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Keep an eye on your brakes because you'll never know when you need them.

It's all fine and dandy to go fast, but it's stopping that is tricky. Ask any racing driver � they'll tell you a set of powerful, predictable and reliable brakes are a key performance component. Besides, if you didn't have brakes, you wouldn't be able to drive at all.

And if you've spent time lapping racing circuits on track days, you'll know that overheated brakes result in plenty of wasted time in the pits, waiting for them to cool.

Automotive brakes come in two forms: disc and drum. Drum brakes are considered outdated tech nowadays and are usually found on smaller compact models that don't require immense stopping power.

The majority of modern cars use disc brakes thanks to their superior braking performance.

A disc brake consists of a disc, which is connected to the wheel, and a caliper which contains a piston/cylinder. The piston, connected by hydraulic lines, is controlled by the brake pedal. When you press the pedal, it activates the piston. Connected to the piston are brake pads, which then bite into the disc and stop the wheel.

There's huge scope for improving a car's braking system. Improved calipers often contain more pistons (or "pots") for more stopping. High performance brake pads offer better initial bite and consistent and improved performance even at high operating temperatures.

Factory brake lines are usually made of rubber and are prone to swelling and expansion when subjected to repeated and hard braking. Aftermarket steel braided brake hoses offer better pedal feel as well as consistent performance since they are less prone to ageing and distortion.

The brake disc itself also offers room for improvement. Factory discs are often blank, but this design doesn't dissipate heat or water well. Performance disc design often includes having holes or slots on the surface of the disc, which aid in heat dissipation and provide consistent braking performance even under severe operating conditions. Slots help remove dust and gas and this allows the brake pads to bite better. However such a design may cause increased wear of the pads.

However, whether you're running a high performance brake kit or just the factory braking system, regular maintenance and checks will go a long way in ensuring consistent performance and a safe ride.

It's easy to do. Just look at the disc itself and watch out for grooves or imperfections which may be a sign of warped or faulty discs. A little rust is okay if you haven't used the car for awhile. Read your owner's manual to find out where the brake pads sit and check them against the recommended thickness. Brake lines are also easy, just make sure they're free of debris and aren't kinked or leaking.

This article is written by Leow Julen, contributing writer for Top Gear Singapore, and Samuel Kang, editor for Rev magazine.

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