How Vehicle Braking Systems Work: Learn How You Stop

While most people don’t think much about their vehicles or its braking system, you should have an idea of what goes on and how it affects your ability to stop. Many times, people have spongy brakes or other issues, but they aren’t aware of the dangers or even notice the issue. Therefore, it’s best to learn as much as you can so that you’re prepared. Whether you choose to fix the issue yourself or take it to a trusted vehicle technician, you know the dangers and are well-informed.


The braking system of your vehicle is likely to have brakes on all four of the wheels, all of them operated by the hydraulic system. You can find both drum and disc style brakes, and both work similarly.

The front brakes are more important for stopping the vehicle than the rear ones, though both sets are important. However, when you hit the brakes, the vehicle’s weight is thrown forward, which is why the front brakes are most important.

Because of the weight shift, most cars use disc brakes because they are more efficient. Many times, drum brakes are used on the rear. However, your vehicle may use all disc brakes or all drum brakes depending on the manufacturer.

Higher-performance and expensive models may use an all-disc braking system. Typically, all-drum systems are used on smaller or older makes.


The hydraulic brake circuit uses fluid-filled cylinders, called slave and master cylinders, that are connected by pipes. Therefore, when you push the brake pedal down, it depresses the piston in the master cylinder, which forces fluid through the pipe. The fluid travels to all the slave cylinders at each wheel, filling them up and forcing those pistons out, which applies the brake.

The fluid and pressure within evenly distributes throughout the system. Because the combined surface pushes the slave pistons and forces them outward, it stops the vehicle. However, the pushing of the slave pistons gives more force than the master cylinder piston. Therefore, the master piston travels many inches to help the slave pistons move a less than an inch to apply the brakes.

The configuration of the system allows more force to be exerted by your brakes and is a highly efficient system.

Changes and Differences

Modern vehicles usually have twin hydraulic circuits, and each circuit has a master cylinder. It’s a backup in case one cylinder fails. Usually, one circuit is used for the front brakes while another operates the back ones. However, you can have both circuits work the front brakes with one working the back brakes as well.

The rear brakes are usually made to be less powerful than the front because if you were to heavily brake, too much weight can come off the back wheels, causing them to lock, which can lead to skidding.

Anti-lock braking systems are also used on modern cars to prevent this issue. The system applies and releases the brakes quickly, so they don’t lock up. Many newer cars use a valve or sensor to ensure that the pressure and load aren’t too high for the system itself. The valve can close when you’re braking heavily, which prevents more hydraulic fluid from reaching the cylinders and pistons, preventing the brakes from locking up.


Some cars also have power assistants, which reduces effort required to apply the brakes. The source of power is the difference between the inlet manifold, which creates a partial vacuum with outside air.


How Vehicle Braking Systems Work: Learn How You Stop

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