Drums vs. Disc Brakes - Learn the Differences Between These Two Common Braking Systems
Modern braking systems are wonders of technology, using sensors, computers and precisely engineered parts to safely stop your vehicle, but this wasn’t always the case. While some cars use a drum brake system that has remained largely unchanged for nearly 100 years, most cars use a modern, disc brake system. In this article we’ll cover the differences between drum and disc brakes and the advantages of using either type.
When it comes to brakes, drums are the dinosaur of the group. They’ve been around for eons and due to their simplicity and low manufacturing cost, they’re still in use. And while they’re outperformed by disc brakes, they can still get the job done.
What are drum brakes?
Drums are made from cast iron and are named for their “drum-like” shape
All brake components are contained within the confines of the drum.
You could get a car with drums on all 4 wheels until the early 1970’s. Now, you’ll usually only see drums on the rear axles of economy cars and trucks.
How do they work?
Drum brakes work by forcing 2 arched “shoes” housed within the drum, to expand outward into the inner wall of the spinning drum, using hydraulic and centrifugal force.
This generates friction, slowing the drum and your car.
What are the benefits of drum brakes?
The enclosed, all-in-one design of brake drums simplifies maintenance, with most components being held in place by spring tension. To replace a set of shoes, you simply pry the springs in a drum brake system loose with a brake tool and the entire braking assembly comes apart. Swap in a new set of shoes, reconnect the brackets & springs, put the drum back on and you’re done.
There’s no need for compressors, or opening fluid lines to retract pistons with these setups. As a matter of fact, replacing brake shoes on some vehicles can be accomplished in under 2 minutes, once the drum is removed.
Replacement brake shoes tend to be very affordable.
As cars became faster, drum brakes simply couldn’t keep up. Due to their design, drum brakes quickly overheat and lose their stopping power. As a response to this, disc brakes began appearing as a better-performing alternative to drum brakes on American cars in the early 60’s.
What are disc brakes?
A disc brake system is comprised of a large metal rotor, 2 flat brake pads and a hydraulic clamp called a “caliper”.
Brake rotors are typically made from iron but can also be made from exotic materials like carbon composites and ceramics for racing purposes.
Vanes are usually cast into rotors to increase cooling effectiveness.
Disc brake calipers use up to 8 pistons, providing massive clamping force.
How do they work?
Pressing the brake pedal in a car with disc brakes, forces brake fluid to fill the caliper.
A metal piston inside the caliper is then forced against the back of each brake pad.
This presses the pad’s friction material against the spinning rotor, quickly slowing the brake rotor and your car.
What are the benefits of disc brakes?
Increased stopping power over drum brakes.
Better heat dissipation than drum brakes.
Disc brake systems can be inspected without removing your wheels.
Unlike drum brakes, disc brake system are completely, self-adjusting.
In a nutshell, disc brakes provide better stopping power, making them the clear choice for any style of driving. But if your car came with 4-wheel drums or just a pair on the rear axle, you can still improve its stopping power by swapping in quality drum components or a disc brake conversion kit.
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We offer a huge assortment of pads, rotors, big brake kits, and more.
Our brake knowledge is unbeatable. Tell us what you’re driving, how you’re driving it and we’ll set you up with the best brakes for your buck.