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Brake pads vs. brake shoes

We often take our brakes for granted – especially when they’re working as we expect and keeping us and other road users around us safe. So, it makes sense to know a bit more about them, starting with: what’s the difference between brake pads and brake shoes?

First of all, are brake pads and brake shoes the same? The short answer is no. While they both carry out a similar function, they operate in different types of braking systems and have different advantages (and disadvantages).

What are brake pads?

Found in disc brake systems, brake pads are a flat piece of steel with a thick friction material layer on one side. This friction material type varies, depending on vehicle type and size and brake caliper type.

The driver operates the disc brake system by pushing his foot down on the brake pedal. This pushes against the master cylinder, which is basically a piston surrounded by brake fluid. The fluid moves down the brake lines where it forces the caliper to squeeze a pair of brake pads against a brake disc. This, in turn, slows the wheel down. The energy released from stopping your car’s motion is converted into waste heat, which has to be dispersed. As the disc has a relatively quick cooling time, this type of brake offers a better stopping performance than drum brakes. The friction material layer becomes thinner over time, as a result of usage and eventually the brake pads need to be replaced.

What are brake shoes?

Brake shoes carry the brake lining inside brake drum systems. They are a curved piece of metal, with a friction material fixed to one side. 

When the driver applies the brake, a wheel cylinder in the drum brake system forces the brake shoe outward, against the inside of the drum. This creates friction between the lining and drum, causing the car to brake. The kinetic energy is dissipated as heat. Brake shoes are often used for the rear axle, especially as most modern cars brake more sharply on their front wheels, so the temperatures the rear brakes need to handle aren’t so high. As well as being less expensive to manufacture, drum brake systems can be more effective as a parking brake than disc brakes.

What are the differences between brake pads and brake shoes?

The main differences between brake pads and brake shoes are:

  • Positioning
    Brake pads and brake shoes are positioned differently in their braking system. Brake pads are placed inside a caliper which surrounds the brake disc and brake shoes are placed inside the brake drum.
  • Wear
    Brake shoes typically last much longer than brake pads.  Usually they are positioned on the rear axle and undertake a much lower proportion of the braking work. 

Do I need brake pads or brake shoes?

While you can’t mix and match on the same wheel – for example using brake pads with drum brakes or brake shoes with disc brakes – it is possible to have both brake pads and shoes on the same car. In fact, many cars use a combination of the two, often smaller vehicles, with disc brake systems fitted on the front axle and drum brake systems fitted on the rear axle

Champion brakes

With so many options available, it’s important to choose quality components for your braking systems. That’s why you need a Champion.


The content contained in this article is for entertainment and informational purposes only and should not be used in lieu of seeking professional advice from a certified technician or mechanic. We encourage you to consult with a certified technician or mechanic if you have specific questions or concerns relating to any of the topics covered herein. Under no circumstances will we be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on any content.

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