When it comes to your car, the brakes are probably one area you feel most confident about. After all, what could be so hard about stepping on them? It’s easily one of the most rudimentary concepts you’ll ever have to learn about your car. If you’re planning to go electric, though, that could be a game-changer. Electric vehicles rely on regenerative braking, which is quite distinct from what you have been used to with a regular car.
Regenerative Brakes and The Science Behind Them
Imagine yourself stepping on a car’s brakes. Where do you think all that energy is going? We already know it’s indestructible – science is pretty clear about that. This also tells us that when your car does slow down, all that kinetic energy that was there before you stepped on your brakes has to go somewhere.
With a regular car, that energy becomes heat and therefore purposeless in the context of transportation – it’s not going to get you anywhere. Is there something you can do about it? Probably not. You can’t drive and not have to hit your brakes from time to time. Automotive engineers, however, have done a pretty good job at addressing this problem. They created regenerative braking.
Every time you hit your brakes on an electric vehicle, the kinetic energy is converted into electricity, which can then be used to recharge the same car’s batteries. The technology was first applied to trolley cars before finding several interesting applications, from electric bikes to race cars. Today, it is mainly used in both fully electric and hybrid cars and other vehicles where battery charging is a crucial requirement.
Regenerative vs. Traditional Brakes
Maintaining your electric car’s brakes requires an understanding of regenerative brakes, but more so than traditional brakes. When stepping on a regular car’s brake pads, you slow down the wheels as friction is created between the pads and the rotors. This friction increases as the wheels go slower, and in the process, kinetic energy is converted into heat.
In your electric car, what drives the main system also handles most of your braking. So when you step on the brakes, the electric motor works the other way around: it forces your car to run backward, slowing down the wheels and generating electricity in the process. This electricity is then stored in your car battery for future use. Take note that speed affects how well regenerative braking works, and a stop-and-go situation is when the system works best.
On the other hand, electric cars also have friction brakes and a back-up system when regenerative braking falls short of the required stopping power. Remember that brake pedals can respond differently to pressure, sometimes sinking lower into the floor than usual. Many drivers have met accidents due to panic, so be sure to maintain presence of mind when in such a scenario.
Electric Car Brake Maintenance: What To Focus On
As mentioned, electric vehicles may use regular braking when the regenerative system isn’t enough. This is where you up your game in terms of car brake maintenance.
Although standard brake discs and pads push against each other as you step on your electric car brakes, the hydraulic fluid used in the system is no different from what you’ll find in a conventional vehicle. The liquid is hygroscopic, which means it can pull in water from the air as time goes by. If you don’t flush the fluid often, you can end up with corrosion in your system. In short, even if you’re driving an electric car, you still need to change fluids now and then.
The question is when. We already know that brake fluid absorbs water through time and makes it increasingly ineffective. If anything, that means timing is vital and depends on the electric car itself. For example, a Tesla would usually need flushing every two years, while a Nissan is generally fine with five-year gaps between replacements.
In any case, never open the reservoir cap when inspecting your brake fluid. Just look from the outside to get an accurate reading. And be sure to read your car’s manual to know its exact fluid requirements.
Brake Pads and Discs
Many things affect how frequently you need to service your brake pads and discs, such as your driving style, where you usually drive (the terrain), and your usual regeneration settings. To avoid issues, proactivity can be key. For example, by knowing the traffic situation ahead, you can avoid routes where you need to hit the brake pedal frequently.
Nonetheless, electric car brake rotors and brake pads are used a lot less than those found in typical vehicles. That’s because your car automatically slows down as your lithium-ion battery is recharged to produce electricity. If anything, that only means that your brake pads and rotors will have significantly longer lifespans, although you still need to replace them when they start showing signs of wear and tear.
After understanding how regenerative braking works and its uniqueness from the usual braking system, it should be easy to know how to maintain your electric car brakes. Maintenance all boils down to a few things, such as brake fluids and replacing them, and brake pads and discs, and how to treat them, so they last even longer than what an electric car’s natural design allows.