Brakes and Brake Maintenance


One of the most important systems on your vehicle, you want to be able to count on your brakes to safely bring your vehicle to a stop every time you press the brake pedal. The brake system for your car, truck, or SUV takes the kinetic energy of your moving vehicle and converts it to thermal energy through friction. That energy is used to slow and stop your four-thousand-pound-plus metal machine. When it comes to the individual components of your braking system, it depends on whether your vehicle has four-wheel disc brakes, which is the most likely scenario, four-wheel drum brakes, a far less likely situation, or a combination of the two, discs in the front and drums in the rear, which is a possibility with front wheel drive vehicles. Regardless of what you may have on your car, truck, or SUV, here is a simplified breakdown of each brake system component.

Master Cylinder and Power Brake Booster

The master cylinder is a hydraulic pump that is actuated by the brake pedal. Attached to the pump is a brake fluid reservoir and vacuum-assisted power booster to make it easier to press the pedal.


A brake rotor is a heavy metal disc attached to the wheel hub. It spins as the wheel and tire spin. Brake rotors will wear out eventually because of all of the friction applied to them. They also are susceptible to overheating if you tend to have aggressive driving habits, travel steep inclines, or haul heavy loads.

Brake Pads

Brake pads are made to grab hold of a brake rotor. The sacrificial friction material on the pads comes in contact with the rotor when you brake, producing friction and heat used for the transfer of kinetic energy to thermal energy. Brake pads can be composed of a variety of materials, from organic to ceramic to semi-metallic compounds. Each type of brake pad has its advantages and disadvantages.

Brake Shoes

Like brake pads, brake shoes create friction to stop your vehicle, but shoes are more likely to be found on vintage cars or on trucks. Picture a bowl spinning on a potter’s wheel or a lazy susan. If you were to reach into the bowl and move your hands apart and press against the inside of the bowl, you would create resistance. That is basically what brake shoes do inside a brake drum.

Brake Drum

Where a rotor is grabbed from the outside by the brake pads, a brake drum is grabbed from within by a pair of brake shoes.

Caliper and Caliper Bracket

A brake caliper is a hydraulic clamp that squeezes the brake pads against the rotor in response to the force applied by your brake pedal through the master cylinder pump. The caliper bracket holds the caliper in place and suspends the brake pads on either side of the rotor.

Wheel Cylinder

There is no caliper in a drum brake setup. Instead, a hydraulic device called a wheel cylinder presses the brake shoes apart and against the inside of the drum.

Minor Components

In addition to these brake system components, there are other minor parts: hardware clips, shims, guides, pins, and the like. These components might be small and seem insignificant, but a missing clip or corroded pin can keep your brakes from working properly – or at all. That is why choosing a cheap brake service is a poor option when having your brakes repaired. Quality brake service should include all the necessary, proper VW Certified parts and accessories. If you hear a squealing sound when you press the brake pedal or notice that the brake warning light is on, make an appointment with our expert, certified technicians you can trust at Volkswagen of Duluth.

Other Components Involved in the Braking of Your Vehicle

ABS Control Module

Found on vehicles with ABS brakes, the module performs diagnostic checks of the ABS braking system and determines when to send the correct pressure to each wheel to prevent the wheels from locking up.

Brake Booster

Reduces the amount of pressure needed for braking to allow any driver to operate the brakes. Uses engine vacuum and pressure to increase the force the brake pedal puts on the master cylinder.

Emergency Brake

Operates independently of the main brake system to keep a vehicle from rolling away. Also known as a parking brake, hand brake, and e-brake, the emergency brake is mainly used to keep the vehicle in place when parked.

Master Cylinder

Converts non-hydraulic pressure into hydraulic pressure that the wheel cylinders use to press the brake pads against the rotors to bring the vehicle to a stop.

Brake Pedal

The driver steps on the brake pedal to activate the brakes. A piston in the master cylinder moves when the pedal is pressed.

Wheel Speed Sensors

Part of the ABS brake system, speed sensors monitor the speed of each tire and sends the info to the ABS control module.


Disc Brakes

Usually found on the front wheels, disc brakes feature brake pads that press against a disc (rotor) when the brake pedal is applied to stop the vehicle. The pads are attached to a brake caliper assembly that frames the rotor.

Drum Brakes

Located on the rear of the vehicle, drum brakes feature wheel cylinders, brake shoes, and a brake drum. When the brake pedal is pressed, the brake shoes are forced into the brake drum by the wheel cylinders, bringing the vehicle to a stop.

Disc Brakes vs Drum Brakes

Disc Brakes Contain: Wheel Bearing, Wheel Studs, Disc Rotor, and Disc Pads. Drum Brakes Contain: Wheel Cylinder, Braking Plate, Brake Shoes.


Brake Maintenance

When your vehicle needs to brake, it’s critical that it does every time. Every Volkswagen has routine brake system inspections recommended at specific intervals listed in the owner’s manual. Some braking systems need impromptu inspections to diagnose and correct problems. We recommend getting the braking system inspected if it takes longer to stop, makes noises, leaks fluid, or has a dashboard warning light. A certified technician will assess the essential braking components, including the pads, fluid, lines, calipers, and rotors. It is essential to have your vehicle’s brakes checked from the pads to rotors, to the pedals. Count on us to perform and ensure that your car, truck, or SUV stops every time with confidence!

At 20,000 Miles, 60,000 Miles, and 100,000 Miles

You should get a brake system inspection, including the shock absorbers, brake pads, brake discs, and brake fluid levels.

At 30,000 miles, 50,000 miles, 70,000 miles, 90,000 miles, and 110,000 Miles

Your service department should check brake disc thickness and condition and perform a brake and clutch unit fluid check.

At 40,000 Miles, 80,000 Miles, and 120,000 Miles

You should ensure you get a brake system inspection, including the shock absorbers, brake pads, brake discs, and brake fluid level like previously mentioned, but also include steering, electrical, heating and ventilation systems, air conditioning, handling, and parking brake test all performed via a test drive by a trained technician.


In addition to inspections and brake replacement, Volkswagen of Duluth offers other brake services:

Rotor Resurfacing or Replacement

Brake rotors require routine maintenance with a physical inspection guiding what service is recommended. Brake rotors don’t wear out like brake pads, but they will begin to show signs of wear and tear with enough use. Resurfacing is applied when brake rotors have minor wear and tear, such as cracking, that can be removed with a portion of the disc. Brake rotors with excessive wear and tear or bending/warping require replacement service.

Brake Fluid Exchange

Most Volkswagen models have routine brake fluid exchanges recommended every two years. The two-year interval reflects that brake fluid absorbs moisture that pollutes its hydraulic performance. Brake fluid exchange prevents unsafe braking by removing the old fluid and installing Volkswagen-authorized fluid to specifications.

Brake Pads

Brake pads require routine replacement maintenance when worn. We provide brake pad replacement service as needed since the front, and rear brake pads tend to wear at variable rates. Service involves removing the spent pads and installing brand-new pads at maximum thickness.


If at any point your brakes are not performing as expected; they feel spongey, grind, squeal; there is a brake warning light on your dash that has illuminated; or your steering wheel shakes in your hands or pulls to one side when braking, you should bring it to our dealership regardless of the mileage. Are you experiencing any of these issues, or have you hit one of these mileage milestones and need your brakes inspected. Schedule an appointment for expert VW Certified service by a factory trained technician to diagnose the problem. Do you have a question? Our expert service advisors and service technicians are here with answers to help you have peace of mind or to know the next steps you need to take.