Benefits of Retarders and It's a Westinghouse!

Using retarders benefits drivers in two major ways: safety and expense. Being able to go down a steep grade without applying the air brake system means that the air brakes remain cool and ready if needed. That translates into greater safety when stopping. Less usage on mountains means that brake drums and liners don't wear out as quickly, thus saving money in labor and parts.

You may know the name Westinghouse as an appliance brand. However, the prolific inventor George Westinghouse, Jr., also designed the first practical air brake for railroads. After working in his father's machine shop and serving in the Civil War, he patented the system in 1869. He also patented several other safety devices to improve the railroad system. The Westinghouse Air Brake Company was the first of 60 companies that the creative entrepreneur founded [source: Westinghouse].

How Are Truck Brakes Different From Car Brakes?

­Let's ­begin by considering the ways that truck and car brakes are al­ike. The purpose of bra­kes on all types of vehicles is to stop them. Brakes on both trucks and cars work on the principle of friction. Both kinds of vehicles have brake drums, along with their pads and shoes, connected to the vehicles' wheel axles.

Car brakes rely on the brake fluid that flows through the system to work properly. Thus, car brakes are a hydraulic system, relying on fluid. On the other hand, truck brakes depend on compressed air. (Trains and buses also use this type of brake system.)

A major plus to using air is that it never runs out (as brake fluid can). This means that the air brake system is very reliable -- even if there's a small leak somewhere in the system, it always works.

Most of the newer heavy trucks use a dual air brake system that is not available on automobiles. A single set of brake controls works both of these separate air brake systems. If one system fails, the other will work.

The flaw in the compressed air system of trucks is brake lag. That's the time it takes for air to get through the lines and force the linings to contact the drum. When they push the brake pedal, drivers must get used to the fact that air brakes don't work at once, as they do on a car. Lag time is less than a second, so this is not a major problem.

The truck's air braking system has several tasks. First, it keeps up a steady supply of compressed air. In addition, it must direct that air's flow. Finally, it uses the energy of air pressure and changes it into mechanical force.

One, two, three! A truck's air brake system is really made up of three different brake systems. Let's investigate each of them.