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In Depth Braking Tips & Products for Your Front Wheel Drive Volvo

Page 1: Braking Tech Tip, Brake Pads

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Braking Tech Tip

By Lucky Arnold

Braking systems may have gotten a bit more complex over the years but the main components used to bring your car to a halt haven’t changed that much in over 50 years. To understand what components make up your braking system and how to properly care for them it’s helpful to use an anology we already are familiar with. Bicycle brake systems are remarkably similar to automotive brake systems and make it much easier to understand the various components throughout.Lets start with the hand brake. The lever that your hand squeezes to apply pressure through a mechancial pivot is similar to the way pressing the brake pedal in your car applies pressure (in hydraulic form) to your vehicle brakes. The pressure exerted by your foot in your car is transfered to hydraulic pressure by the master cylinder. This pressure travels down brake lines somewhat like the way the brake cables on a bike pull on the brake pads but instead your vehicle brake system pushes the brake pads instead of pulls them. The pressure built up in the hydraulic brake lines acts on the vehicles brake caliper. This caliper is again similar to the brake pad pivot arms on the bicycle. When the caliper puts pressure on the brake pads it squeezes the pads against the rotor.

The resulting friction provides a way to slow the vehicle and bring it to a stop. On a bicycle the brake pads press directly on the rim while in a car the brake pads press on a rotor.

Typical brake service on a car will include a brake pad change and may also include changing the rotor if it is too thin. Every rotor has a minimum thickness it must meet to be deemed as safely usable. This thickness specification is usually found imprinted on the perimeter of the rotor. Brake pads also have a minimum use thickness and varies some from car to car but is generally agreed to as no less than 2mm. Brake pads that squeak or squeal may indicate impending replacement but not always. In some cases simply removing the brake pads from the car, cleaning the pads and their mounting surfaces as well as the mounting surfaces of the caliper can reduce squeaking. Furthermore, using an appropriate brake anti squeal lubricant such as Sil-Glyde can be very helpful.

Volvo rotors tend to be fairly soft relative to other vehicle manufacturers and as such the rotors do not take well to machining, a common service method where the rotor is ‘shaved’ down to be uniform again. Scoring or scratching greater than 0.040 inch is at the limit of acceptable wear and of course pay attention to the minimum thickness. Rotors that are warped will cause the brake pedal to vibrate or pulsate when the brakes are applied. This warping is typically from an improper bed in procedure (the initial braking that occurs after a fresh set of pads have been installed) or from rotors that are too thin and do not have sufficient material remaining to withstand the heat that braking fricition creates. Following proper bed in after installing pads is critical to pad longevity and trouble free operation.

The brake lines in your vehicle are nearly all hard steel lines and don’t require service but at each corner where the brake lines connect to the caliper the brake line becomes rubber. This is necessary so the brake line can flex and move with the suspension as the vehicle drives and the front wheels are turned. Brake lines will typically last 100K miles or more but proper inspection is still required. Look for leaks, swelling, or any evidence of cracking in the rubber line. Uprading to stainless braided brake lines (see below) not only increase longevity but provided more precise and response brake pedal feel.

Brake fluid used to be simple stuff and only one or two types would fit nearly all vehicles. With later model cars using ABS, Dynamic chassis control, and traction control, brake fluid has had to adapt as well. Brake fluid for Volvo models comes in two basic choices. One type (normal DOT 4) for early cars without dynamic braking control and the later (SL6 type) for vehicles with ABS, DSTC, TRACS, etc... To properly bleed a system 1 litre is required but if it’s been a while since your fluid has been serviced consider getting two liters for a complete flush. One of the most helpful inventions in bleeding brakes has been the pressure bleeder. This tool allows a single person to completely bleed a brake system with no assistance and is nearly a requirement when bleeding later model cars. Brake fluid should be a golden color, if yours is brown or black it’s time for a change. If you find that your brake fluid turns dark after just a few days or weeks after flushing this is a good sign that some internal rubber parts are starting to break down. This can come from brake lines, master cylinder seals, or caliper seals.

The master cylinder is the heart of the brake system and it usually doesn’t give much warning when it’s about to fail. However late model cars seem to exhibit the same symptom before they do fail. Brake fluid will start to leak out the back of the master cylinder and can be seen on the power booster where the master cylinder fastens. Look underneath the master cylinder where it fastens to the power booster and look for evidence of brake fluid leakage. This will frequently cause the paint on the booster to bubble and flake.

Lastly, brake hardware. This is all the clips and fasteners that hold the brake system together. My rule of thumb is to change the hardware with every other brake pad change or as needed deemed by visual inspection. The brake hardware is quite inexpensive in relation to the rest of the brake parts and are just as critical in providing trouble free operation.

PBR Brake Pads

Volvos are fitted with decent brake systems. The primary complaint we hear is “way too much dust! How can I stop it?” We offer PBR and Mintex premium pads for great pedal response with much less dust and squeal. In our opinion these pads provide the best all around performance and safety. With good low temp bite, decent fade resistance, almost no dust, squeal free operation in most cases and a service life that is typically double that of the OEM pads, they are hard to beat.

PBR Deluxe Organic Brake Pads

New Deluxe compounds utilize the best of metallic and ceramic compounds for the best of both worlds. Excellent performance, low dust and long life!

If you have primarily used Volvo factory brake pads on your Volvos, then you will really appreciate the PBR Deluxe brake pads. They are formulated from the latest organic, asbestos-free materials and provide significantly reduced dusting on the wheels and very little, if any, squealing compared to the factory pads. They provide measurably longer life - up to 2-3 times longer than conventional pads - and extreme resistance to heat, which translates into much less brake fading and squealing. PBR Deluxe pads deliver consistently smooth braking performance and are considered a great upgrade to any Volvo.

Please click the model link to see all brake pad options for your Volvo:

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