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How do drum brakes work?

A drum brake is a type of brake which is not commonly used in modern cars anymore - indeed, this braking system is less efficient than the disc brake system.

On a car with drum brakes, the friction in the drum will make the car stop as the car owner presses the brake pedal. The friction happens when the pistons push the brake lining outwards against the inside of the drum, which will stop the wheel movement.

The brake lining is composed of metal elements (carbon, fiber glass, copper, graphites, etc.), which might differ depending on the spare part manufacturer. In the past, the brake lining could contain asbestos, but it got forbidden in 1997. For optimum braking, it is important that the brake lining is in a good state.

The brake lining is mounted on a part called the brake shoe. Its function is to press outwards when the driver presses the brake pedals, and fall back when no pressure is applied. The brake shoe will expand thanks to the pistons.

This process begins with the brake master cylinder, which is a reservoir of brake fluid which itself will transform the pressure exerted by the driver on the brake pedal into a hydraulic pressure. The hydraulic force is then transferred to the wheel cylinder, which will engage the pistons' movements.

Drum brakes' reliability

The drum brake system is less and less used on modern cars. Indeed, this system is less reliable than the disc brake system: That is why drum brakes will only be on the rear brakes. They are not installed on the front brakes, as recent cars are too heavy for the drum brakes to stop. Drum brakes could not make the car brake in a safe and proper way.

A risky brake system

Having your car equipped with drum brakes is less safe than disc brakes, as it constitutes a pretty high risk of wheel lock. This can lead to a loss of stability and control of the vehicle. In addition, it happens frequently that drum brakes heat up excessively, as its cooling system is particularly slow, which can lead to overheating.

Drum brakes' advantages

The main advantage of the drum brake system is its competitive price. That is the reason why it is still quite common to find it on the rear brakes of entry-level cars, or even sometimes on middle-ranged cars. Thereby, we find these types of brakes on smaller cars and sedans.

The other advantage is the sealing, which protects the braking system. However, this advantage is also a disadvantage, as it contributes to the lack of resistance to high temperatures, and therefore can increase the risk of overheating as previously stated.

Price of drum brake replacement

The replacement of a drum brake kit usually cost around £300, including the spare parts and the labour. The price can vary mainly due to the labour price, which will depend on each workshop. The price can also change depending on the brand of the spare parts used.

When to change the drum brakes?

drum brake

Drum brakes last between 80,000 km and 140,000 km, and they need to get cleaned every 60,000 km. However, some internal parts of the drum brake could need an earlier replacement, such as the brake shoes or the brake lining.

Symptoms of failing brake drums

Some symptoms indicate that is it time to replace the drum brakes of your car.

  • You get an unusual brake pedal feel, and feel vibrations when braking.
  • The parking brake is loose, and is not working properly.
  • You notice grinding sounds when braking: this might come from a worn brake shoes.
  • The braking is not the same on both sides of the car: There could be a brake fluid leakage.

Adjusting drum brakes

To make sure the drum brakes are working correctly, it is necessary to periodically adjust them. It must be done on brakes in a good state. You can do it yourself, or ask a qualified mechanic to do it for you.

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Prices on a brake repair

The average prices and savings for the car brands shown are based on different models and years. You must therefore create a job and compare quotes to see your actual price and savings.
Make Compare and save* You save on average* Ratings
Audi £96 23%
4.8 (16)
BMW £116 24%
4.7 (33)
Ford £80 27%
4.7 (24)
Hyundai £103 31%
4.9 (9)
Mercedes-Benz £96 25%
4.6 (18)
Nissan £70 26%
4.9 (8)
Peugeot £64 26%
4.9 (9)
Toyota £80 32%
4.8 (4)
Vauxhall £73 25%
4.9 (15)
Volkswagen £86 26%
4.6 (15)

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