Brake Shoes vs Brake Pads – Differences Explained

Brake shoes are at the heart of a drum brake system and are the “old school” approach to slowing cars and trucks down. Drum brakes have been in use since the creation of automobiles and can still be found on the rear axles of some trucks and small cars due to their simple design and incredible durability.

What are brake shoes? Brake shoes are the friction elements of a drum brake system. They’re made out of steel that’s curved in shape and coated with friction material on one side, and unlike brake pads, brake shoes can be “re-manufactured” or recycled for future use.

Brake pads can be found in disc brake systems, which is the most commonly used braking design used in vehicles today. Every car, truck and SUV uses them on the front axles and some vehicles even use them on the rear axles, too. That’s because disc brakes provide better braking performance than drum brakes by staying cooler under extreme use.

Brake pads are the friction elements of a disc brake system. They’re made from a flat piece of steel with a thick friction media applied to one side, and unlike brake shoes, brake pads come in a wide variety of friction materials that are tailored to different driving styles.

Differences Between Brake Shoes and Brake Pads

  • Position

The main difference between the two different types of brake pads and shoes is their position in the vehicle. The brake shoes are designed to fit inside your drum-style brakes, while brake shoes are placed on top of disk brakes, and serve to pressurize these discs when you apply the brakes.

  • Friction

The best reason for using a brake shoe is that it is made from a material which provides friction to the drum. The pad also has some friction, but not nearly as much as in the shoe. This means that, when you need a powerful break, the shoe has the best traction and force, while the pad is likely to be slower to stop. The brake pad uses pressure to force the disk into the car, so you would experience less friction with the pad than the shoe. However, as the pad is also being placed under immense strain, you can expect to see wear and tear on these, as much as on the car itself.

  • Efficiency

The brake shoe is designed to handle a lot of friction, and the material is hard wearing. You can also easily spot when the shoe is becoming worn, as you will get a weaker stop, with more contact needed on the pedal. This makes it more reliable than the pad, which does not have such a clear warning. While replacing the pad is simpler, and can be managed alone, the shoe generally needs to be replaced less often.

  • Front or Back

Despite the many advantages of brake shoes, when you are using drum brakes, you will need to have a rear or four wheel drive. These kinds of brakes cannot be used at the front of the car, so if you have front wheel drive cars, where the brakes need to be applied to the front of the car, then you will need to have brake pads, rather than shoes. In addition, you cannot use the two together, so if you have a drum brake vehicle, then you cannot use brake pads on them, and nor can you use disc brakes with brake shoes. Therefore, part of deciding between these two kinds of brakes is knowledge of what your car is capable of, and what kind of drive it has.

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