5 Important Things To Know About Air Brakes

by | Aug 20, 2022 | Articles

An air brake system works in the same way as the brakes on your car or light truck. The main difference between them is that the brakes on your car operate on a hydraulic pressure or fluid to activate the brakes. Air brake systems, on the other hand, use compressed air to function. 

Air brakes are known to be effective for a number of reasons. To help you understand their importance and function, here are 5 things you need to know about air brakes.

  1. Safety

Air brakes are generally fitted to heavy or commercial vehicles such as buses and trucks, as a greater effort is required to bring these vehicles to a controlled stop. Not only this, air braking systems are necessary for heavier vehicles as they are less likely to fail. Hydraulic braking systems use fluid to halt the vehicle, which poses a serious drawback. If there happens to be a leak in the braking system, its effectiveness is impaired. This potential limitation would be especially dangerous for heavier vehicles, as an inability to efficiently stop or brake could result in a serious truck accident. 

As such, air braking systems offer a safer alternative as they use ‘air’ to deliver pressure to braking components. As air is a natural and endless resource, air braking systems significantly reduce the risk of brake failure.

  1. Cost-Effectiveness

When it comes to heavy commercial vehicles, air braking systems are more feasible from an economical perspective. Air is freely available and does not run out, but braking fluid for hydraulic brakes can be quite expensive. As heavy vehicles would require higher quantities of braking fluid to operate, air brakes are definitely the more cost-effective option.

  1. Reliability

Air braking systems are much more reliable than hydraulic brakes. This reliability is sustained through the introduction of the triple value system. In conventional braking systems, the brakes remain in a default released position and are only activated when the braking fluid is compressed. 

However, air brakes with a triple-value system are in a default ‘activated state’ and are released only with compressed air pressure. This means that when the vehicle starts, the compression begins and releases the brakes when the vehicle is in motion. If for some reason, the compression mechanism fails, air brakes can revert back to their default activated position, bringing the vehicle to a stop. 

  1. Maintenance

In terms of maintenance, air brakes have a greater advantage over hydraulic brakes. Essentially, air line couplings are easier to attach than hydraulic lines and there is no need to bleed the brakes when servicing air braking systems. 

  1. An Air Brake Endorsement Is Required

Federal guidelines outlined in the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, state that anyone operating a commercial vehicle must hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL).  Although each state sets its own licensing requirements, federal guidelines established the minimum standards to operate a commercial vehicle.

As per federal standard, along with a CDL, drivers operating a heavy commercial vehicle must also pass an air brakes test. Air brake testing is essential for those operating commercial vehicles, as this knowledge ensures that the driver can safely operate a vehicle with an air braking system and understands how to apply air brakes.


Drawing from extensive expertise in the used car parts industry, Craig Sandeman has established himself as a trusted authority in automotive repair. He possesses a deep knowledge of the challenges encountered by individuals seeking reliable car parts, making him a highly sought-after expert in this field.


Potential issues, causes, and solutions have been identified in the above article based on the experiences of car owners and repairers, as well as web materials such as forum blogs and technical support bulletins. This data is supplied exclusively for the purpose of reference. Only appropriately qualified persons should perform repairs and/or changes on your vehicles.

While it’s important to keep in mind, it’s also important to note that the amount of times anything is mentioned here should not be seen as a sign of its reliability or frequency. Various owners, driving in different ways, and caring for their vehicles in distinct ways will cause two identical vehicles to perform differently.

As previously said, this material is supplied primarily for reference reasons; nonetheless, we hope that by doing so, we will be able to supply you with essential knowledge that will allow you to make informed decisions whenever you encounter any of the aforementioned setbacks.


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