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Master and Slave Cylinders

Master and Slave Cylinders

The master and slave cylinders are used as focal points for pressure to be created; so what are they and how do they work?

The clutch and brakes on a car need a little help to actuate, considering the forces that they are designed to oppose, therefore hydraulic pressure is created within the master and slave cylinders to provide the required force. The master cylinder can be found directly behind the pedal box, connected to a respective pedal.

Each piston corresponds to a different brake ‘circuit’ which doubles up as an added safety measure. One piston is used to send hydraulic pressure to the front right and back left brake calipers, and the second is used to assist the front left and back right respectively. Using this method – if the first piston was to fail or primary hydraulic pressure is lost, the pushrod would simply need to be pushed further down the bore until the failed piston met up with the second piston, thus allowing at least some hydraulic pressure to be applied. This means that at least some braking force is applied to both the front and back wheels of the vehicle, with the reservoir also being split in two to aid the division of hydraulic pressure.

The master cylinder effectively works as a hydraulic pump, from which fluid is fed to the slave cylinders further down the line. The slave cylinder is found at the other end of the hydraulic system and works in the opposite way to the master cylinder. Once the hydraulic fluid has transferred through to the slave cylinder, the pressure is used to actuate a linkage back and forward, converting the movement of fluid back into mechanical movement of the linkage.

The slave cylinders in a car are therefore used to finish the amplification of the forces from your foot inputs through to the clutch and brakes respectively. In the case of the clutch, the slave cylinder actuates the clutch fork to disengage the clutch friction plate from the flywheel, with a return spring reversing the process. And the slave cylinder found at each set of brake calipers on a car is used to close the brake pads around the brake disc. To add assistance to the braking system, a brake servo sits in front of the master cylinder and uses the vacuum created within the inlet manifold to further amplify the hydraulic pressure within the braking system.

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