Lubrication important to good brakes

Not many of us would consider lubricating brakes. Are brakes not meant to grip not slip? Why, yes and no.

Did you realize your vehicle’s brake system requires lubrication? Not many of us would consider lubricating brakes. Are brakes not meant to grip not slip?  Why, yes and no.

Most vehicles have at least one set of disc brakes. Each front wheel is slowed down by a disc brake mechanism. This mechanism consists of basically three components. They are the brake rotor, caliper, and brake pads. The caliper squeezes the brake pads into the turning brake rotor. This squeezing of the brake rotor slows the vehicle by the friction force created between the brake pads and the brake rotor.  The grip.

The brake pads are held in place by a caliper adapter and the caliper itself. The caliper will either be a fixed or sliding design. In order for the brake pads to squeeze the rotor when applied and release from the rotor when the brake pedal is released, they must move.  The slip. The surface that the brake pad moves along must be lubricated. The properties of this lubricant are important.

Brake mechanisms get hot (friction creates heat). The lubricant that can stand up to brake system heat is special. It also must tolerate water, salt and dirt. In many cases this lubricant will require reapplication before your brakes wear out and if not reapplied premature brake wear will result.

This brake lubricant is also required to keep your brakes quiet. Noise is just vibration at a frequency that we hear. The brake lubricant is used as a dampener of vibration between the caliper and the back of the brake pad as well as the caliper adapter to brake pad interface.

As is true for all lubricants they must prevent wear. The lubricant on your brake system is meant to prevent wear of the metal surfaces that hold the brake pads and caliper in place.

Kootenay winter conditions are hard on brake lubricants. Water, salt and sand spray are the ultimate enemies of any lubricant. It is hard for any product to maintain its lubricating properties under that kind of assault.

After the winter is a good time to have your brake system inspected and serviced. Real brake inspection requires dis-assembly of the brake components. Disc brake pads must be removed. Very likely corrosion has started at the brake pad to caliper adapter interfaces and these areas will need to be cleaned up and new lubricant applied.

If the caliper has sliding pins they require inspection as well. Some designs are sealed by rubber boots and even though they feel as if they are working properly it is possible the water has permeated the boot seal and the lubricant could be compromised. Visual inspection is required.

This whole process takes time but it will pay dividends in longer brake system life and better brake system performance.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. He will write every other Thursday. E-mail:




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