11 Things You Didn’t Know About Brakes

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If you’re like most drivers, you don’t think about your brakes very often. You press the brake pedal, your car stops, and that’s that. The only time you give them a second thought is when they make a horrendous noise or stop working (hopefully not while you’re careening down the Malahat).

But failure aside, sometimes it’s nice to know a little bit more about your brakes. After all, they do save your life on a daily basis. Here are 11 things you probably didn’t know about automobile brakes:


  • Formula 1 race cars have the most advanced braking systems in the world. A Formula 1 car has the ability to accelerate to 200 km/h and brake to a complete stop in just seven seconds, thanks to its massive disc brakes and calipers. (The discs even glow red hot when the car is braking!)


  • Anti-lock brake systems were first developed for aircraft use in 1929. Automobile manufacturers didn’t officially adopt the technology until 1970 (as an optional add-on to Lincoln Continentals).


  • The brakes of a hybrid vehicle actually help charge the battery that powers the electric motor. Every time you step on the brakes, the energy that most cars waste is instead converted to electricity for the car to use later.


  • Modern disc brake systems generate extremely high temperatures. Operating temperatures average 350 degrees Celsius and peak around 750 degrees while under heavy load or while mountain driving. Is it any wonder why brake components need exceptional heat resistance, wear resistance, and stopping capabilities?


  • Squealing brakes? That’s your brake pads telling you they need to be replaced. Most brake pads have built in metal tabs called ‘squealers’ that are designed to scrape the rotor when the brake pads are worn to minimum safety thickness.


  • Early braking systems consisted of nothing more than a block of wood and a lever system. When the driver wanted to stop, he had to pull a lever located next to him and make the wooden block bear against the wheel. While this worked perfectly fine for old-school steel-rimmed wheels, the technology had to be revamped when rubber tires came into play.


  • Brake fluid attracts water like magnets attract metal. Over time, the brake fluid absorbs water from the air, and all of the excess moisture gradually reduces its boiling point, increases its viscosity, and promotes rust and corrosion.


  • When a vehicle’s brakes are cold, the stopping distance is more dependent on the traction of the tires than the power of the brakes.


  • Car manufacturers are now developing autonomous braking systems, meaning the car can automatically apply the brakes in emergency situations. According to Thatcham Research, the UK’s motor insurers’ research centre, this technology is the biggest safety improvement since the seatbelt and could prevent 17,000 deaths and injuries every year if made compulsory.


  • Louis Renault is largely credited with the development of the modern day drum brake in 1902. A pioneer of the automobile industry, Renault went on to invent many other technologies that are still in use today, including hydraulic shock absorbers, turbocharged engines, and “direct drive,” the industry’s first gearbox..


  • The carbon ceramic discs in a McLaren P1 are coated in silicon carbide—one of the hardest materials on Earth. These specially designed discs can bring the car to a halt from 100 km/h (62 mph) in a distance of just 30.2 metres


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