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How Power Brakes Work

A Training Manual Provided by Wingate Motors


Since most cars today have disc brakes, at least on the front wheels, they need power brakes. Without this device, excessive power on the brake pedal would be required. The central part in the power brake system is the brake booster. The brake booster uses vacuum from the engine to multiply the force that the brake pedal applies to the master cylinder.

The vacuum booster is a metal canister that contains a clever valve and a diaphragm. A rod going through the center of the canister connects to the master cylinder's piston on one side and to the pedal linkage on the other.

Another important part of the power brake system is the check valve. This is a one-way valve that only allows air to be sucked out of the vacuum booster. If the engine is turned off, or if a leak forms in a vacuum hose, the check valve makes sure that air does not enter the vacuum booster. This is important because the vacuum booster has to be able to provide enough boost for a driver to make several stops in the event that the engine stops running.

The vacuum booster is a very simple, elegant design. The device needs a vacuum source to operate. In gasoline-powered cars, the engine provides a vacuum suitable for the boosters. In fact, if you hook a hose to a certain part of an engine, you can suck some of the air out of the container, producing a partial vacuum. Because diesel engines don't produce a vacuum, diesel-powered vehicles must use a separate vacuum pump.

On cars with a vacuum booster, the brake pedal pushes a rod that passes through the booster into the master cylinder, actuating the master-cylinder piston. The engine creates a partial vacuum inside the vacuum booster on both sides of the diaphragm. When you hit the brake pedal, the rod cracks open a valve, allowing air to enter the booster on one side of the diaphragm while sealing off the vacuum. This increases pressure on that side of the diaphragm so that it helps to push the rod, which in turn pushes the piston in the master cylinder. As the brake pedal is released, the valve seals off the outside air supply While reopening the vacuum valve. This restores vacuum to both sides of the diaphragm, allowing everything to return to its original position.