels off your car (most commonly, during the tire rotation). We also can perform a “basic brake inspection” upon request if you have particular concerns or want to know the life remaining on your brakes. Avoid letting your brakes get too worn (i.e. metal to metal), as that can mean a more expensive rotor or drum replacement and a potential safety issue. Several factors that affect brake wear include:
  • Driving Habits
  • Operating conditions (such as towing often, living by the coast which has the potential for a lot of rust, mostly in-town driving, etc.)
  • Vehicle type
  • The quality of brake lining material


If you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms or have any other particular concerns in regards to your brakes, please contact Cary Car Care and we will be happy to help:
  • Car pulls to one side during braking
  • Brake pedal pulsates when you apply the brakes
  • Brake pedal feels “mushy”
  • Noise when you step on the brake pedal
  • Repeatedly need to add brake fluid to the master cylinder
  • Brake and/or ABS warning light
In the event of an emergency, we will do our best to work in your vehicle around our scheduled appointments. Our goal is to guide you through the diagnostics and repair all while getting you safely back on the road as soon as possible. Just as our motto states, “it must be right, or we’ll make it right!”

Written by Cary Car Care