B is for Brakes


Brakes are for… slowing down, or stopping! Don’t forget that there are other ways we can slow our vehicle down, such as simply taking our foot off the gas, changing gears, and using engine braking. We’ll cover this in more detail in another blog post.

Different cars can have different types of brakes – disc brakes or drum brakes.

What’s the difference?

Taken from Kwik Fit website as they can explain it better than me!

A disc brake system consists of a brake disc, a brake calliper and brake pads. When the brake pedal is applied, pressurised hydraulic fluid squeezes the brake pad friction material against the surface of the rotating brake disc. The result of this contact produces friction which enables the vehicle to slow down or stop.

A drum brake system consists of brake shoes and a brake drum. When the brake pedal is applied the two curved brake shoes, which have a friction material lining, are forced against the inner surface of a rotating brake drum. The result of this contact produces friction which enables the vehicle to slow down or stop.

Which is better?

Disc brakes

  • Better stopping power
  • You can apply quicker for a shorter stopping distance
  • Better at managing heat from the friction of braking on the disc
  • Performs better in wet conditions
  • Less hardware and easier to service
  • Self cleaning
  • More durable
  • Less pulling
  • Self adjusts as the friction material wears out

Drum brakes

  • Retains heat which can reduce the braking force/power
  • Easier to use your handbrake with
  • More complex system but cheaper to replace
  • Requires cleaning
  • More prone to pulling
  • Self adjusts as the friction material wears out

The more pressure you put on the foot brake, the more the vehicle will slow down. Slowing down under control isn’t just a matter of slamming the foot brake on as hard as you can. As with the other foot pedals, using the foot brake needs practise. Press the foot brake with the ball of your foot. Use just enough pressure to slow the wheels of the car down, without allowing them to lock.

(Driving, The Essential Skills)

Progressive Braking

Progressive braking is a safe driving technique that

  • Allows other drivers time to react
  • Prevents skidding
  • Saves wear and tear on brakes, tyres and suspension
  • Uses less fuel than harsh braking
  • Is more comfortable for your passengers

To brake progressively

  • Feel: Put light pressure on the brake at first
  • Firm: Gradually increase the pressure as required to stop the vehicle
  • Feather: When the vehicle has almost stopped, ease off the pressure so that the vehicle stops smoothly. There should be little or no pressure as the vehicle actually stops.

Dual circuit braking

Modern cars are equipped with dual circuit braking systems. These systems ensure that, in the rare event of a braking system failure, there remains some braking available when the brake pedal is pressed. Under these conditions, it may be necessary to push the brake pedal harder than normal.

Stopping in an emergency

  • Always keep both hands on the steering wheel. You need as much control as possible
  • Avoid braking so hard that you lock any of the wheels. A skid may cause a serious loss of control
  • Don’t press down on the clutch pedal until just before you stop. This helps with your braking and stability
  • Don’t use the parking brake while the vehicle is moving. Most parking brakes work on the back wheels only. Extra braking on the back wheels can cause skidding
  • Don’t give a signal – you need both hands to control your steering (and your brake lights will come on at the rear to signal to people behind that you are braking)
  • Don’t make a special point of looking in the mirror – if you’ve been using your mirrors regularly you should know what’s behind
  • Stop as quickly and as safely as possible, keeping your vehicle under full control
  • Look all around again before moving off

Anti Lock Braking Systems (ABS)

If ABS is fitted, it will activate automatically if you need to press the brakes firmly or stop in an emergency. It prevents the wheels from locking, so that you can continue to steer the vehicle while braking. ABS is only a driver aid, it doesn’t help the vehicle stop more quickly, nor does it remove the need for good driving practises such as anticipating events and assessing the road conditions.

Parking brake (also known as the hand brake)

The parking brake holds the vehicle still when it has stopped. In most cars, the parking brake operates on the rear wheels only. The parking brake shouldn’t be used to stop a moving vehicle – there is real danger of the rear wheels locking and causing the vehicle to skid. The only time you may have to use the parking brake to stop a moving vehicle is in an emergency where the foot brake has failed – but this is very unlikely with dual circuit braking systems.

Remember that when you park your vehicle, always leave it in gear and make sure that the parking brake is fully on. You MUST use your parking brake if parked and leaving your car – rule 239 of the Highway Code. You may also use it if sat in a stationary queue of traffic, if you’re on a gradient to help stop you rolling back, or if you’re sat at a junction/roundabout for some time. Whether you use your parking brake at a junction or a roundabout could depend on your confidence and skill, how busy the roundabout is, who’s behind you, whether you’re on a gradient, etc. You may want to speak to your driving instructor in more detail about when to use your handbrake.

Five good rules for braking

  • Anticipate. Think and look well ahead
  • Know your own limitations and those of your vehicle
  • Take note of the state of the road and it’s surface
  • Give yourself plenty of time and distance to brake progressively
  • Avoid the risk of skidding, rather than trying to control it

Braking shifts the weight of the vehicle forward. This can make steering more difficult. Whenever you brake, you should consider

  • The safety and peace of mind of everyone concerned, including your passengers
  • The wear and tear on your brakes, tyres, and suspension
  • The vehicles behind you, whose brakes might not be as powerful as yours

How do I maintain my brakes?

If your brakes feel spongy or slack, you notice your vehicle pulling to one side as you brake, or your brakes are starting to squeak – these could be signs that your brakes are getting worn. You should get your car checked by a mechanic as soon as possible. Most garages charge very little, or sometimes nothing, for checking your brakes. Your mechanic can advise how low your brakes are worn, and whether you need new brake pads. If your brakes become incredibly worn, they could start scoring the brake discs as you brake – this can then be very costly to replace the brake discs, instead of just the brake pads. It’s always better to get it checked sooner rather than later!

Also check your parking brake regularly and make sure that there’s no excess ‘travel’ of the parking brake lever (meaning, make sure it doesn’t lift further than it does normally), and ensure that the parking brake secures the car properly and prevents the car from moving.

Also check your brake fluid reservoir under your bonnet. If you’re not sure, ask your mechanic to help you check this. We will cover this in more detail in another blog.

We hope this helps!


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