Let’s Brake It Down: Disc VS Drum

Braking technology has come a very long way since the hand lever. Drum brakes were revolutionary in their time, but are they still appropriate for modern cars when disc brakes seem so perfect? Read on to find out.

How Do Brakes Work?

Braking a car means slowing down the movement of the wheels by stepping on the brake pedal. Your braking system, drum or disc, applies friction or resistance to your wheels that gets converted into heat energy. The way your brakes do this is the main illustration of how disc and drum brakes differ.

Drum Brakes

Drum brakes are called this because of the drum design that houses the braking components. Inside the drum, you’ll find braking shoes. When you step on your brake pedal (which is connected to the braking system with fluid), these heat-resistant shoes are forced against the wheel to create friction to slow them down. The problem with drum brakes though, is that the heat that builds up due to the friction has nowhere to go. Heat builds up inside the drum and under stressful or strenuous conditions (like carrying a large load or going down a steep hill), this becomes a problem. Brakes are only effective as long as they can convert movement into heat, and when the brakes become worn down, they become saturated with heat and end up ineffective. Let’s face it, you don’t want your brakes failing as you come down a steep hill while carrying a heavy load. This problem of overheating and deterioration is solved with disc brakes.

Disc Brakes

Disc brakes are made up of a small rotor and a calliper. Inside this calliper, you’ll find two brake pads that go around the rotor. When you step on the brake pedal, these pads are clamped together to slow down the wheels. The main difference between drum and disc brakes is what happens to the heat energy that’s generated by the friction in the braking system. Thanks to not being housed in a drum, your disc braking system is very unlikely to overheat. This is because it is exposed to open air that cools the brakes much faster than they would have been cooled inside a drum. This also reduces the rate of deterioration and fading. Instead of having to replace the entire braking system, you can simply replace your brake pads instead.

Shouldn’t All Cars Have Disc Brakes?

Ideally, sure. Disc brakes are more effective and practical. But they’re also more expensive. Disc brakes were first used on high performance racing cars and eventually became popular with modern, everyday cars thanks to their safety. Many cars today have disc brakes in the front two wheels (because most of the stopping power comes from the front), and drum brakes at the back. This means that the car should be slightly more affordable than it would have been with disc brakes all around. However, this doesn’t mean that your back wheels’ brakes are ineffective or dangerous. Modern drum brakes have come a very long way and would probably by suitable for all four wheels. If you’re someone who just drives their car as a means to get from A to B, you’ll be perfectly safe. if you’re a race car driver, you’ll need a high-performance car with high-performance brakes to optimise your performance.

Regardless of which brakes you use, you should make sure to maintain them properly. Maintaining your brakes (a topic we’ll cover in another article) not only keeps you and others safe on the roads, but it will also save you a fortune in the long-run.  
Let us know what you thought of our article in the comments below. If you would like to contribute an article or write a review, let us know! We’d love to work with you. Alternatively, you can contact us at www.mobility-online.co.za. Stay safe on the roads!


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