What Are The Differences Between Drum Brakes And Disc Brakes?

What Are The Differences Between Drum Brakes And Disc Brakes

When purchasing a new or used vehicle, the car buyer should ensure that he or she understands the potential maintenance issues the vehicle could have. One of the most vital components of any vehicle is the braking system, and vehicle owners should know the benefits and drawbacks of the two main types of vehicle brakes: drum brakes and disc brakes.

Choosing Between Drum Brakes And Disc Brakes

A drum brake system is a small round drum with a set of braking “shoes” inside. The drum rotates alongside the vehicle’s wheels, and when the driver applies the brakes the braking shoes compress against the inside of the drum to slow the vehicle. By comparison, a disc braking system includes a metal disc with brake pads that spins within a wheel. When the driver applies the brake, the brake pads press against the disc and slow the vehicle.

Many vehicles actually feature both types of brakes for economic reasons. Drum brake systems are generally less effective than disc brake systems. Since vehicle weight shifts while driving and the majority of a vehicle’s braking effort occurs in the front end of the vehicle, some manufacturers include disc brake systems in the front and drum-based systems in the rear. If you plan on purchasing any new or used vehicle in the near future, be sure to find out what type of braking configuration the vehicle has.

Common Concerns For Different Types Of Brakes

Disc brake systems are the preferred option for most drivers. “Brake fade” occurs when a braking system starts losing effectiveness, and this can cause problems with drum brake systems, especially when traveling down inclines. By contrast, disc brake systems experience brake fade much later than a drum brake system.

Disc brakes are completely self-adjusting so they offer better overall braking ability compared to drum systems. It is also possible to convert a drum-based system to a disc brake system with a conversion kit, offering drivers increased value and more reliable braking by easily transitioning to a disc system.

Anti-Lock Braking Capabilities

One of the most valuable safety features available in modern vehicles is anti-lock braking systems. When a driver must come to a sudden stop to avoid hitting another vehicle or other obstacle, the anti-lock braking system prevents the tires from locking up and skidding, allowing the driver to steer away from the obstacle while braking. Anti-lock braking capability is possible with both drum brakes and disc brakes.

Maintenance Issues For Different Types Of Brakes

While disc brake systems generally last longer than drum brake systems, drum brakes are generally cheaper to repair and replace. Additionally, it usually is not necessary to have disc brake systems on all four wheels; it is more economical in most cases to have drum brakes in the rear wheels and disc brakes in the front wheels. The front brakes will bear the brunt of most of the vehicle’s braking efforts, but they will last longer than drum brakes. When the rear drum brakes eventually require repair or replacement, maintenance is much cheaper. This type of combined configuration generally offers the most value over time.

Drum brake systems are easier and quicker to repair thanks to their all-in-one design. This means when a driver needs to replace the brake shoes inside the brake drums, parts and labor are generally much less expensive than a replacement of a disc braking system. Ultimately, disc brakes offer better braking performance for a longer time, but they are generally more expensive to repair and replace. Drum brakes may not be as effective as disc brakes and are vulnerable to water damage due to their enclosed design, but repairs and replacements are generally a fraction of the typical cost of maintenance on disc brakes.

Choosing The Right Braking System

When purchasing a vehicle, be sure to select one with the braking option you prefer. If you live in a dry climate and don’t need to worry about water damage in a drum-based brake system, drum brakes can offer great value with minimal maintenance costs. If you drive extensively, face long commute times, or live in a rainy climate, then a disc-based brake system is the preferable choice.

While conversion kits exist and can easily transform a drum-based braking system to a disc-based braking system, remember this is not always necessary, especially if the vehicle’s front tires are disc-based and the rear tires are drum-based. Ultimately, this type of configuration helps to balance the quality and maintenance issues with both types of brakes and offers the best value over time to most drivers.

A Caution With Aftermarket Parts

If you decide to alter your vehicle’s braking system at all, be very cautious about purchasing aftermarket parts. Some parts may seem like a great value, but you should always refer to the vehicle’s manufacturer to decide which types of brake parts to purchase. Always purchase brake parts from trusted vendors and avoid buying any type of used brake parts from other vehicle owners; even if they appear like new, there is no quality control with personal transactions of this nature and you risk doing serious damage to your vehicle. Worse yet, ineffective or damaged braking parts could potentially lead to a fatal accident.

Ultimately, there are only a few differences between drum brakes and disc brakes, and they effectively counterbalance one another in terms of performance, reliability, and maintenance issues.