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Guide to Brakes

Guide to Brakes

Posted by Glenn Rowswell on 5th January 2012

Tarox brakes and Hel brake lines

Stoppers, anchors, brakes – whatever you want to call them; these puppies are the most important part of your car. If they don’t work – you’re in trouble. In fact, even if your brakes are a bit on the average side, the amount of fun you can have in your car will be severely limited.

Before you carry out any form of tuning work on your car, you want to make sure the brakes on your ride are up to the job. So here’s what’s what in the world of stoppers…

Brake discs

Available in single-piece and two-piece varieties. Most road cars leave the factory with singlepiece discs. The bigger the disc, the more leverage. Think of it like this; when you’re opening a door, it’s easier to pull the handle down when you grab it at the end. I didn’t pay attention in physics, but what I do know is that bigger discs deliver more leverage.

Single-piece discs usually come in sizes up to 300mm, after that, two-piece discs are the norm. A two-piece disc consists of a separate bell and rotor. Not only does this look the absolute fucking nuts, but it also enables the brakes to be services more easily and cost effectively. The discs themselves can be skimmed to aid the life span and the bells can be anodised to look super-cool.

brake pads

Available in all sorts of compounds, brake pads clamp around the discs, which in turn stop the car. When the pads come into contact with the discs, heat builds up. Harder pads cope with this heat better than softer compound pads, but harder pads don’t work too good from cold. So there’s a compromise to be made.

Track cars run harder compound pads because the brakes are in constant use, so once the brakes are up to working temperature the harder pads are able to be kept at optimum heat levels to deliver superb stopping power.

On the road, things are very different. We need a set-up that will give good results from cold, so that when the brakes haven’t been used for a long time, like on long motorway journeys or fast A-roads, the pads can still deliver a lot of ‘bite’ on the discs without having a lot heat in them. Check owner’s club forums to see what works best for your car.

Brake calipers on fire

These babies can look well impressive behind an open set of wheels. Likewise, if you’re running lame stock calipers, they can also look a bit shit. Everyone aspires to have a set of beefy looking stoppers on their motor and calipers can make or break the toughness of your car.

Available in all sorts of shapes and sizes, the most important working part of a caliper is the piston, or ‘pot’. The job of the piston is to force the clamp against the disc and in turn stop your car. Some calipers have just one piston, others will have 16 or even more. More commonly, though, you’ll hear people talking about calipers with 4-pistons (4-pot) or six-pistons (6-pot). The more pistons, the more linear the distribution of force across the brake disc.

Some super fly World Rally Car spec brake calipers feature water cooling and über-lightweight design, which aids unsprung
weight. But for tuned cars like you and I drive, this is all a bit bonkers. Bag yourself a sick set of 6-pot calipers or a mentalist set of Tarox 12-pots and you’ll be pulling the crowds at the shows and meets.

Brake lines

Production cars are built to a budget and, unfortunately, this means poverty-spec rubber brake lines. These aren’t good for brake performance. “Why?” I hear you scream. Well, rubber hoses flex under pressure and this can cause a reduction in brake feel. Bad times.

Get a set of trick stainless steel brake lines from Goodridge or HEL Performance. Once installed, the stainless hoses won’t flex under pressure and both pedal feel and brake response will be improved. Good times! All from a wallet-friendly price of around £50 or maybe a little bit more.

brake fluid

Fluid is not to be overlooked. In your war against stopping distances, you want the best fluid money can buy. The better the fluid, the higher the boiling point and the more abuse the fluid can take. DOT 5.1 is the staple diet of any street racer and it doesn’t come with a big price tag, so there’s no excuse.