The old saying goes, "It's better to stop short, than not to stop at all." Okay, we just made that up, but it applies perfectly to this story's topic: better brakes. In the past we've shown you how to install some great aftermarket brake kits that will yank the fillings from your teeth when you stomp on the whoa pedal, but this time we wanted to tell you how to reach the full potential of your car's brakes. We searched far and wide to find cures for some common brake system ailments and learned a few tricks to decrease your car's stopping distances at the same time.
Stopping Is Hot
What happens when you slam on the brake pedal and your car comes to a screeching halt? The kinetic energy of your car moving forward is converted into heat, which is then dissipated into the atmosphere through the brake rotors and pads. And it is this heat that is the number one killer of brakes. That is, unless you neglect your brake system for a very long time, like by doing something as awful as not flushing your brake fluid once a year, SHAME! Even the best brakes and fluid will not function without adequate cooling. In fact the more serious your brake system is, the more attention needs to be directed to proper cooling, as the brakes will generate more heat due to their increased capacity.
The best way to improve the stopping of your factory car IS NOT by installing a rear disc brake kit first. Bigger front brakes are the best way to repeatedly stop your car in a short distance. Swap out those tiny 10-inch front rotors for a set of 11 inchers and you'll feel a noticeable difference right away. Along with the rotor swap, you'll probably have to swap spindles, calipers, and maybe the master cylinder too, but small brakes are not the only reason a car won't stop. There are many reasons for brake system inadequacies, most of which are caused by inexperienced, first-time brake swappers.
The Fix Is In Here
To get the definitive answers to all our braking needs we turned to the experts at Baer Brakes, Master Power, Stainless Steel Brakes, and Wilwood. These companies have made it their life's work to figure out how to make your car stop shorter, and they've learned a lot in the process. Luckily for us they were more than willing to share, but at a price. And that cost was a free visit to their websites, where we found way more information than we could ever produce in one tiny article. So we'll give you the basics here, but you're on your own to do more research and cure your own problems. We can see the stop sign ahead. Shorter distances are in your future.
Troubleshooting Brake Problems
The experts at Baer Racing gave us a quick lesson in making a car stop better, regardless of what kind of brakes are on it. Baer recommends that the brake system be engineered so the master cylinder piston area is 12-19 percent of the total front caliper piston area (see Formula A: Calculating area of caliper and master cylinder pistons; Example 3). This is a good starting point to ensure that, hydraulically, your brake system will provide the correct volume and pressure under all conditions. Follow this up with careful on-the-road testing to determine if your brakes work effectively. When troubleshooting your brake system, you find that your ratios are correct, then virtually all brake performance issues can be traced back to improper actuation. Stock cars have the most basic actuation systems, usually combined with the correct ratios to provide adequate brake performance. It's when you blindly start modifying your vehicle that things can go wrong.
The following are a few tips to help you check your vehicle's brakes. These rules apply to all brake systems regardless of the manufacturer.
Problem: Soft Pedal Under Hard Use
The braking forces feel good under normal driving conditions but diminish quickly when the car is used aggressively (as on a track or in a panic situation) and it can't even lock up the wheels.