What Are Drum Brakes and Are They Bad?

Your car’s brakes are perhaps its most important parts. They have the job of preventing you from impacting trees, small … Continued

Your car’s brakes are perhaps its most important parts. They have the job of preventing you from impacting trees, small children, and all manner of wildlife. Without them, well, you’re not up a creek, you’re in it. But do you know what type of brakes you have?

Most cars today come with disc brakes, but most older automobiles, as well as those in the bargain bin, still come with something called drum brakes. To better understand this highly important part, Car Bibles is going to answer what drum brakes are, how they work, and if they’re inherently good or bad. *drumroll*

What Are Drum Brakes?

Drum brakes are a type of braking system that has fallen out of favor in the automotive world due to their complexity and performance. Older cars, as well as a small handful of more affordable rides, still use drum brakes, though they’re becoming scarcer. Rather than rotors and pads, they use drums and shoes.

How Do Drum Brakes Work?

Drum brakes are fairly easy mechanisms to understand. When the driver presses the brake pedal, the hydraulic pressure of the brake fluid actuates a drum brake’s shoe lining, which is embedded within the drum cylinder and presses outward into the drum. The resulting friction between the shoe lining and the drum stops the car.

Drum brake pads on a white background.
Both drum and disc brakes use pads.

Car Bible’s Glossary for Drum Brakes

Welcome to Bible school!

  • Shoe

The shoe is what presses the lining friction surface into the drum.

  • Drum

The drum is the housing that the lining presses into to halt the momentum of the car. It is similar to a round cake pan with the internal working parts inside the cavity.

  • Lining

The lining is the friction surface that comes into contact with the drum and is pressed into it by the shoe.

  • Return Spring

This spring returns the shoes to their non-braking position.

  • Wheel Cylinder

The wheel cylinder presses the shoes into the drum.

What Are the Types of Drum Brakes?

There isn’t actually one type of drum brake design, there are a few. Here’s an explanation of those designs. 

  • Duo-Servo

Once the first shoe is pressed into the drum, duo-servo drum brakes use centrifugal force to press the secondary shoe into the drum to further halt the car’s momentum.

  • Leading-Trailing

A leading-trailing drum brake is one where there are two types of shoes: one leading, one trailing. The leading shoe rotates in the direction of the drum, while the trailing shoe pulls away from the drum’s surface. 

  • Twin-Leading

Twin-leading drum brakes have two leading shoes that apply friction to the drum. Very little braking pressure is needed for these to be effective, though it requires a very powerful spring to pull the shoes away from the drum. 

What’s the Difference Between Drum Brakes and Disc Brakes?

Here’s our quick and dirty explanation. Drum brakes use internal friction, created by the shoes pressing against the drum, to stop a car. Disc brakes use an external caliper to create friction through a set of brake pads clamping onto a brake rotor. Reduced even further, drum brakes use internal friction, disc brakes use external friction. 

A view of drum brakes without the wheel.
Drum brakes have fallen out of favor.

Your Questions, Our Answers on Drum Brakes

Car Bibles answer all your burning questions!

Q: What Are the Advantages of Disc Brakes Over Drum Brakes?

A: The real advantage disc brakes have over drum brakes is that disc brakes are better at dispersing heat, which can lead to brake fade and warped internal parts. Disc brakes also won’t pool water, as there’s no internal housing.

Q: Do Drum Brakes Need Maintenance?

A: As with everything, they do. Keep your drum brakes in tiptop condition and they’ll keep you stopping all day long.

Q: How Much Does it Cost to Replace Drum Brakes?

A: Between $200-$300, depending on labor. 

Video on Drum Brakes

Car Bibles’ editors understand that not everyone is a text-based learner. For those kinesthetic people out there, we have your back with a video showing you exactly how drum brakes work. We pulled it from one of our most trusted sources and it’s a great additional resource.

Car Bible’s Favored Drum Brake Related Products

You can buy tools for Drum Brake at almost every auto parts and home improvement store. As well as online stores like Amazon. You have a sea of options to select from. To aid in your search, here’s a resource for Replacement Brake Pads and Car Jacks to get your ride up in the air.

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Jonathon Klein

Jonathon KleinJonathon has jumped Aston Martins for Automobile Magazine, clocked 200 mph in a McLaren 720S for Playboy, and sampled his best life behind the wheel of a Ferrari Dino Evo for Road & Track. He’s hopelessly addicted to the strongest coffee he can brew. Please send him more. Contact the author here.