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!

Bleeding brakes: it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds

Advance Auto PartsWhen you’ve driven your car for more than a few months, your body memorizes exactly how much pressure is needed to turn the steering wheel, accelerate from a complete stop, and brake to avoid collision. Imagine what could happen 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 line. To prevent that, learn how to bleed brakes yourself.

Bleed brakes at home in ten easy steps:

Step 1: Ask a helper to sit at the wheel.
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 helper to press slowly down on the brake pedal. Picture a hypodermic needle clearing out the bubbles by pressing down on the plunger. 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 up 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.
Step 9: Repeat steps 1-8 for each wheel.
Step 10: Test drive your vehicle/car brakes.

Please note: to flush the entire system, there is a “corner order” to follow, which is found in your vehicle’s manufacturer’s specs.





When should you bleed brake lines?

There are at least four likely scenarios:

  • when replacing car brakes/brake pads
  • when a vehicle sits for months at a time
  • when your vehicle endures frequent hard braking
  • when you are experiencing the first signs of brake trouble

At a minimum, bleed your car brakes when replacing brake pads. For the average vehicle will be approximately every 24,000 miles.
Many mechanics and oil change centers won’t offer a specific maintenance interval, but will ask customers how long it’s been since the last time the brake fluid was flushed. Oxidation, heat, and moisture each play a role in degrading the responsiveness and longevity of your brake system, so play it safe and perform your own automobile brake maintenance at least as often as you inspect your brakes.


Editor’s note: Stay on top of automobile brake maintenance with Advance Auto Parts. We stock quality auto parts from the brands you trust and rely on most.