Drum brake
A drum brake is a brake
A brake is a mechanical device which inhibits motion. Its opposite component is a clutch. The rest of this article is dedicated to various types of vehicular brakes....

 in which the friction
Friction is the force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and/or material elements sliding against each other. There are several types of friction:...

 is caused by a set of shoes
Brake shoe
A brake shoe is the part of a braking system which carries the brake lining in the drum brakes used on automobiles, or the brake block in train brakes and bicycle brakes.-Automobile drum brake:...

 or pads that press against a rotating drum-shaped part called a brake drum.

The term "drum brake" usually means a brake in which shoes press on the inner surface
Brake lining
Brake linings are the consumable surfaces in brake systems, such as drum brakes and disc brakes used in transport vehicles.-History:Brake linings were invented by Bertha Benz during her historic first long distance car trip in the world in August 1888.-Structure and function:Brake linings are...

 of the drum. When shoes press on the outside of the drum, it is usually called a clasp brake. Where the drum is pinched between two shoes, similar to a conventional disk brake, it is sometimes called a "pinch drum brake", although such brakes are relatively rare. A related type of brake uses a flexible belt or "band" wrapping around the outside of a drum, called a band brake
Band brake
A band brake is a primary or secondary brake, consisting of a band of friction material that tightens concentrically around a cylindrical piece of equipment to either prevent it from rotating , or to slow it . This application is common on winch drums and chain saws and is also used for some...



The modern automobile
An automobile, autocar, motor car or car is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers, which also carries its own engine or motor...

 drum brake was invented in 1902 by Louis Renault
Louis Renault (industrialist)
Louis Renault was a French industrialist, one of the founders of Renault and a pioneer of the automobile industry....

, though a less-sophisticated drum brake had been used by Maybach
Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH is a German luxury car manufacturer. It was founded in 1909 by Wilhelm Maybach and his son. The company was originally a subsidiary of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH and was itself known as Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau GmbH until 1912.Today, the ultra-luxury car brand is owned by...

 a year earlier. In the first drum brakes, the shoes were mechanically operated with levers and rods or cables. From the mid-1930s the shoes were operated with oil pressure in a small wheel cylinder
Wheel Cylinder
A wheel cylinder is a component in a drum brake system. It is located in each wheel and is usually at the top, above the shoes. Its responsibility is to exert force onto the shoes so they can contact the drum and stop the vehicle with friction...

 and piston
A piston is a component of reciprocating engines, reciprocating pumps, gas compressors and pneumatic cylinders, among other similar mechanisms. It is the moving component that is contained by a cylinder and is made gas-tight by piston rings. In an engine, its purpose is to transfer force from...

s (as in the picture), though some vehicles continued with purely-mechanical systems for decades. Some designs have two wheel cylinders
Cylinder (engine)
A cylinder is the central working part of a reciprocating engine or pump, the space in which a piston travels. Multiple cylinders are commonly arranged side by side in a bank, or engine block, which is typically cast from aluminum or cast iron before receiving precision machine work...


The shoes in drum brakes are subject to wear and the brakes needed to be adjusted regularly until the introduction of self-adjusting drum brakes in the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s brake drums on the front wheels of cars were gradually replaced with disc brake
Disc brake
The disc brake or disk brake is a device for slowing or stopping the rotation of a wheel while it is in motion.A brake disc is usually made of cast iron, but may in some cases be made of composites such as reinforced carbon–carbon or ceramic matrix composites. This is connected to the wheel and/or...

s and now practically all cars use disc brakes on the front wheels, with many offering disc brakes on all wheels. However, drum brakes are still often used for handbrakes as it has proven very difficult to design a disc brake suitable for holding a car when it is not in use. Moreover, it is very easy to fit a drum handbrake inside a disc brake so that one unit serves as both service brake and handbrake.

Early type brake shoes contained asbestos
Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals used commercially for their desirable physical properties. They all have in common their eponymous, asbestiform habit: long, thin fibrous crystals...

. When working on brake systems of older cars, care must be taken not to inhale any dust present in the brake assembly. The United States Federal Government began to regulate asbestos production, and brake manufacturers had to switch to non-asbestos linings. Owners initially complained of poor braking with the replacements; however, technology eventually advanced to compensate. A majority of daily-driven older vehicles have been fitted with asbestos-free linings. Many other countries also limit the use of asbestos in brakes.


Some of the major components of the drum brake assembly are the back plate, the brake drum and shoe, the wheel cylinder, and various springs and pins.

Back plate

The back plate serves as the base on which all the components are assembled. It attaches to the axle and forms a solid surface for the wheel cylinder, brake shoes and assorted hardware. Since all the braking operations exert pressure on the back plate, it needs to be very strong and wear-resistant. Levers for emergency or parking brakes, and automatic brake-shoe adjuster were also added in recent years.

Brake drum

The brake drum is generally made of a special type of cast iron
Cast iron
Cast iron is derived from pig iron, and while it usually refers to gray iron, it also identifies a large group of ferrous alloys which solidify with a eutectic. The color of a fractured surface can be used to identify an alloy. White cast iron is named after its white surface when fractured, due...

 which is heat-conductive and wear-resistant. It is positioned very close to the brake shoe without actually touching it, and rotates with the wheel and axle. As the lining is pushed against the inner surface of the drum, friction heat can reach as high as 600 °F (315.6 °C).

Wheel cylinder

One wheel cylinder is used for each wheel. Two pistons operate the shoes, one at each end of the wheel cylinder. When hydraulic pressure from the master cylinder acts upon the piston cup, the pistons are pushed toward the shoes, forcing them against the drum. When the brakes are not being applied, the piston is returned to its original position by the force of the brake shoe return springs. The parts of the wheel cylinder are as follows:

Brake shoe

Brake shoes are typically made of two pieces of sheet steel welded together. The friction material is either rivetted to the lining table or attached with adhesive. The crescent-shaped piece is called the Web and contains holes and slots in different shapes for return springs, hold-down hardware, parking brake linkage and self-adjusting components.
All the application force of the wheel cylinder is applied through the web to the lining table and brake lining. The edge of the lining table generally has three “V"-shaped notches or tabs on each side called nibs. The nibs rest against the support pads of the backing plate to which the shoes are installed.
Each brake assembly has two shoes, a primary and secondary. The primary shoe is located toward the front of the vehicle and has the lining positioned differently than the secondary shoe. Quite often the two shoes are interchangeable, so close inspection for any variation is important.

Linings must be resistant against heat and wear and have a high friction coefficient unaffected by fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
Materials which make up the brake shoe include, friction modifier
Friction modifier
Friction modifiers are added to lubricants to reduce the surface friction of the lubricated parts. Typically these are polar chemical compounds having high affinity for metal surfaces and possessing long alkyl chains....

s (which can include can include graphite
The mineral graphite is one of the allotropes of carbon. It was named by Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1789 from the Ancient Greek γράφω , "to draw/write", for its use in pencils, where it is commonly called lead . Unlike diamond , graphite is an electrical conductor, a semimetal...

 and cashew nut shells), powdered metal such as lead, zinc, brass, aluminium and other metals that resist heat fade, binders, curing agents and fillers such as rubber chips to reduce brake noise.

Automatic self-adjuster

The self-adjuster is used to adjust the distance between the brake shoe and the drum automatically as brake shoes wear.

Normal braking

When the brakes are applied, brake fluid is forced under pressure from the master cylinder
Master cylinder
The master cylinder is a control device that converts non-hydraulic pressure into hydraulic pressure, in order to move other device which are located at the other end of the hydraulic system, such as one or more slave cylinders...

 into the wheel cylinder, which in turn pushes the brake shoes into contact with the machined surface on the inside of the drum. This rubbing action reduces the rotation of the brake drum, which is coupled to the wheel. Hence the speed of the vehicle is reduced. When the pressure is released, return springs pull the shoes back to their rest position.

Automatic self-adjustment

As the brake linings wear, the shoes must travel a greater distance to reach the drum. When the distance reaches a certain point, a self-adjusting mechanism automatically reacts by adjusting the rest position of the shoes so that they are closer to the drum. Here, the adjusting lever rocks enough to advance the adjuster gear by one tooth. The adjuster has threads on it, like a bolt, so that it unscrews a little bit when it turns, lengthening to fill in the gap. When the brake shoes wear a little more, the adjuster can advance again, so it always keeps the shoes close to the drum.

Emergency brake

The parking brake (emergency brake) system controls the brakes through a series of steel cables that are connected to either a hand lever or a foot pedal. The idea is that the system is fully mechanical and completely bypasses the hydraulic system so that the vehicle can be brought to a stop even if there is a total brake failure. Here the cable pulls on a lever mounted in the brake and is directly connected to the brake shoes. This has the effect of bypassing the wheel cylinder and controlling the brakes directly.

Self-applying characteristic

Drum brakes have a natural "self-applying" characteristic, better known as "self-energizing." The rotation of the drum can drag either one or both of the shoes into the friction surface, causing the brakes to bite harder, which increases the force holding them together. This increases the stopping power without any additional effort being expended by the driver, but it does make it harder for the driver to modulate the brake's sensitivity. It also makes the brake more sensitive to brake fade
Brake fade
Vehicle braking system fade, or brake fade, is the reduction in stopping power that can occur after repeated or sustained application of the brakes, especially in high load or high speed conditions...

, as a decrease in brake friction also reduces the amount of brake assist.

Disc brakes exhibit no self-applying effect because the hydraulic pressure acting on the pads is perpendicular to the direction of rotation of the disc. Disc brake systems usually have
servo assistance
Vacuum servo
A vacuum servo is a component used on motor vehicles in their braking system, to provide assistance to the driver by decreasing the braking effort. In the USA it is commonly called a brake booster.-Background:...

 ("Brake Booster") to lessen the driver's pedal effort, but some disc braked cars (notably race cars) and smaller brakes for motorcycles, etc., do not need to use servos.

Note: In most designs, the "self applying" effect only occurs on one shoe. While this shoe is further forced into the drum surface by a moment due to friction, the opposite effect is happening on the other shoe. The friction force is trying to rotate it away from the drum. The forces are different on each brake shoe resulting in one shoe wearing faster. It is possible to design a two-shoe drum brake where both shoes are self-applying (having separate actuators and pivoted at opposite ends), but these are very uncommon in practice.

Drum brake designs

Drum brakes are typically described as either leading/trailing or twin leading.

Rear drum brakes are typically of a leading/trailing design (for non-servo systems), or [Primary/Secondary] (for duo servo systems) the shoes being moved by a single double-acting hydraulic cylinder
Hydraulic cylinder
A Hydraulic cylinder is a mechanical actuator that is used to give a unidirectional force through a unidirectional stroke. It has many applications, notably in engineering vehicles.- Operation :...

 and hinged at the same point. In this design, one of the brake shoes will always experience the self-applying effect, irrespective of whether the vehicle is moving forwards or backwards. This is particularly useful on the rear brakes, where the parking brake (handbrake or footbrake) must exert enough force to stop the vehicle from travelling backwards and hold it on a slope. Provided the contact area of the brake shoes is large enough, which isn't always the case, the self-applying effect can securely hold a vehicle when the weight is transferred to the rear brakes due to the incline of a slope or the reverse direction of motion. A further advantage of using a single hydraulic cylinder on the rear is that the opposite pivot may be made in the form of a double-lobed cam
A cam is a rotating or sliding piece in a mechanical linkage used especially in transforming rotary motion into linear motion or vice-versa. It is often a part of a rotating wheel or shaft that strikes a lever at one or more points on its circular path...

 that is rotated by the action of the parking brake system.

Front drum brakes may be of either design in practice, but the twin leading design is more effective. This design uses two actuating cylinders arranged so that both shoes will utilize the self-applying characteristic when the vehicle is moving forwards. The brake shoes pivot at opposite points to each other. This gives the maximum possible braking when moving forwards, but is not so effective when the vehicle is traveling in reverse.

The optimum arrangement of twin leading front brakes with leading/trailing brakes on the rear allows for more braking force to be deployed at the front of the vehicle when it is moving forwards, with less at the rear. This helps to prevent the rear wheels locking up, but still provides adequate braking at the rear when it is needed.

The brake drum itself is frequently made of cast iron, although some vehicles have used aluminum drums, particularly for front-wheel applications. Aluminum conducts heat better than cast iron, which improves heat dissipation and reduces fade. Aluminum drums are also lighter than iron drums, which reduces unsprung weight
Unsprung weight
In a ground vehicle with a suspension, the unsprung weight is the mass of the suspension, wheels or tracks , and other components directly connected to them, rather than supported by the suspension...

. Because aluminum wears more easily than iron, aluminum drums will frequently have an iron or steel liner on the inner surface of the drum, bonded or riveted to the aluminum outer shell.


Drum brakes are used in most heavy duty trucks, some medium and light duty trucks, and few cars, dirt bikes, and ATV's. Drum brakes are often applied to the rear wheels since most of the stopping force is generated by the front brakes of the vehicle and therefore the heat generated in the rear is significantly less. Drum brakes allow simple incorporation of a parking brake. Drum brakes are also occasionally fitted as the parking (and emergency) brake even when the rear wheels use disk brakes as the main brakes. In this situation, a small drum is usually fitted within or as part of the brake disk also known as a banksia brake.

In hybrid vehicle
Hybrid vehicle
A hybrid vehicle is a vehicle that uses two or more distinct power sources to move the vehicle. The term most commonly refers to hybrid electric vehicles , which combine an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors.-Power:...

 applications, wear on braking systems is greatly reduced by energy recovering motor-generators (see regenerative braking), so some hybrid vehicles such as the GMC Yukon hybrid and Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius is a full hybrid electric mid-size hatchback, formerly a compact sedan developed and manufactured by the Toyota Motor Corporation...

 (except the third generation) use drum brakes.

Disc brakes rely on pliability of caliper seals and slight runout to release pads, leading to drag, fuel mileage loss, and disc scoring. Drum brake return springs give more positive action and, adjusted correctly, often have less drag when released.

Certain heavier duty drum brake systems compensate for load when determining wheel cylinder pressure; a feature unavailable when disks are employed. One such vehicle is the Jeep Comanche. The Comanche can automatically send more pressure to the rear drums depending on the size of the load, whereas this would not be possible with disks.

Due to the fact that a drum brakes friction contact area is at the circumference of the brake, a drum brake can provide more braking force than an equal diameter disc brake. The increased friction contact area of drum brake shoes on the drum allows drum brake shoes to last longer than disc brake pads used in a brake system of similar dimensions and braking force. Drum brakes retain heat and are more complex than disc brakes but are often the more economical and powerful brake type to use in rear brake applications due to the low heat generation of rear brakes, a drum brakes self applying nature, large friction surface contact area, and long life wear characteristics(%life used/kW of braking power).

Although drum brakes are often the better choice for rear brake applications in all but the highest performance applications, vehicle manufactures are increasingly installing disc brake system at the rear wheels. This is due to the popularity rise of disc brakes after the introduction front ventilated disc brakes. Front ventilated disc brakes performed much better than the front drum brakes they replaced. The difference in front drum and disc brake performance caused car buyers to purchase cars that also had rear disc brakes. Additionally rear disc brakes are often associated with high performance race cars which has increase their popularity in street cars. Rear disc brakes in most applications are not ventilated and offer no performance advantage over drum brakes. Even when rear discs are ventilated, it is likely that the rear brakes will never benefit from the ventilation unless subjected to very high performance racing style driving.

As a tailshaft parking/emergency brake

Drum brakes have also been incorporated on the transmission tailshaft as parking brakes (e.g. Chryslers through 1956), with the an advantage that it is completely independent of the service brakes, but having a severe disadvantage in that when used with a bumper jack (common in that era) on the rear (without proper wheel blocks) the differential's action can allow the vehicle to roll off the jack.


Drum brakes, like most other types, are designed to convert kinetic energy
Kinetic energy
The kinetic energy of an object is the energy which it possesses due to its motion.It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes...

 into heat
In physics and thermodynamics, heat is energy transferred from one body, region, or thermodynamic system to another due to thermal contact or thermal radiation when the systems are at different temperatures. It is often described as one of the fundamental processes of energy transfer between...

 by friction
Friction is the force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and/or material elements sliding against each other. There are several types of friction:...

. This heat is intended to be further transferred to the surrounding air, but can just as easily be transferred into other components of the braking system.

Brake drums have to be large to cope with the massive forces that are involved, and they must be able to absorb and dissipate a lot of heat. Heat transfer to atmosphere can be aided by incorporating cooling fins
Heat sink
A heat sink is a term for a component or assembly that transfers heat generated within a solid material to a fluid medium, such as air or a liquid. Examples of heat sinks are the heat exchangers used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems and the radiator in a car...

 onto the drum. However, excessive heating can occur due to heavy or repeated braking, which can cause the drum to distort, leading to vibration under braking.

The other consequence of overheating is brake fade
Brake fade
Vehicle braking system fade, or brake fade, is the reduction in stopping power that can occur after repeated or sustained application of the brakes, especially in high load or high speed conditions...

. This is due to one of several processes or more usually an accumulation of all of them.
  1. When the drums are heated by hard braking, the diameter of the drum increases slightly due to thermal expansion
    Thermal expansion
    Thermal expansion is the tendency of matter to change in volume in response to a change in temperature.When a substance is heated, its particles begin moving more and thus usually maintain a greater average separation. Materials which contract with increasing temperature are rare; this effect is...

    , this means the brakes shoes have to move farther and the brake pedal has to be depressed further.
  2. The properties of the friction material can change if heated, resulting in less friction. This can be a much larger problem with drum brakes than disk brakes, since the shoes are inside the drum and not exposed to cooling ambient air. The loss of friction is usually only temporary and the material regains its efficiency when cooled, but if the surface overheats to the point where it becomes glazed the reduction in braking efficiency is more permanent. Surface glazing can be worn away with further use of the brakes, but that takes time.
  3. Excessive heating of the brake drums can cause the brake fluid
    Brake fluid
    Brake fluid is a type of hydraulic fluid used in hydraulic brake and hydraulic clutch applications in automobiles, motorcycles, light trucks, and some bicycles. It is used to transfer force into pressure...

     to vaporize, which reduces the hydraulic pressure being applied to the brake shoes. Therefore less deceleration is achieved for a given amount of pressure on the pedal. The effect is worsened by poor maintenance. If the brake fluid is old and has absorbed moisture it thus has a lower boiling point
    Boiling point
    The boiling point of an element or a substance is the temperature at which the vapor pressure of the liquid equals the environmental pressure surrounding the liquid....

     and brake fade occurs sooner.

Brake fade is not always due to the effects of overheating. If water gets between the friction surfaces and the drum, it acts as a lubricant and reduces braking efficiency. The water tends to stay there until it is heated sufficiently to vaporize, at which point braking efficiency is fully restored. All friction braking systems have a maximum theoretical rate of energy conversion. Once that rate has been reached, applying greater pedal pressure will not result in a change of this rate, and indeed the effects mentioned can substantially reduce it. Ultimately this is what brake fade is, regardless of the mechanism of its causes.

Disc brakes are not immune to any of these processes, but they deal with heat and water more effectively than drums.

Drum brakes can be grabby if the drum surface gets light rust or if the brake is cold and damp, giving the pad material greater friction. Grabbing can be so severe that the tires skid and continue to skid even when the pedal is released. Grab is the opposite of fade: when the pad friction goes up, the self-assisting nature of the brakes causes application force to go up. If the pad friction and self-amplification are high enough, the brake will stay on due to self-application even when the external application force is released.

While disk brake rotors can be machined to clean up the friction surface (ie 'turning'), the same generally cannot be done with brake drums. Machining the friction surface of a brake drum increases the diameter, which would require oversized shoes in order to maintain proper contact with the drum. However, since oversized shoes are generally unavailable for most applications, worn and/or damaged drums generally must be replaced.

Another disadvantage of drum brakes is their relative complexity. A person must have a general understanding of how drum brakes work and take simple steps to ensure the brakes are reassembled correctly when doing work on drum brakes. And, as a result of this increased complexity (compared to disk brakes), maintenance of drum brakes is generally more time-consuming. Also, the greater number of parts results in a greater number of failure modes compared to disk brakes. Springs can break from fatigue if not replaced along with worn brake shoes. And the drum and shoes can become damaged from scoring if various components (such as broken springs or self-adjusters) break and become loose inside the drum.


Before 1984, it was common to re-arc brake shoes to match the arc within brake drums. This practice, however, was controversial as it removed friction material from the brakes and caused a reduction in the life of the shoes as well as created hazardous asbestos dust. Current design theory is to use shoes for the proper diameter drum, and to simply replace the brake drum when necessary, rather than perform the re-arcing procedure.

Use in music

A brake drum can be very effective in modern concert and film music to provide a non-pitched metal sound similar to an anvil
An anvil is a basic tool, a block with a hard surface on which another object is struck. The inertia of the anvil allows the energy of the striking tool to be transferred to the work piece. In most cases the anvil is used as a forging tool...

. Some have more resonance than others, and the best method of producing the clearest sound is to hang the drum with nylon
Nylon is a generic designation for a family of synthetic polymers known generically as polyamides, first produced on February 28, 1935, by Wallace Carothers at DuPont's research facility at the DuPont Experimental Station...

 cord or to place it on foam. Other methods include mounting the brake drum on a snare drum
Snare drum
The snare drum or side drum is a melodic percussion instrument with strands of snares made of curled metal wire, metal cable, plastic cable, or gut cords stretched across the drumhead, typically the bottom. Pipe and tabor and some military snare drums often have a second set of snares on the bottom...

 stand. Either way, the brake drum is struck with hammers or sticks of various weight.

It is also commonly used in steelpan
Steelpans is a musical instrument originating from The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago...

 ensembles, where it is called "the iron."

See also

  • Balancing machine
    Balancing Machine
    A balancing machine is a measuring tool used for balancing rotating machine parts such as rotors for electric motors, fans, turbines, disc brakes, disc drives, propellers and pumps. The machine usually consists of two rigid pedestals, with suspension and bearings on top supporting a mounting...

  • Brake lining
    Brake lining
    Brake linings are the consumable surfaces in brake systems, such as drum brakes and disc brakes used in transport vehicles.-History:Brake linings were invented by Bertha Benz during her historic first long distance car trip in the world in August 1888.-Structure and function:Brake linings are...

  • Brake bleeding
    Brake bleeding
    Brake bleeding is the procedure performed on hydraulic brake systems whereby the brake lines are purged of any air bubbles...

  • Hydraulic disc brakes
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