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Brake Systems

The brake system found in vehicles is designed to slow down and stop your vehicle. When the pedal is pressed the booster assists the master cylinder to apply enough force to move the fluid through the lines and hoses to the calipers which move the pads to squeeze the rotors. This action slows down and stops the vehicle. Each wheel on the vehicle has a caliper and rotor.

Types of Brake Systems

The most common system found in practically all cars today is a hydraulic brake system with disc brakes. Disc brake systems include calipers, pads, and rotors. In contrast, drum brakes have wheel cylinders, shoes, and drums. Drum brakes are rarely used on passenger cars these days. Both systems use fluid to move the parts necessary to slow down and stop a vehicle. Here we will discuss the main parts of a disc brake system.


  • Pedal
  • Brake light switch
  • Booster
  • Master cylinder
  • Fluid
  • Lines and hoses
  • Calipers
  • Caliper brackets
  • Caliper bolts or anchors
  • Pads
  • Rotors


The pedal is the rectangular or square pedal next to the left of the accelerator pedal. This pedal is used by the driver to operate the brake system.

Brake Light Switch

This switch is often found mounted to the brake pedal. This switch closes when the pedal is pressed and completes the circuit to the brake lamps. The lamps are illuminated when this switch is closed.


The booster is designed to assist the brake system to apply the brakes. The brake booster is found mounted on the firewall of the vehicle under the hood on the driver’s side of the engine compartment. The typical shape of the booster is round and uses engine vacuum to operate. Some systems use power steering fluid instead of engine vacuum to assist the brake system. These systems are called hydroboost systems.

Master Cylinder

The master cylinder holds the brake fluid. The fluid is added and level is checked here. It is bolted to the booster. The master cylinder multiplies the force of the brake pedal and pushes the brake fluid through the lines and hoses.


Fluid is used to move the caliper pistons that move the pads to grab the rotors. Brake fluid has different ratings that indicate its boiling point. The rating is expressed as DOT 3, DOT 4, etc. Check with your vehicle manufacturer for the correct type of fluid to use in your vehicle.

Lines and Hoses

The lines and hoses are the passages that the brake fluid moves through. These lines and hoses connect the  master cylinder to the  calipers. The lines are typically made of stainless steel and are attached to the body and frame of the vehicle. The hoses are used at the calipers because they can flex as the wheels turn and move up and down with the suspension.


The calipers hold the pads and apply the pads when the brake pedal is pressed. They fit over the rotor. When the fluid moves through the lines and hoses to the caliper the piston inside the caliper is pushed out by the fluid and forces the pads to grab the rotor to slow down the vehicle. When the brake pedal is released the caliper piston retracts and releases the brake pads.

Caliper Brackets

The caliper brackets are bolted to the steering knuckle or spindle. They fit over the rotor. These brackets are made of steel or aluminum. The caliper is mounted to the bracket. The brackets provide a seat for the pads.

Caliper Bolts or Anchors

Caliper bolts or anchors attach the caliper to the caliper bracket. They are designed to let the caliper move when the brake pedal is pressed.


The pads are the parts that grab the rotor to slow down the vehicle. Pads can be made from different types of material. This material is glued to a metal backing plate. The pads are designed to wear down and evenly therefore they are a maintenance item. This means that you will periodically have to replace them. This will be determined by your driving habits and quality of the pads.


Rotors are solid pieces of metal that are mounted to the wheel hub and turn with the wheel. The pads grab the rotor and slow down the rotation of the wheel. Brake rotors generally have slots between the inner and outer surfaces that allow the heat created by friction to dissipate quickly. Some rotors can be resurfaced or machined for a new flat surface when replacing the brake pads. Others need to be replaced when replacing the pads. Rotors have minimum thickness measurements that must be met in order to use them. If they are below this specification they should be replaced at all costs.

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