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Chicago, IL

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SAT: 7:00am-6:00pm
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How Do Car Brakes Work?





On the road, you encounter red lights, pedestrians, and traffic. You press the brake pedal and your car stops, keeping you and your passengers safe. Have you ever wondered how brakes work?

There are two types of car brakes: disc brakes and drum brakes. Both disc brakes and drum brakes work by using friction and resistance to convert kinetic energy into heat energy. That necessary friction is created through the use of a hydraulic system. All brakes use a hydraulic system, wherein fluid moves through brake lines to create pressure which presses the brakes pads against the rotors and stops the car. Drum brakes work the same way, where brake shoes presses against the drum.

Fast facts about brakes and how brakes work:

  • All cars have four brakes - two rear brakes and two front brakes.
  • In most cars, front brakes are primarily responsible for halting your vehicle and provide 60% to 90% of the vehicle's stopping power.
  • Malcolm Lockheed is credited with developing the hydraulic brake system in 1918.


Over time, brake pads and brake rotors wear out. When brake pads are new, they consist of a semi-metallic or ceramic material that is 8, 10 or 12 mm thick. When those brake pads wear down to 4 mm or less of semi-metallic or ceramic material, it's time to visit a Firestone Complete Auto Care. If the brake pads wear all the way down to the backing plate, the underlying metal of the brake pads scrape on the metal of the rotors and damage the rotor. Not only will brake replacement be necessary, but rotor replacement and caliper replacement will also be necessary if damaged.

Similarly, brake rotors wear out over time. The thickness required for brake rotors varies by vehicle. Firestone Complete Auto Care Tire and Auto Service Professionals can look up your vehicle specs and tell you how thick your brake rotors should be. Brake fluid change and brake bleeding should also be part of your routine maintenance service for brakes.

Save the time and expense of costly repairs by having your car brakes, including brake pads and brake rotors, checked at regular intervals to ensure they’re in good shape. Brake checks are free at all Firestone Complete Auto Care stores.

Auto Care Tips & Advice

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Inform yourself about what’s causing that hissing noise when braking your car, truck, or SUV, and what you can and should do to stop that hissing noise.

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New Brakes Squeaking? What You Should Know

Sep 7, 2020
New brake pads, new brake squealing? Learn when new brake noise is normal and when it might be cause for concern with info from Firestone Complete Auto Care.

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