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Brake Shoes: The Ultimate 2021 Guide

March 15, 2021

Want to learn about what a brake shoe does?

Brake shoes and brake pads form an essential part of your brake system. You’ll want them in perfect condition to ensure that your braking system remains functional.

But, what’s the difference between a brake pad and a brake shoe? How long do they last, and how can you ensure that they last longer?

Don’t worry. We’ll answer all of these questions for you. In this article, we’ll get into everything about the brake shoe — how a brake shoe works, how it wears down, how to extend its life, and your smartest option for brake shoe repairs

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Let’s get started.

What Is A Brake Shoe?

The brake shoe is a brake component located inside the brake drum and is the “friction contact point” of drum brakes.

When you depress your brake pedal, the wheel cylinder in the drum brake engages, pushing the brake shoes outwards, against the inside surface of the brake drum. 

This creates friction between the brake shoe lining and the brake drum — eventually stopping the vehicle.

When the brake is released, the retention spring pulls the brake shoe back in a resting position, allowing the vehicle to move again.

Without a functioning brake shoe, the other components of your drum brake system, like the backing plate, wheel brake cylinder, and parking brake, can quickly start to wear out.

The Anatomy Of A Brake Shoe

The brake shoe is a curved metal piece with a layer of friction material, called the brake lining, on one side. 

The brake lining is composed of relatively soft but tough, heat-resistant material with a high friction coefficient. It’s similar to the friction material on the brake pads of disc brakes.

Each drum brake has one pair of brake shoes — a primary shoe (front brake shoe) and a secondary shoe (rear brake shoe). Sometimes their lengths are slightly different, or they may have different types of friction materials.

Inside a drum brake assembly, the brake shoes are mounted on the backing plate with the friction material facing outwards towards the brake drum. Most of the braking effort is handled by the rear shoe, which is why it’s usually a little longer than the front shoe. 

So, how is the drum brake shoe different from a disc brake pad?

The Difference Between Brake Shoes And Brake Pads

Modern vehicles with a hydraulic braking system typically come with one (or both) of these braking mechanisms — the disc brake and the drum brake.

Disc brakes are usually mounted on the front wheels as they quickly exert braking force, which is critical during an emergency brake.

Remember that braking is the act of applying friction, where kinetic energy is converted into heat. This means that braking temperatures on the front brake disc tend to be higher than the rear drum.

As drum brakes don’t dissipate temperatures as well as disc brakes, they’re inserted on the rear axle where rear wheel braking temperatures aren’t as high. 

Excessive brake drum heating can cause brake fluid to vaporize — and this can reduce the hydraulic pressure applied to the drum brake shoes, making braking less effective.

They’re also more effective as a parking brake than disc brakes and are less expensive to manufacture, so don’t be surprised to find rear drum brakes on your ride!

It’s important to note that disc brakes use brake pads. Drum brakes use brake shoes.

They can’t be interchanged. That’s the primary difference between brake pads and brake shoes.

Here’s how the brake shoe and brake pad differ in terms of performance and durability:

Now that you know what a brake shoe is, how do you know if something is wrong with it?

4 Signs Of A Worn Brake Shoe

Here’s how to tell when you have a worn brake shoe that probably needs replacing:

1. Grinding Noises

Do you hear a grinding sound every time you press down on your brake pedal?

The grinding noise made by a worn-out drum brake shoe is a tell-tale sign that your drum brakes aren’t in optimal condition.

Remember, brake shoes consist of friction material layered on the curved metal body of the shoe. When the friction material wears down, the drum brake adjuster advances to keep the brake shoe close to the brake drum.

However, once the friction material is gone, the metal part of the brake shoe comes into contact with the brake drum. This produces that metallic grinding sound.

If you hear this painful sound every time you apply the brakes, you need to send your vehicle for a brake inspection (and clean out the brake dust that’s probably built up in the drum!)

2. Rattling Sounds

Very rarely, old brake shoes are so worn out that some of the brake lining peels off. You’ll hear a rattling sound as those bits roll around the brake drum. 

Also, brake shoes are mounted on the backing plate using a collection of springs and retainers. If any of these brake components are loose or missing, you might hear a rattling sound too.

3. Reduced Parking Brake Grip

The parking brake, also called the hand brake, stops the vehicle from moving while stationary.

The parking brakes are often mounted on the rear wheel, the same as the drum brake. If a brake shoe isn’t working effectively, it will directly affect the efficiency of the parking brake.

You’ll especially notice this if your vehicle is parked on a slope. Your car will keep on rolling even after the parking brake is engaged. 

4. Vibrations Under Braking

You may feel vibrations when braking, and sometimes, when the brakes are still cold, you may not even feel much braking force.

This is caused by brake shoes that are so worn that they can’t apply firm pressure against the brake drum. 

The Easiest Fix For Brake Shoe Problems

If something’s wrong with your brake shoes, you need to take your car to a mechanic ASAP.

Or even better, have a mechanic come to you.

When you’re looking for a mechanic, make sure that they:

You could also make your life easier and just contact RepairSmith

RepairSmith is the most convenient mobile car repair and maintenance solution.

Here’s why RepairSmith should be your go-to repair option:

How Much Does A Brake Shoe Repair Cost?

To get an accurate estimate of what your brake shoe repair will cost you, simply fill out this online form.

How to Ensure Your Brake Shoes Last Longer

While getting your brake shoes periodically replaced is always a good idea, you’d want your brake shoes to last as long as possible, right?

Here are some tips that can help you do that:

1. Slow Down Gently

When it comes to braking issues, harsh, erratic braking is one of the most common causes of problems with brake shoes, and brakes in general.

Braking while driving fast means your brake shoes require more force to stop your vehicle. As a result, your brakes will have to work harder, causing premature wear and tear.

It’s recommended to slow your vehicle down gently — ensuring that the friction material in your brake shoe has less work to do — helping them last longer.

2. Keep Your Car Weight In Check

Although modern vehicles are built to carry large loads, you should avoid overloading your vehicle with excessively heavy items.

If your vehicle is heavier than usual, your brakes have to take care of the extra kinetic load when stopping. This leads to them having to work harder — causing premature wear and tear.

3. Incorporate Engine Braking When You Can

If you drive a manual car, you should try taking your foot off the accelerator to disengage your engine when you’re at low speeds.

As you’re not relying on your brakes to slow down your car, you can extend the life of the friction material in your brake shoes.

Note: Do NOT try engine braking in an automatic car it can damage your transmission. 

Always Maintain Your Brake Shoes

There are so many factors that affect the lifespan and longevity of your brake shoe.

Luckily, you can control most of those elements like your driving speed, reducing the weight of your car, and more.

With that being said, remember to check your brake shoes regularly and invest in a good set of brake shoes whenever you do replace them to avoid any chances of brake failure.

And if you want to get your brake shoes replaced easily from the comfort of your home, simply contact RepairSmith. ASE-certified technicians will come and fix all your brake shoe issues in no time!