Column: Braking Systems And You

brembo-brakes

A brief introduction to brakes and the reasons for their evolution with some advice thrown in for good measure. Ever stop to think about your …

A brief introduction to brakes and the reasons for their evolution with some advice thrown in for good measure.

Ever stop to think about your brakes? Most people don’t think too much of them until they start squeaking, shaking or worse, give out all-together. I don’t have to be a mechanical engineer in order to appreciate a piece of tech that in many instances has saved my life.

There is something quite special about braking systems that intrigues me and even more so in today’s ever heavier, ever more powerful cars. The story behind the need for more high performing brakes is a rather romantic one in my opinion and follows a “cause and effect” order.

Column: Braking Systems And YouWith our never-ending desire for more power, automobile manufacturers were forced to increase their engine size. This meant a larger displacement, more cylinders which bring with them extra intake and exhaust valves, larger camshafts, bigger radiators, larger intercoolers…the list goes on. All that power required a stronger, sturdier clutch and linkage. Additionally, now that the vehicle is capable of higher speeds, it now requires stronger suspension parts to cope with the cornering abilities of the car.

Now on to the interior. On top of the power demands we make, we also like a bit of luxury. Nothing makes us feel more in command than a really comfortable, leather clad, lumbar supportive, side adjustable, heated and cooled, massage capable electric seat. Next up is safety and airbags. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning these things, I’m just trying to make a point.

Column: Braking Systems And You

Where are you going with this you may ask? If you haven’t picked up on the theme just yet, it’s weight. All of the above listed are bigger, heavier and carry more mass than their predecessor. Now for a bit of physics:

An object with a large mass, in motion (say 62 mph) takes longer to come to a full stop than an object with a smaller mass. Or, in basic car talk, a heavier car takes longer to stop than a lighter car does.

Everything adds weight, and weight is the enemy.

BMW is investing more and more time and effort with their on-track presence at the Nurburgring, but also with their simulation test rigs to ensure that the braking systems going on their cars, and subsequently your car are the best that they can be.

If however you are seeking something a bit more track oriented while at the same time keeping things civilized for everyday driving, then one quick look at the BMW Performance Brake Kit will be your answer. These brakes are tested even more stringently and provide performance gains that normal driving wouldn’t otherwise necessitate.

Column: Braking Systems And You

Additionally, regular brake fluid maintenance as well as periodic brake line inspections are encouraged if you fall within the “spirited driving” category.

Here are some more tips that might come in handy as well as extend the life of your brakes:

  • When constant braking is required, such as downhill driving, try to be in a lower gear in order to provide some engine braking and help the breaks breathe out a bit. Additionally, try not to stand on your brakes for too long of a period. The friction material that your brake pads are made out of will begin to breakdown and produce gases as well as heat that generate a space between the pads and the rotor surface. To allow these gases and particles to escape as well as to cool your brakes, lift off from your brake pedal every so often. Not too often though as you may start to annoy the car behind you!
  • After excessive braking, try not to drive through large puddles of water or wash your car immediately. The rotors are hot and the cold water can lead to your rotors warping. This will manifest itself through your steering wheel vibrating or shaking when you apply the brakes.
  • BMW cars are somewhat notorious for the amount of brake dust that they generate. This might be due to the softer compounds that BMW utilize in the construction of the brake pads themselves. However, keeping your wheels clean and brake dust free will ensure that your brakes receive fresh, cool airflow. Too hot is bad and too cold is also not good.
  • Lastly, if your BMW is equipped with brake cooling ducts that bring in fresh air from the front or side air inlets, be sure that no leaves or debris is present that could obstruct the flow of air.

And now you know a little bit more about your brakes, their evolution, the extensive tests that BMW conduct in order to ensure that you are able to reign in your Ultimate Driving Machine as well as some basic tips to ensure that you are doing all that you can to continue enjoying you road trips!

Happy motoring!

James Bachici is the newest contributor to BMWBLOG. Growing up around cars, random car parts, grease, nuts and bolts, air filters and the like, James will provide the most up-to-date news, interviews, articles and photos from across the globe covering BMW and automotive industry in general.

  • Psupraj

    Thanks, nice piece.

    • James Bachici

      I appreciate your response and thanks for reading!

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  • Michael D.

    Great article and welcome James!

    Now if I could only find some Brembo brakes at a reasonable price to fit my 335i.

    • James Bachici

      Thanks Michael! I feel right at home.
       
      As for your Brembo brakes issue…you might want to give the boys at SpeedWare Motorsports a call. I’ll provide you some details :)

  • Manny Antunes

    Great write up James. Welcome to the team ;-))

    • James Bachici

      I appreciate your support Manny! It’s great to be in the company of such high caliber individuals that comprise the BMWBlog Team!

      • Manny Antunes

        “high caliber individuals” Damn! That leaves me out…..! 
        :-)) 

  • Nnnn

    Interesting stuff.  I wasn’t aware of the puddle danger and gasses.

    Let me ask you something, brake savant.  In Formula 1, they’re now enclosing the brakes in a sealed container, and an announcer commented that they were probably trying to keep the brake dust *in*.   Does the brake dust enhance friction, or reduce wear, or what?  The brakes are also heavily ventilated, so I don’t understand how this is working.

    • James Bachici

      I’m glad you found my article interesting and informative.

      As for the savant remark…I’m not there yet :)

      You bring up a very interesting subject. One that justifies further investigation. Since I’m no mechanical engineer as I state in my article, I would suggest that we direct this question to our local Technology Editor Mr. Hugo Becker and hope that he may be able to shed some light on this matter.

      Personally, I can’t see how encasing the brakes in a sealed container would make sense in F1, nor do I think that it would reduce wear. The closest I got to an answer was heat preservation. Since the brakes in F1 operate at such high temperatures and are exposed to such extreme conditions throughout a race, maintaining a constant temperature (ideally for optimum performance 650 degrees Celsius for carbon brakes) would be a good idea. But then again, like you point out, they are also ventilated which would seem to defeat the purpose of encasing said brake.

      Perhaps if you could provide a bit more information as to who the announcers were, what channel and during what F1 Grand Prix this took place, we might be able to figure this thing out! :)

      Thanks for reading and bringing up this subject!

      • Nnnn

        (I replied… where’d it go?)

        Basically, this was maybe 6 months ago.  The cameras caught a team swapping tires, revealing this enclosure.  It was CF, cylindrical with a cone taper on the outside, and fit with little clearance inside the wheel.  I couldn’t see any ducting, it might have been obscured at that angle.  But that’s what one announcer speculated.  Who knows.

        So if their goal is to keep the brake temperatures constant, or within a specific range, then they would presumably need to vary the air flow somehow.  Does that mean a valve in the ventilation, or do they just swap parts depending on track temps?   (or season, depending on the rules)

      • Nnnn

        (I replied… where’d it go?)

        Basically, this was maybe 6 months ago.  The cameras caught a team swapping tires, revealing this enclosure.  It was CF, cylindrical with a cone taper on the outside, and fit with little clearance inside the wheel.  I couldn’t see any ducting, it might have been obscured at that angle.  But that’s what one announcer speculated.  Who knows.

        So if their goal is to keep the brake temperatures constant, or within a specific range, then they would presumably need to vary the air flow somehow.  Does that mean a valve in the ventilation, or do they just swap parts depending on track temps?   (or season, depending on the rules)

    • James Bachici

      Well Nnnn, after consulting with our Tech Editor and reading up on some articles, this is the best answer that we can provide for you at this time:

      The casings are actually “shrouds
      used to influence airflow

      through the brake system and
      around bits of the car. There is no reason

      to contain brake dust, it
      would just interfere with the operation of the

      brakes.”

      And there you have it. I’ve searched through the 2011 F1 regulations book and nowhere did I find anything that would suggest that teams were even allowed to fully encase their braking systems.

      Until next time.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

        That came across as poetry. ;-)

        • James Bachici

          Because of the visual layout of the text? (because that was entirely un-intentional) or just the flow? :)  thanks again Hugo for your expert advice!

          • Nnnn

            The rhythm and flow, man.  Haiku-ish.  

          • Nnnn

            or you’re smoking something illegal:   “to contain the brake dust, it………………. (GASP) would just interfere with the operation”..    jk :)

  • DSC OFF

    My 2001 330Ci is warping rotors after 2-3 months of very soft driving and my mechanic (A BMW expert) can’t figure it out and has thrown up his hands.   I’ve gone thru 5 sets of rotors in the last 24 months.  Any ideas for what to do next?   The vibration over that time has actually caused me to go thru two sets of control arm bushings as well.

    • James Bachici

      I understand your
      frustration. My father owned a 2001 E46 330Ci and he had a similar problem.
      Hear me out.

      Since you say that you’ve
      gone through several sets of rotors within a 2 year period, it means that you
      haven’t found the root of your problem. Have your mechanic consider the
      following:

      - Examine each bushing for
      hairline cracks with a focus on the lower control arm and thrust arm bushings.

      - Examine tie-rod assemblies
      and track-rod for play.

      - Examine both of your strut
      assemblies, front and rear.

      I once had a problem with my
      rears on my 2001 330i. It resulted in an audible noise that could be heard from
      within the cabin whenever I turned, went over train tracks, drove over a pot
      hole or a dip in the road. It also manifested itself through vibrations. A
      problem within your suspension left undiscovered can lead to your brakes acting
      up. And yes, I also had to replace my rotors.

      That’s all I can say for now.
      I don’t know if it occurs on all 4 of your corners or not. Hope this helps.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      Also check to make sure the lug nuts are torqued to the proper specifications.

  • VT

    James,

    Excellent write-up with good information.  I bought a 2003 E46 M3 last year and started taking it to the track.  My first track event was at Mid-Ohio.  The car was practically stock. The only thing I did was flush the brake fluid with ATE Super Blue and put braided SS brake lines.  Needless to say, the OE brake pads faded on me rather quickly.  Quite scary when you are barreling down the back straightway at over 125 mph onto a 90 degree right hand turn, and finding out your brake pads are not biting.

    On my next track event at Putnam Park, I upgraded to StopTech Street Performance pads.  It was awesome, as the pads never did fade on me.  It gave me the confidence to brake later into the corner.  However, it still lacked the initial bite I was looking for…

    This year, I put PFC01 pads on my stock setup.  The initial bite on these pads were phenomenal.  In addition, I was able to feel and modulate the brakes.  I dove deep into the corner, tap the brakes and was able to carry much more speed out of the corners. 

    Okay, so where am I going with this? OH yes!  I believe BMW’s OE brake setup is quite adequate for daily drive.  BBK’s are more of a show piece for people who daily drive their vehicle.  It will NOT help them stop their car any quicker.  Spending the money on better brake pads will most likely yield the best results for daily drivers.  For those who do track their cars occasionally, the OE brake setup with track pads (i.e PFC01 or Hawk HT-10) and some cooling ducts setup will work just fine!

     

    • James Bachici

      Excellent and much appreciate advice VT! It’s always nice when we can receive feedback on any experiences that our readers have with various parts or accessories for their BMW.

      In general however, in my opinion, it’s always a good idea to upgrade your brakes, be it the whole assembly or just a higher performance brake pad if you plan on tracking your BMW. Spirited driving is one thing, track time is something else. And as you pointed out, avoiding scary, expensive and potentially dangerous situations should be on every drivers list…preferably close to the top :)

      Thanks for your input!

  • tasty donuts

    A nice first column, but I wonder if it is a bit watered down considering the target audience? The lead-in seemed intriguing and held a lot of promise, but the information that followed seemed mostly on the obvious side, and by the end I felt short-changed – I frankly thought my RSS reader had cut off the rest of the article at first. A lot of words were spent making a very basic point, and then it went straight to tips and conclusion with little or no elaboration. I know it says a “brief introduction” but I was looking forward to a bit more meat on the technical and historical side. Or perhaps I have been on too many gear-head sites as of late…

    • James Bachici

      I understand your point of view tasty donuts and I welcome any and all feedback from our readers, as long as it has valid points. As you pointed out, A) this is my first article and B) it is a short intro

      I do have articles in the works that continue where this one left off which go into greater detail and provide more “depth” as this was never meant to be part 1 of 1. It’s part 1 of several brake related articles which will span the history of brakes, what evolutionary path did the brake have to go through to end up with what we see today, street applications, motorsports applications…etc. I just didn’t want to make it too long for a first article :)

      With all that said, I am very happy that so many readers actually participate and comment on our pieces. Thanks again for reading, your input as well as your valued opinion. I hope to provide you with many interesting articles in the near future!

      Until then, happy motoring!

  • Keyshia Angeldove

    Well done James a.k.a Mr. President……Many times we focus on the exterior or the bigger objects in life and we tend to forget that the seemingly little things do count, sometimes even much more than we’ve imagined.

     Its so great that you decided to focus on “Car Brakes” which i find rather interesting, because just as in life there are times when we just have to hit the brakes; pause and reflect, refill and move forward.Continue the good work!

  • Sorin Cojocaru

    great article james!at first i thought: how interesting can a brake article be, but was then delightfully surprised at how informative and interesting it was. keep up the good work!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sorin-Cojocaru/100000255313507 Sorin Cojocaru

    awesome article! Despite my assumptions that an article about brakes would be boring, you delightfully surprised me! 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002098835499 James Bachici

      Thanks Sorin! I’m glad you enjoyed the article and found it interesting. More additions will be added that will further explore brakes, braking systems and the like in the near future so stay tuned!

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