What is the difference between drum brakes and disk brakes? Is one superior to the other, and how so? When you are talking about drum brakes vs. disk brakes, it is helpful to begin with an understanding of the history behind them.

Older vehicles from the 1960’s and earlier had drum brakes for all four tires. It was the only technology they had at the time. It involved using a steel drum inside the wheel.

Inside the steel drum of a drum brake, brake shoes were placed so that they could press against the insides of the drum to slow down the wheels. Not unlike the disk drums used today, fluid transferred the movement of the brake pedal into the brake shoes.

In the 1970’s, the first disk brakes were made. Disk brakes began showing up in primarily higher-end and performance vehicles. They cost more to manufacture, but were superior in performance. So, manufacturers began marketing them to customers with larger bankrolls.

While the drum brake can be affected by over-braking, causing a build-up of excessive heat, the drum disk system can eliminate the heat more effectively. The friction of braking causes the heat but, unlike the drum brake, the disk brake is not encased in a drum. Exposed to outside air, the brake can cool as it does its job.

In today’s vehicles, many mid-level cars still use drum brakes in the rear. This, however, is not really a problem since, for most everyday drivers, the drum brakes in the rear are sufficient. The front brakes manage most of the braking power anyway, and those are all disk brakes.

In addition, the drum brakes of today are far better than the older models. Working together, therefore, the front disk brakes and the rear drum brakes on most cars make an effective team. Perhaps the best news of all is that drivers save a significant amount of money on cars that don’t have those extra rear disk-brakes, and don’t need them.