Brake System Guide

How does a brake system work?

Typically brake systems include a few simple moving parts that (when working properly), quickly slow and stop your vehicle. When you step on the brake pedal, a vacuum booster (also known as the brake booster) is actuated.  This multiplies the amount of force applied by your foot when stepping on the pedal. Without the added force produced by the brake booster, stepping on the brake pedal would require a large amount of effort.

The force is transferred to the master cylinder, which is a reservoir filled with brake fluid. The master cylinder (typically controls two sets of brakes) uses the brake lines filled with brake fluid to actuate the brakes on the rotors. The master cylinder applies even pressure to the front and rear brakes when you step on the brake pedal. The advantage to having two systems is that if one were to fail, the vehicle can still be stopped.

When you step on the brake pedal, you are controlling the brakes with the hydraulic action of the fluid in the brake lines. This means that every time you step the brake pedal it moves hydraulic brake fluid to actuate each individual brake.

Disc brake components

A disc brake system involves only a few parts to create a stopping motion. When a wheel is removed from your vehicle, the first thing you may notice is likely the rotor. This is the “disc” in the disc brake assembly. The rotor is attached to the wheel hub directly.  This means that when the wheel spins, the rotor spins as well.

The next most significant component of the disc brake system is the caliper.  This part fits securely over the brake rotor (almost like a clamp). Within the caliper are the brake pads. The pads are the part of the brake most responsible for slowing and stopping. The pads are pushed into motion by the brake piston (also within the caliper). These two metal or ceramic plates come in contact with the rotor which uses the power of friction to slow the vehicle.

Since the vehicle’s stopping power depends on two surfaces coming in direct contact, both the rotor and the brake pad need to be clean, level and free of debris. While brake pads are designed to be durable, they wear down over time.

Signs of Failing brakes

Brakes are considered one of your vehicle’s most important safety features.  If your vehicle has signs of failing or faulty brakes, they should be serviced immediately.

Although brake assembly components such as brake pads and rotors are designed for durability due to their frequent use, brake components do eventually wear down and need to be replaced. There are some clear, and not so obvious, signs that indicate brake repairs are needed.


When brakes grind, it not only makes you cringe, but it’s a clear sign that your vehicle’s braking system requires service. If you witness grinding noises when you step on your brake pedal, it means the pads are overdue for replacement or that something is making contact with the brake rotor the wrong way.

If grinding is occurring, the brake pads are likely to be beyond their wear limit, they may be coming into uneven contact with the rotors, or it could be something more serious such as the brake caliper or piston grinding against the rotor. It is recommended to have your brakes inspected and by a reputable and trustworthy shop.  To schedule reliable service with a CarAdvise Certified Shop, click here.


If you notice a high-pitched squeal when you step on the brake pedal, it’s a clear sign that your brakes need to be replaced or at the very least, inspected. Brake pads are often equipped with wear indicators in the pad to produce this sound to let the driver know that brake service is needed.

Other factors that can create a squealing sound from the brakes include a build-up of brake dust on the brake pads, debris/ rust on the surface of the rotor or the brake pads becoming glazed over from high heat conditions. Due to the multitude of possible causes, including improper installation, or poor surface contact with the rotor, it’s recommended to have your brakes inspected by a CarAdvise Certified Shop when you hear squealing.

Loss of pressure when stepping on the brake pedal

When step on the brake pedal, you should feel a firm response that becomes firmer as you press down harder. If you own a later-model vehicle, a brake pedal that feels spongy or that can be pressed all the way down to the floorboard can indicate several possible causes.

It could be a relatively minor problem such as a leak or gap in the brake lines allowing air to enter creating diminished braking power, the brake pedal may need to be adjusted, or it may be something much more serious such as a failing brake system. If any of these are occurring, have a brake system inspection performed by a reliable car care professional through CarAdvise.

Pulsing or vibrations when the brake pedal is depressed

Feeling pulsing or vibrations when you step on the brake pedal typically means that the brake rotor is warn or warped. Braking power requires that the brake pads and brake rotor come into contact cleanly.

Pulsations or vibrations should not be confused with a vehicle’s anti-lock braking system, which prevents the brakes from locking when heavy brake pressure is applied through the pedal, particularly in slippery driving conditions such as rain, snow or ice.

A rotor that is warped by friction or heat, or that is worn beyond acceptable limits, can create vibrations or pulsing; it’s an indicator that you should visit a brake specialist or auto service center as soon as possible. To schedule brake service, choose a CarAdvise Certified Shop.

Types of brake repairs

The type of brake service a vehicle will require can vary depending on the problem, but there are a few routine brake services that are a part of routine maintenance.

Brake pad replacement

One of the most simple and most cost-effective brake repairs is replacing the brake pads. Replacement brake pads for common non-luxury vehicles frequently cost less than $300 per axle. Be careful to select a reliable mechanic, as improper installation of brake pads can cause some of the symptoms noted above.

Rotor resurfacing

If possible, it’s a good idea to consider resurfacing or “turning” the rotor when it is time to replace the brake pads. Since the vehicle’s brake stopping power relies on the rotor and brake pad coming in contact cleanly, a rotor that is scored or worn should be resurfaced.

Brake rotors include wear indicators that show if there’s enough material left to be resurfaced. A mechanic can also measure the thickness of the rotor against the manufacturer’s recommendations. If there’s enough material remaining, a technician will machine the rotor on a special lathe to remove just enough material away to create a new smooth rotor surface. If there’s not enough material remaining on the rotors, they will need to be replaced.

Other adjustments

Since braking systems rely on multiple interconnected components from the brake pedal all the way to the pad and rotor, it’s important to find a trusted, experienced mechanic who can make recommendations and adjustments to the brake system when needed. To schedule brake service with a trustworthy and reliable mechanic, choose CarAdvise.


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Comments 14

  1. I’ve been looking into some different options for brake repairs for my wife’s car, but I’d like to be a little more familiar with the system. I’m glad you mentioned disk brake components and how they work. I think that being able to gets some good brake repairs would be good and now I understand a little bit better!

  2. I would like to thank you for sharing such valuable guidance regarding the brake system. Brake is an important part of any types of moving object which helps in reducing the speed of the object. It is very dangerous to drive a vehicle with damaged brake system. So, the condition of the brake needs to be inspected at a regular interval and if any types of damage is found, then it should be repaired in the first place. Before leaving for a long road trip, the condition of different components of the brake needs to be inspected.

  3. I like how you said that getting a brake service on the pads is a cost-effective way to keep your vehicle’s brakes running well. My wife and I have been noticing that our cars haven’t been slowing down as well as they did in the past. Hopefully, we will be able to find a good mechanic who can replace these for us so we don’t have to worry about them giving out on us.

  4. Really useful article which provides some of very useful information regarding the braking system of the vehicle. Driving a vehicle with a faulty braking system could threatens the safety of the passengers. So, prior to leaving for a long road trip, a quick inspection of different components of the braking system is really useful to identify and repair faulty components of the braking system to prevent any kind of major problems.

  5. I really appreciate you helping me learn more about the brake system. Most of the times I will be experiencing failure in stepping on the brake pedal. I guess I need to have it be checked by a professional to ensure my safety while driving as well as my passengers.

  6. Thanks for helping me understand brake systems more. I actually had no idea that grinding in your brakes mean that the system needs a service. Maybe it could be good to at least have your brakes looked at the first sign of grinding, just to be on the safe side.

  7. I am glad to know about the indications of an abnormal braking system. The braking system plays a key role to reduce the speed of the vehicle. However, the ability of the braking system reduces with time which could lead to an accident. So, the condition of different components of the braking system needs to be inspected at a regular interval and abnormal components should be replaced with suitable substitutes to enhance the effectiveness of the braking system. An indication of an abnormal braking system shouldn’t be underestimated and should be inspected.

  8. I loved when you mentioned how brakes are your vehicle’s most important safety components. It is important to understand that doing some research can help you get the best results. We need to get some maintenance for our car, so I wanted to look into it.

    1. Post

      Glad to hear we were able to assist you Marcus. Just so you know CarAdvise is a FREE service for customers and by signing up you get instant access to 25% off retail at over 20,000 auto shops nationwide. Check it out hopefully we can get you the maintence you need at the price you want to pay.

  9. I like how you mentioned that if your breaks start making squealing noises, it may be that the pads have worn down to the indicator. My brakes have been slightly squeaky when I press on the break, so I’ll be sure to get them checked out. Do you have any tips for finding a great mechanic in my area?

    1. Post

      Sorry to hear that Taylor, definitely get those checked out ASAP. Have you signed up with CarAdvise? it’s free and we have nationwide vetted network of over 20,000 shops. We work with both national brands and independent shops, and the best part is, if you get there and aren’t totally sure about work being done, give us a call, we’ll connect you with an ASE Certified Mechanic on the phone for FREE. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to assist you, our direct line is 844-923-8473.

  10. It is very important to take care of your brakes. I think mine are in need of replacement since they squeal a lot when I do brake. I’ll be sure to visit a shop to see what’s going on.

  11. Something I didn’t know was that squealing brakes could be failing brakes. Maybe it would be a good idea to get a brake inspection soon. Then I could see if I needed new brakes.

  12. I didn’t know that the high-pitched squeal you hear when your brakes go out is intentional. That’s such a smart way to let the driver know that you need to fix something in your brakes. When I hear that sound, I’ll know what it means now!

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