Drum brakes vs. disc brakes – turning up the heat

Posted by


Brakes are one of the most important -- and least thought about -- parts of your vehicle. Image: Picasa/FixEuro

Even though the speed a vehicle can travel is important, it is just as important to be able to stop if and when you want. There are two major types of braking systems in most vehicles – drum brakes and disk brakes. These two braking systems are used for very different reasons, though both are effective. When you are looking at purchasing a new (or new-to-you) vehicle, understanding the braking system can save you time and money down the road.

The basics of drum brakes

Drum braking systems are sometimes known as “rotating” braking systems. The basic design is one of a round “drum” that rotates along with the wheel. Press down on the brake pedal, and the drum expands out, providing friction and slowing the wheel. The biggest problem with drum brakes is when they are put under very heavy load on a regular basis, they can heat up and lose effectiveness quickly.

The basics of disc brakes

Disc brakes, all things considered, look much more like the brakes on a bicycle than much of anything else. Two brake pads use a caliper to “squeeze” the wheel when you press on the brake. By keeping the brakes outside the wheel housing, the brakes tend to be more reliable by being air-cooled.

Disc versus Drum

When making the comparison between disc and drum brakes, there are multiple things to consider. Drum brakes are a much simpler mechanical device, and are much less expensive to put together. Disc brakes, though, offer meatier braking power. Drum brakes are usually found in less expensive or more economical vehicles. Often, disc and drum brakes will be combined. Though disc brakes are more expensive, they can be used as built-in emergency brakes at the same time. Drum brakes are less expensive to put in, but a separate emergency brake has to be installed. Drum brakes are less expensive to be replaced, though disc brakes tend to need replacement less often.


  1. JimboPalmer on

    At least two errors in this article.
    'bikes' should be 'brakes' In the basics of disc brakes section

    More importantly you have reversed the truth about parking brakes in the Disc vs Drum section: Drum brakes make great parking brakes, disc brakes make poor parking brakes. This is why drums still see so much service on the rear of cars; that is where the parking brakes are.

    • shadrab on

      Thanks for pointing out the typo!