If you own a car, then you need to equip yourself with as much knowledge as you can in order to know when it’s time to perform preventative maintenance and servicing. One of the parts that need regular preventative maintenance and servicing is your car’s brakes. The brakes are arguably the most important safety feature your car has. Modern braking systems are quite advanced and use a wide range of technologies, including sensors, computers and precisely engineered parts for brakes to safely stop your vehicle. However, not all brakes are made the same. There are two basic types of brakes – drum brakes, which have remained largely unchanged over the years, and disc brakes, which most modern cars use. Depending on how old your vehicle is, it may use one type of brakes or another. If you’re contemplating upgrading from drum brakes to disc brakes, you should first know what the differences between them are.
Drum brakes have been around for many years, and they’ve kept their popularity for this long mainly due to their simplicity and low manufacturing costs. Although they’re inferior to disc brakes, they’re still functional and get the job done. Generally, drum brakes are made from cast iron and they got their name thanks to their drum-like shape. All of the drum parts for brakes are contained in the drum, and all cars made until the 70s have them on all wheels. Today, however, you’ll only see drum brakes on the rear axles of economy vehicles. They operate by forcing two arched shoes housed inside the drum to expand into the inner wall of the spinning drum with the help of centrifugal and hydraulic force. As a result of those forces, friction is generated, which slows the drums and thus, your car.
The benefits of using drum brakes today over disc brakes aren’t many, but they do exist. Due to the enclosed, all-in-one, compact design of brake drums, maintenance is easy. All of the drum parts for brakes are held in place with spring tension. So if you’re looking to replace some drum parts for brakes, like a set of shoes, for instance, all you’ll need to do is pry the springs loose with a brake tool and the entire assembly will break apart. Then you just swap in a new set of shoes, reconnect the springs and brackets, place the drum back on, and you’re good to go. You don’t need to open fluid lines or use compressors to retract pistons. In fact, replacing brake shoes on some types of vehicles can be performed in less than two minutes, and drum brake shoes are very affordable.
As cars became much faster, drum brakes weren’t able to keep up due to their design, which makes them overheat quickly and lose their stopping power. As a result, brake manufacturers came up as the performance alternative to drum brakes on American muscle cars in the 60s. Disc parts for brakes include a caliper (hydraulic clamp), a large metal rotor and 2 flat brake pads. The brake rotors are usually made from iron, but they can also be made for ceramics and carbon composites for high-performance applications like racing. Vanes are typically cast into the rotors in order to increase the cooling effectiveness, and the disc brake calipers feature as many as 8 pistons in order to provide a massive clamping force. Disc brakes are “activated” by pressing the brake pedal, which forces brake fluid to fill the hydraulic clamp (caliper). The metal piston found inside the caliper is then forced against the back of the brake pads, and the brake pads have a friction material that rubs against the spinning rotor. This results in the pads slowing the brake rotor and ultimately, your vehicle.
The main benefits of disc brakes are their high stopping power, improved heat dissipation when compared to drum brakes, and their self-adjustability. Disc brake systems can be easily inspected without having to remove your wheels, and the brake pedal feel and modulation will be greatly improved. Since they’re the dominant type of braking system nowadays, you have a large selection of high-performance disc brake pads to pick from.
Although disc brakes offer superior stopping power, which makes them the clear choice for any style of driving, drum brakes still find use in some applications. If your vehicle has 4-wheel drums or just 2 drums on the rear axle, you can still improve its stopping power by putting in quality drum parts for brakes or a disc brake conversion kit. You can shop for vehicle-specific parts for brakes online and find drum and disc brakes that suit your application perfectly. If you’re unsure about anything, just talk to the shop representative and tell them what you’re driving and how you’re driving it, and they’ll give you a clear idea of what you need.