Disc brakes are used on the front wheels of most cars and on all four wheels on many cars. A disc rotor is attached to the wheel hub and rotates with the tire and wheel. When the driver applies the brakes, hydraulic pressure from the master cylinder is used to push friction linings against the rotor to stop it.
The rotor is usually made of cast iron. The hub may be manufactured as one piece with the rotor or in two parts. The rotor has a machined braking surface on each face. A splash shield, mounted to the steering knuckle, protects the rotor from road splash.
A rotor may be solid or ventilated. Operation of the master cylinder if there is a rear system failure. Ventilated designs have cooling fins cast between the braking surfaces. This construction considerably increases the cooling area of the rotor casting. Also, when the wheel is in motion, the rotation of these fan-type fins in the rotor provides increased air circulation and more efficient cooling of the brake. Disc brakes do not fade even after rapid, hard brake applications because of the rapid cooling of the rotor.
The hydraulic and friction components are housed in a caliper assembly. When the brakes are applied, the pressure of the pistons is exerted through the shoes in a 'clamping' action on the rotor. Because equal opposed hydraulic pressures are applied to both faces of the rotor throughout application, no distortion of the rotor occurs, regardless of the severity or duration of application. There are many variations of caliper designs, but they can all be grouped into two main categories: moving and stationary caliper. The caliper is fixed in one position on the stationary design. In the moving design, the caliper moves in relation to the rotor.
The caliper cylinder bore contains a piston and seal. The seal has a rectangular cross section. It is located in a groove that is machined in the cylinder bore. The seal fits around the outside diameter of the piston and provides a hydraulic seal between the piston and the cylinder wall. The rectangular seal provides automatic adjustment of clearance between the rotor and shoe and linings following each application. When the brakes are applied, the caliper seal is deflected by the hydraulic pressure and its inside diameter rides with the piston within the limits of its retention in the cylinder groove. When hydraulic pressure is released, the seal relaxes and returns to its original rectangular shape, retracting the piston into the cylinder enough to provide proper running clearance. As brake linings wear, piston travel tends to exceed the limit of deflection of the seal; the piston therefore slides in the seal to the precise extent necessary to compensate for lining wear.
The top of the piston bore is machined to accept a sealing dust boot. The piston in many calipers is steel, precision ground, and nickel chrome plated, giving it a very hard and durable surface. Some manufacturers are using a plastic piston. This is much lighter than steel and provides for a much lighter brake system. The plastic piston insulates well and prevents heat from transferring to the brake fluid. Each caliper contains two shoe and lining assemblies. They are constructed of a stamped metal shoe with the lining riveted or bonded to the shoe and are mounted in the caliper on either side of the rotor. One shoe and lining assembly is called the inboard lining because it fits nearest to the center line of the car. The other is called the outboard shoe and lining assembly.
As already mentioned, the caliper is free to float on its two mounting pins or bolts. Typical mounting pins are shown in the exploded view of the floating caliper.Teflon sleeves in the caliper allow it to move easily on the pins. During application of the brakes, the fluid pressure behind the piston increases. Pressure is exerted equally against the bottom of the piston and the bottom of the cylinder bore. The pressure applied to the piston is transmitted to the inboard shoe and lining, forcing the lining against the inboard rotor surface. The pressure applied to the bottom of the cylinder bore forces the caliper to move on the mounting bolts toward the inboard side, or toward the car. Because the caliper is one piece, this movement causes the outboard section of the caliper to apply pressure against the back of the outboard shoe and lining assembly, forcing the lining against the outboard rotor surface. As the line pressure builds up, the shoe and lining assemblies are pressed against the rotor surfaces with increased force, bringing the car to a stop.
The application and release of the brake pressure actually causes a very slight movement of the piston and caliper. Upon release of the braking effort, the piston and caliper merely relax into a released position. In the released position, the shoes do not retract very far from the rotor surfaces.
As the brake lining wears, the piston moves out of the caliper bore and the caliper repositions itself on the mounting bolts an equal distance toward the car. This way, the caliper assembly maintains the inboard and outboard shoe and lining in the same relationship with the rotor surface throughout the full length of the lining.
Larger calipers may have two pistons on each side of the rotor. The inboard and outboard brake shoes are pushed against the rotor by their own pistons. The caliper is anchored solidly and does not move. The seals around the pistons work just like those already described. The main disadvantage of the stationary caliper is that it has more hydraulic components. This means they are more expensive and have more parts to wear out.