The disc brake or disk brake is a wheel brake which slows rotation of the wheel by the friction caused by pushing brake pads against a brake disc with a set of calipers. The brake disc (or rotor in American English) is usually made of cast iron, but may in some cases be made of composites such as reinforced carbon–carbon or ceramic matrix composites. This is connected to the wheel and/or the axle. To stop the wheel, friction material in the form of brake pads, mounted on a device called a brake caliper, is forced mechanically, hydraulically, pneumatically or electromagnetically against both sides of the disc. Friction causes the disc and attached wheel to slow or stop. Brakes convert motion to heat, and if the brakes get too hot, they become less effective, a phenomenon known as brake fade.
Disc-style brakes development and use began in England in the 1890s. The first caliper-type automobile disc brake was patented by Frederick William Lanchester in his Birmingham, UK factory in 1902 and used successfully on Lanchester cars. Compared to drum brakes, disc brakes offer better stopping performance, because the disc is more readily cooled. As a consequence discs are less prone to the "brake fade"; and disc brakes recover more quickly from immersion (wet brakes are less effective). Most drum brake designs have at least one leading shoe, which gives a servo-effect. By contrast, a disc brake has no self-servo effect and its braking force is always proportional to the pressure placed on the brake pad by the braking system via any brake servo, braking pedal or lever, this tends to give the driver better "feel" to avoid impending lockup. Drums are also prone to "bell mouthing", and trap worn lining material within the assembly, both causes of various braking problems.
Disc-style brakes development and use began in England in the 1890s. The first caliper-type automobile disc brake was patented by Frederick William Lanchester in his Birmingham, UK factory in 1902 and used successfully on Lanchester cars. However, the limited choice of metals in this period, meant that he had to use copper as the braking medium acting on the disc. The poor state of the roads at this time, no more than dusty, rough tracks, meant that the copper wore quickly making the disc brake system non-viable (as recorded in The Lanchester Legacy). It took another half century for his innovation to be widely adopted.
The 1950 Crosley Hot Shot is often given credit for the first U.S. production disc brakes but the Chrysler Crown Imperial actually had them first as standard equipment at the beginning of the 1949 model year. The Crosley disc was a Goodyear development, a caliper type with ventilated rotor, originally designed for aircraft applications. Only the Hot Shot featured it. Lack of sufficient research caused enormous reliability problems, especially in regions requiring the use of salt on winter roads, such as sticking and corrosion. Drum brake conversions for Hot Shots were quite popular.
The Chrysler four-wheel disc brake system was more complex and expensive than Crosley's, but far more efficient and reliable. It was built by Auto Specialties Manufacturing Company (Ausco) of St. Joseph, Michigan, under patents of inventor H.L. Lambert, and was first tested on a 1939 Plymouth. Unlike the caliper disc, the Ausco-Lambert utilized twin expanding discs that rubbed against the inner surface of a cast-iron brake drum, which doubled as the brake housing. The discs spread apart to create friction against the inner drum surface through the action of standard wheel cylinders.
The brake disc is the disc component of a disc brake against which the brake pads are applied. The design of the disc varies somewhat. Some are simply solid cast iron, but others are hollowed out with fins or vanes joining together the disc's two contact surfaces (usually included as part of a casting process). The weight and power of the vehicle determines the need for ventilated discs. The "ventilated" disc design helps to dissipate the generated heat and is commonly used on the more-heavily-loaded front discs.
Many higher-performance brakes have holes drilled through them. This is known as cross-drilling and was originally done in the 1960s on racing cars. For heat dissipation purposes, cross drilling is still used on some braking components, but is not favored for racing or other hard use as the holes are a source of stress cracks under severe conditions.
Discs may also be slotted, where shallow channels are machined into the disc to aid in removing dust and gas. Slotting is the preferred method in most racing environments to remove gas and water and to deglaze brake pads. Some discs are both drilled and slotted. Slotted discs are generally not used on standard vehicles because they quickly wear down brake pads; however, this removal of material is beneficial to race vehicles since it keeps the pads soft and avoids vitrification of their surfaces.
As a way of avoiding thermal stress, cracking and warping, the disc is sometimes mounted in a half loose way to the hub with coarse splines. This allows the disc to expand in a controlled symmetrical way and with less unwanted heat transfer to the hub.
On the road, drilled or slotted discs still have a positive effect in wet conditions because the holes or slots prevent a film of water building up between the disc and the pads. Cross-drilled discs may eventually crack at the holes due to metal fatigue. Cross-drilled brakes that are manufactured poorly or subjected to high stresses will crack much sooner and more severely.
Motorcycle disc brakes have become increasingly sophisticated since their introduction in 1969 on the Honda CB750. Motorcycle discs are usually stainless steel, drilled and occasionally slotted, to help remove rain water. Many motorcycle discs are of a floating design where the disc rides on small dowels and is allowed to slightly move laterally. This allows for better disc centering when used with a fixed caliper. It can also prevent heat transfer to the wheel hub under hard braking. Calipers have evolved from simple "single-piston" units to two-, four- and even six-piston items. Since (compared to cars) motorcycles have a higher centre of gravity:wheelbase ratio, they experience more weight transference when braking. The front brake(s) provide most of the required deceleration, while the rear brake serves mainly to "balance" the motorcycle during braking. A modern sports bike will typically have twin front discs of large diameter, but only a very much smaller single rear disc. This is because the rear wheel can only transfer a fraction of the stopping power due to the weight transfer to the front that occurs when braking. The same effect lets the front wheel transfer a lot more stopping power before locking up.
Mountain bike disc brakes range from simple, mechanical (cable) systems, to expensive and powerful, six-piston hydraulic disc systems, commonly used on downhill racing bikes. Improved technology has seen the creation of the first vented discs for use on mountain bikes, similar to those on cars, introduced to help avoid heat fade on fast alpine descents. Although less common, discs are also used on road bicycles for all-weather cycling with predictable braking, although drums are sometimes preferred as harder to damage in crowded parking, where discs are sometimes bent. Most bicycle brake discs are made of steel. Stainless steel is preferred due to its anti-rust properties. Some lightweight discs are made of titanium or aluminium. Discs are thin, often about 2 mm. Some use a two-piece floating disc style, others use a floating caliper, others use pads that float in the caliper, and some use one moving pad that makes the caliper slide on its mounts, pulling the other pad into contact with the disc. Because the "motor" is small, an uncommon feature of bicycle brakes is pads that retract to eliminate residual drag when the brake is released. In contrast, most other brakes drag the pads lightly when released.
On other vehicles
On other vehicles
Disc brakes are increasingly used on very large and heavy road vehicles, where previously large drum brakes were nearly universal. One reason is that the disc's lack of self-assist makes brake force much more predictable, so peak brake force can be raised without more risk of braking-induced steering or jackknife on articulated vehicles. Another is disc brakes fade less when hot, and in a heavy vehicle air and rolling drag and engine braking are small parts of total braking force, so brakes are used harder than on lighter vehicles, and drum brake fade can occur in a single stop. For these reasons, a heavy truck with disc brakes can stop in about 120% the distance of a passenger car, but with drums stopping takes about 150% the distance.In Europe, stopping distance regulations essentially require disc brakes for heavy vehicles. In the U.S., drums are allowed and are typically preferred for their lower purchase price, despite higher total lifetime cost and more frequent service intervals.
Still-larger discs are used for railroads and some airplanes. Passenger rail cars and light rail often use disc brakes outboard of the wheels, which helps ensure a free flow of cooling air. In contrast, some airplanes have the brake mounted with very little cooling and the brake gets quite hot in a stop, but this is acceptable as the maximum braking energy is very predictable.
For automotive use, disc brake discs are commonly manufactured out of a material called grey iron. The SAE maintains a specification for the manufacture of grey iron for various applications. For normal car and light-truck applications, SAE specification J431 G3000 (superseded to G10) dictates the correct range of hardness, chemical composition, tensile strength, and other properties necessary for the intended use. Some racing cars and airplanes use brakes with carbon fiber discs and carbon fiber pads to reduce weight. Wear rates tend to be high, and braking may be poor or grabby until the brake is hot.
In racing and very-high-performance road cars, other disc materials have been employed. Reinforced carbon discs and pads inspired by aircraft braking systems such as those used on Concorde were introduced in Formula One by Brabham in conjunction with Dunlop in 1976. Carbon–carbon braking is now used in most top-level motorsport worldwide, reducing unsprung weight, giving better frictional performance and improved structural properties at high temperatures, compared to cast iron. Carbon brakes have occasionally been applied to road cars, by the French Venturi sports car manufacturer in the mid 1990s for example, but need to reach a very high operating temperature before becoming truly effective and so are not well suited to road use. The extreme heat generated in these systems is easily visible during night racing, especially at shorter tracks. It is not uncommon to be able to look at the cars, either live in person or on television and see the brake discs glowing red during application.
Ceramic discs are used in some high-performance cars and heavy vehicles.
The first development of the modern ceramic brake was made by British engineers working in the railway industry for TGV applications in 1988. The objective was to reduce weight, the number of brakes per axle, as well as provide stable friction from very high speeds and all temperatures. The result was a carbon-fibre-reinforced ceramic process which is now used in various forms for automotive, railway, and aircraft brake applications.
The requirement for a large section of ceramic composite material having very high heat tolerance and mechanical strength often relegates ceramic discs to exotic vehicles where the cost is not prohibitive to the application, and industrial use where the ceramic disc's light weight and low-maintenance properties justify the cost relative to alternatives. Composite brakes can withstand temperatures that would make steel discs bendable.
Porsche's Composite Ceramic Brakes (PCCB) are siliconized carbon fiber, with very high temperature capability, a 50% weight reduction over iron discs (therefore reducing the unsprung weight of the vehicle), a significant reduction in dust generation, substantially increased maintenance intervals, and enhanced durability in corrosive environments over conventional iron discs. Found on some of their more expensive models, it is also an optional brake for all street Porsches at added expense. It is generally recognized by the bright yellow paintwork on the aluminum six-piston calipers that are matched with the discs. The discs are internally vented much like cast-iron ones, and cross-drilled.
Chrysler discs were "self energizing," in that some of the braking energy itself contributed to the braking effort. This was accomplished by small balls set into oval holes leading to the brake surface. When the disc made initial contact with the friction surface, the balls would be forced up the holes forcing the discs further apart and augmenting the braking energy.This made for lighter braking pressure than with calipers, avoided brake fade, promoted cooler running and provided one-third more friction surface than standard Chrysler twelve-inch drums. But because of the expense, the brakes were only standard on the Chrysler Crown Imperial through 1954 and the Town and Country Newport in 1950. They were optional, however, on other Chryslers, priced around $400, at a time when an entire Crosley Hot Shot retailed for $935. Today's owners consider the Ausco-Lambert very reliable and powerful, but admit its grabbiness and sensitivity. Reliable caliper-type disc brakes were developed in the UK by Dunlop and first appeared in 1953 on the Jaguar C-Type racing car. The 1955 Citroën DS featuring powered inboard front disc brakes was the first French application of this technology, while the 1956 Triumph TR3 was the first English production car to feature modern disc brakes. The first production car to have disc brakes at all 4 wheels was the Austin-Healey 100S in 1954. The first British company to market a production saloon (US: sedan) fitted with disc brakes to all four wheels was Jensen Motors with the introduction of a Deluxe version of the Jensen 541 with Dunlop disc brakes.The first German production car with disc brakes was the 1961 Mercedes-Benz 220SE coupe featuring British-built Girling units on the front. The next American production automobile equipped with caliper-type disc brakes was the 1963 model year Studebaker Avanti (the Bendix system optional on some of the other Studebaker models). Front disc brakes became standard equipment in 1965 on the Rambler Marlin (the Bendix units were optional on all American Motors "senior" platform models), the Ford Thunderbird, and the Lincoln Continental. A four-wheel disc brake system was also introduced in 1965 on the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
Compared to drum brakes, disc brakes offer better stopping performance, because the disc is more readily cooled. As a consequence discs are less prone to the "brake fade" caused when brake components overheat; and disc brakes recover more quickly from immersion (wet brakes are less effective). Most drum brake designs have at least one leading shoe, which gives a servo-effect; see leading/trailing drum brake. By contrast, a disc brake has no self-servo effect and its braking force is always proportional to the pressure placed on the brake pad by the braking system via any brake servo, braking pedal or lever, this tends to give the driver better "feel" to avoid impending lockup. Drums are also prone to "bell mouthing", and trap worn lining material within the assembly, both causes of various braking problems.
Many early implementations for automobiles located the brakes on the inboard side of the driveshaft, near the differential, but most brakes today are located inside the road wheels. (An inboard location reduces the unsprung weight and eliminates a source of heat transfer to the tires.)
Disc brakes were most popular on sports cars when they were first introduced, since these vehicles are more demanding about brake performance. Discs have now become the more common form in most passenger vehicles, although many (particularly light weight vehicles) use drum brakes on the rear wheels to keep costs and weight down as well as to simplify the provisions for a parking brake. As the front brakes perform most of the braking effort, this can be a reasonable compromise.
The first motorcycles to use disc brakes were racing vehicles. The first mass-produced road-going motorcycle to sport a disc-brake was the 1969 Honda CB750. Disc brakes are now common on motorcycles, mopeds and even mountain bikes.
Historically, brake discs were manufactured throughout the world with a strong concentration in Europe and America. Between 1989 and 2005, manufacturing of brake discs migrated predominantly to China.
The brake caliper is the assembly which houses the brake pads and pistons. The pistons are usually made of aluminium or chrome-plated steel.
Calipers are of two types, floating or fixed. A fixed caliper does not move relative to the disc and is thus less tolerant of disc imperfections. It uses one or more single or pairs of opposing pistons to clamp from each side of the disc, and is more complex and expensive than a floating caliper.
A floating caliper (also called a "sliding caliper") moves with respect to the disc, along a line parallel to the axis of rotation of the disc; a piston on one side of the disc pushes the inner brake pad until it makes contact with the braking surface, then pulls the caliper body with the outer brake pad so pressure is applied to both sides of the disc. Floating caliper (single piston) designs are subject to sticking failure, caused by dirt or corrosion entering at least one mounting mechanism and stopping its normal movement. This can lead to the caliper's pad's rubbing on the disc when the brake is not engaged or engaging it at an angle. Sticking can result from infrequent vehicle use, failure of a seal or rubber protection boot allowing debris entry, dry-out of the grease in the mounting mechanism and subsequent moisture incursion leading to corrosion, or some combination of these factors. Consequences may include reduced fuel efficiency and excessive wear on the affected pad.
Various types of brake calipers are also used on bicycle brakes.
Brake pads are designed for high friction with brake pad material embedded in the disc in the process of bedding while wearing evenly. Friction can be divided into two parts: Adhesive and abrasive.
Depending on the properties of the material of both the pad and the disc and the configuration and the usage, pad and disc wear rates will vary considerably. The properties that determine material wear involve trade-offs between performance and longevity.
The friction coefficient for most standard pads will be in the region of .40 when used with cast iron discs Racing pads with high iron content designed for use with cast iron brake discs reach .55 to .60 which gives a very significant increase in braking power and high-temperature performance. High-iron-content racing pads wear down discs very quickly, and usually by the time the pads are worn out so are the discs.
The brake pads must usually be replaced regularly (depending on pad material), and some are equipped with a mechanism that alerts drivers that replacement is needed, such as a thin piece of soft metal that rubs against the disc when the pads are too thin causing the brakes to squeal, a soft metal tab embedded in the pad material that closes an electric circuit and lights a warning light when the brake pad gets thin, or an electronic sensor.
Generally road-going vehicles have two brake pads per caliper, while up to six are installed on each racing caliper, with varying frictional properties in a staggered pattern for optimum performance.
Early brake pads (and linings) contained asbestos, producing dust which should not be inhaled. Although newer pads can be made of ceramics, Kevlar, and other plastics, inhalation of brake dust should still be avoided regardless of material.
Sometimes a loud noise or high pitched squeal occurs when the brakes are applied. Most brake squeal is produced by vibration (resonance instability) of the brake components, especially the pads and discs (known as force-coupled excitation). This type of squeal should not negatively affect brake stopping performance. Simple techniques like adding chamfers to linings, greasing or gluing the contact between caliper and the pads (finger to backplate, piston to backplate), bonding insulators (damping material) to pad backplate, inclusion of a brake shim between the brake pad and back plate, etc. may help to reduce squeal. Cold weather combined with high early-morning humidity (dew) often worsens brake squeal, although the squeal stops when the lining reaches regular operating temperatures. Dust on the brakes may also cause squeal; there are many commercial brake cleaning products that can be used to remove dust and contaminants. Finally, some lining wear indicators, located either as a semi-metallic layer within the brake pad material or with an external squealer "sensor", are also designed to squeal when the lining is due for replacement. The typical external sensor is fundamentally different because it occurs when the brakes are off, and goes away when the brakes are on.
Overall brake squeal can be annoying to the vehicle passengers, passers-by, pedestrians, etc. especially as vehicle designs become quieter. Noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) are among the most important priorities for today's vehicle manufacturers.
Apart from noise generated from squeal, brakes may also develop a phenomenon called brake judder or shudder.
Brake judder is usually perceived by the driver as minor to severe vibrations transferred through the chassis during braking.
The judder phenomenon can be classified into two distinct subgroups: hot (or thermal), or cold judder.
Hot judder is usually produced as a result of longer, more moderate braking from high speed where the vehicle does not come to a complete stop. It commonly occurs when a motorist decelerates from speeds of around 120 km/h (74.6 MPH) to about 60 km/h (37.3 MPH), which results in severe vibrations being transmitted to the driver. These vibrations are the result of uneven thermal distributions, or hot spots. Hot spots are classified as concentrated thermal regions that alternate between both sides of a disc that distort it in such a way that produces a sinusoidal waviness around its edges. Once the brake pads (friction material/brake lining) comes in contact with the sinusoidal surface during braking, severe vibrations are induced, and can produce hazardous conditions for the person driving the vehicle.
Cold judder, on the other hand, is the result of uneven disc wear patterns or disc thickness variation (DTV). These variations in the disc surface are usually the result of extensive vehicle road usage. DTV is usually attributed to the following causes: waviness and roughness of disc surface, misalignment of axis (runout), elastic deflection, wear and friction material transfers.
When braking force is applied, the act of abrasive friction between the brake pad and the rotor wears both the rotor and pad away. The "brake dust" that is seen deposited on wheels, calipers and other braking system components consists mostly of rotor material. Brake dust can damage the finish of most wheels if not washed off. Generally brake pad that aggressively abrades more rotor material away, such as metallic pads, will create more brake dust