How Disc Brakes Work

By: Karim Nice

Self-Adjusting Brakes


­The single-piston floating-caliper disc brake is self-centering and self-adjusting. The caliper is able to slide from side to side so it will move to the center each time the brakes are applied. Also, since there is no spring to pull the pads away from the disc, the pads always stay in light contact with the rotor (the rubber piston seal and any wobble in the rotor may actually pull the pads a small distance away from the rotor). This is important because the pistons in the brakes are much larger in diameter than the ones in the master cylinder. If the brake pistons retracted into their cylinders, it might take several applications of the brake pedal to pump enough fluid into the brake cylinder to engage the brake pads.


Self-adjusting disc brake

Older cars had dual or four-piston fixed-caliper designs. A piston (or two) on each side of the rotor pushed the pad on that side. This design has been largely eliminated because single-piston designs are cheaper and more reliable.