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Disc Brakes 101 – Understanding How Your Car Stops

Workspaces & Tools  /   /  By Chad Tyson

The most important part of going fast is stopping. Skydivers use parachutes and your car uses brakes. Bad things happen when parachutes or brakes fail.

This eBay Motors 101 will focus on disc brakes, and we’ll look at drum brakes later in the week. In a nutshell, the basic operation of braking is stepping on the brake pedal, which pushes hydraulic fluid through the brake lines — and forces the piston out of the caliper. This pushes the pads into both sides of the disc (or rotor) creating friction and slowing the vehicle down.

The evolution of the braking system goes from a tire brake (a pad pressed against the tire via a long lever, this technology dated back to the Romans) to external bands on axles to internal drums at the wheels to discs. The first production disc brakes appeared on the 1949 Chrysler Crown Imperial. The 1950 Crosley Hot Shot also had disc brakes, but they proved unreliable and most were converted to drums. European sports car manufacturers quickly adopted the technology. The Jaguar C-type tore up racetracks with the aid of disc brake rotors and pads.

The major difference between drum and disc braking performance is as simple as heat dissipation. Brake fade is caused by the buildup of heat on the braking surface. The result is a reduction in stopping ability that occurs during sustained braking in high-speed or high-load applications. The braking surface used on discs is exposed to the air, while the heat created on the drum surface needs to transfer outward through the thickness of the drum.

Due to advanced engineering and electronics, braking advancements (oxymoron, right?) have really pushed ahead in the past decades. New materials, electronic assistance and cooling techniques are some of the benefits we use daily. ABS (antilock braking system) is an automated safety system that prevents wheels from locking up during hard braking, allowing the driver to maintain control. Modern systems can also electronically control braking bias front to rear, enhancing control. This is also a building block in creating an electronic stability control (ESC) system.

You might not pay much attention to this part of your car until it starts causing problems — just like most of the other ones right? Grinding and excessive noise are indicators that something is wrong with your braking system. eBay Motors Parts & Accessories is just the place to find the parts to repair your car successfully. Want a conversion kit for your 1967 Ford Mustang? Check this brake kit from Wilwood. How about new front rotors for the old ’76 GMC Jimmy? Find them here. These rotors for a 1988 Honda CRX are slotted and cross drilled for extra heat dissipation. You’ll find what you’re looking for on eBay Motors Parts & Accessories.

Later this week we’ll delve into drum brake technology — and we’ll discuss whether it’s as antiquated as it seems.


The drum brake has been more widely used than any other brake design. Drum brakes are mainly used for rear brakes on passenger cars and trucks while disc brakes are used exclusively for front brakes because of their directional stability.

Click the link and learn more about drum brakes: Drum Brakes 101

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