Our Forefixers: The Innovators Behind Brakes

Mercedes-Benz is a global luxury brand that needs little introduction. But how much do you know about Bertha Benz, the wife and business partner of founder Karl Benz, who is often credited as the inventor of the brake pad? She and a handful of other pioneers have been integral in paving the way for the contemporary automobile brake system. Let’s take a look at three of them below.

Bertha Benz: Brake Pads

In 1888, Bertha went on an unprecedented road trip in her husband’s three-wheeled Patent Motorwagen, a direct ancestor of the gasoline-powered cars of today. During her journey, the brakes, then consisting of wooden blocks that pressed up against the rear wheels to slow down and stop the vehicle, became worn down and failed. Ever the innovator, Bertha had a local shoemaker in the next town affix leather onto the blocks, thus effectively designing the world’s first brake pad in the process.

Louis Renault: Drum Brakes

Another admirer of the horseless carriage, Frenchman and engineer Louis Renault applied for a patent in 1902 for an internal shoe drum brake that would eventually become the industry standard. Rather than earlier drum-brake versions, which relied on a steel cable wrapped outside of a brake drum mounted on a wheel to apply pressure and bring the wheel to a halt, Renault’s setup used shoes installed inside the drums that would press up against the inner surface to generate friction and achieve a similar result. This is the same technology used in some models today.

Fred Duesenberg, with his brother, August.

Fred Duesenberg: Hydraulic Brakes

A born tinkerer, German-American Fred Duesenberg, along with brother August, would build everything from motorcycles and race cars to luxury vehicles. In 1921, the pair introduced the first passenger car with hydraulic brakes, which use fluid pressure to push the shoes up against the brake drums—a technique originally dreamed up by a young man named Malcolm Lockheed.

Fun fact: Many once believed the expression “It’s a Doozy” is in reference to Duesenberg, but, according to Merriam-Webster, etymologists trace it to a variation of “daisy.”

Do you know of any braking trailblazers throughout history? Let us know!

How to Bleed Brakes: It’s Not as Scary as It Sounds

Motorcycle brake line dripping into a jar

Source | Flickr

Imagine if, at the worst possible moment, you discover that normal braking pressure isn’t going to stop your car in time. That’s exactly what can happen if air bubbles get into your brake fluid lines. To prevent this from occurring, learn to recognize signs that air has found its way into your braking system. And then to fix the problem—and save some money in the process—learn how to bleed the brakes.

When should you bleed brake lines?

A brake pedal that feels spongy, soft, or vague when depressed or goes all the way to the floor is a good cue to check for air in your brake lines. You should also consider bleeding your lines:

  • When replacing car brakes/brake pads
  • When a vehicle sits for months at a time
  • When your vehicle endures frequent hard braking
  • Every 24,000 miles or two years

How does air get into the braking system?

Oxidation, heat, and moisture each play a role in degrading your brake system. Damaged brake lines and seals can allow air leaks. DOT brake fluids also attract water, which lowers the fluid’s boil temperature, and introduces air into the system.

 

Difficulty

Need a little know-how—This will be tough (but doable) for a beginner

Estimated Time to Complete

1-3 hours

What You’ll Need

Bleeder wrench
Brake fluid
Black nitrile gloves
Protective eye wear

Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Ask a friend to sit at the wheel. Put on your protective eyewear and gloves to protect against accidental contact with brake fluids.

Step 2: Check the fluid level in the reservoir. Verify that it’s full.

Step 3: Place a bucket or bowl below the bleeder valve.

Step 4: Use a wrench to open the bleeder valve (size of wrench needed varies by manufacturer).

Step 5: As you open the bleeder valve, ask your buddy to press slowly down on the brake pedal. Picture a hypodermic needle clearing out the bubbles as its plunger is depressed. Some brake fluid will be lost during this process. The escaping air bubbles will pop or hiss as they come out.

Step 6: Close the bleeder valve before your helper eases off the brake pedal.

Step 7: Repeat several times until the brake fluid pours out without any hissing or bubbling sounds.

Step 8: Top off the brake fluid reservoir to the maximum fill line. Ensure the reservoir doesn’t get too low and allow air to be pulled back into the system during bleeding.

Step 9: Repeat steps 1-8 for each wheel.

Pro Tip: In bleeding brakes, there is a “corner order” to follow, which may be found in your owner’s manual. As a general rule, it states that you want to start with the brake farthest from the master cylinder.

Step 10: Test drive your vehicle to check the responsiveness of your brakes and recycle any overflow brake fluid.