What's so bad about drum brakes on cars?

I’ve been watching a lot of car reviews on YouTube recently, and I was considering the Toyota Corolla. Several reviews trashed it because one or more trim levels of it “still” have drum brakes in 2016! The reviewers make it sound like it’s about the same as Fred Flintstone stomping his feet into the ground to stop his wood and stone car.

I bought something else, but I’m still wondering why drum brakes are seemingly so unacceptable in this day and age.

I remember my first car. It had drum brakes. I remember trying to stop when they got wet, or trying to stop when backing down a hill. Yes, disk brakes are way better because they stop when wet, and work equally well backing up. Those are the 2 that I cold think of right off the top of my head.

Disk brakes can dissipate heat better which is a major cause of failure and wear. Disk brakes are always 100% in adjustment as long as everything is working right.

When they first came out I used to question the logic behind them because they had so much less surface area of pad. They are also lighter. Really no comaprison, they are better in every aspect I can think of.

Cuz they suck for stopping. And when it’s time to work on them the drum’s a bitch to get off and something’s always busted in there and the pieces fall out like shattered legos. I had a 95 Pathfinder that had drum and disc on the rear axle. At brake doing time I figured I’d man up and learn myself about drum brakes. Do the job right, you know? Sure enough, nothing but crumbs in the drums. I’m not proud of the fact I put the car back together as a 4-wheel disk brake only rig, but you know what? Stopped just fine.

Generalizations follow:

A) Front brakes do most of the work
B) Most people movers are front wheel drive
C) Most front wheel drive cars have most of their weight on the front

B & C make A) even more true. A Corolla with disk brakes in the rear would have very small, unvented disks with very small calipers. That sort of setup can’t dissipate heat very well anyway. Drums are usually lighter than an equivalent small disk, and definitely cheaper. Even for a performance enthusiast the car will stop just as well, although most performance enthusiasts would prefer disks and pads because they’re easier to deal with than drums and shoes.

Long story short, people bemoaning some pedestrian people mover that still has drum brakes are being car snobs.

This is a question that only a person who has never dealt with drum brakes could ask.

Do you understand how drum brakes (are supposed to) work?

A thin pad is riveted to a semi-circular surface which is supposed to expand until it comes in contact with the wheel.
This produces tremendous amount of heat, which warps and distorts both surfaces. Very soon, only a few points actually contact the wheel.

And may God help you if any crud gets into the wheel, 'cause that means you have no brake on that wheel.

I’m not terribly smart on light trucks, but in that setup isn’t the drum part usually the parking brake?

This “it’s good enough for this application” argument does not address the OP:

“What is wrong with drum brakes?”.

He specifically asked why they were so “unacceptable,” not what was wrong with them. Drum brakes on a Corolla are perfectly acceptable, even if they do have certain drawbacks.

One big draw back to drum brakes is that they don’t wrk when wet, another is that they can fade out if over heated much easier than disk, another is that the adjusting mechanisms are seldom 100% and can easily get out of adjustmnet leading to uneven breaking. Thy are also heavier and much harder to change.

Know what? You’re absolutely right. It was a long time ago and I’d forgotten about the parking brake not working. It was an automatic so P did the job.

IMHO, Drum brakes work very well in most applications. If you are a true sporty driver, you MAY notice a difference. Most folks will not notice any difference. Unless you ford a few creeks on your way home, the wet = no brakes is a non issue. Hot brakes = no brakes is also not a problem, unless of course, you are in the mountains with a large load on the rig going down a loooong steeeep hill. In that case, use your gears.

My one ton pick up has drum brakes on the rear axle. I almost always have a good sized load on it. With just my tools & full tanks of fuel it weighs in at 7,500 lbs. I am usually towing a double or triple axle trailer, that has (Gasp!), drum brakes! I live & work in the Colorado Rockies. For my work, I am often on steep, unimproved roads. Many times, I ford creeks to get to & from the job site. So far, ten years now, the drum brakes have been a non issue. YMMV as usual.

When I lived & worked in Western Oregon in the coast range mountains, (120" rain annually), driving similar rigs with drum brakes, they were also a non issue 15 years there.

I agree that “people bemoaning some pedestrian people mover that still has drum brakes are being car snobs.”

If we were talking about a true sports car, OK, drum brakes are not the best. We are talking about a Toyota Corolla for Christs sake!:smack: Get a grip! If the brakes will stop the car, & last a long time, all is good. :slight_smile:

Not quite. The brake shoes don’t expand, they’re pushed outwards into the drum. Also they contact the inside of the brake drum, not the wheel. Hence drum brakes.

Fun drum brake fact: Properly functioning drum brakes cause no additional friction to a rolling wheel. Unlike disc brakes in which pads are always in contact with rotors to some degree.

Why’s he even reviewing a Corolla by his logic no one should even consider it as there are better performing more expensive cars available.

Rear drum brakes are fine. They are a less expensive option that do not perform on the same level as disks. On a Corolla it hardly matters, if you had no working back brakes you probably wouldn’t even notice, the front brakes have more than enough stopping power.

Drums can be fine if ----- if you maintain your car, if you drive a stick, if you adjust your driving to conditions, if you don’t tailgate, and maybe about another dozen or so “ifs”. Most people today want to just turn the key and go so for the vast majority disc can be the better choice. I also had some slipstick jockey (engineer) bring ABS and something into the debate once but the details gave me a headache; and that was just the parts I understood.

All your ifs apply to disk brakes as well. Disks aren’t some super technology that makes up for shitty owners and drivers.

t’s not just one reviewer. And they review not just the best cars, but also the best sellers (and the Corolla is among them), or all the cars in a given class/size. And not only are there “best of” lists, there are “worst of” lists, so somebody has to review shitty cars too, to learn just how shitty they are.

Another important factor is “bang for the buck”. Those big drums come with a great weight penalty for the amount of performance they offer. Additionally, IME, braking response/feedback is pretty poor from a set of 4x drums. It’s like just pushing harder on a wall… not much sensitivity.

Though you didn’t ask, a plus to drums is simplicity of the parking brake. They only need a cable and ratchet attached to the shoes to hold fast. My rear disc brake car requires a separate parking brake circuit.

I think a Corolla with drums would be just fine and would barely consider them a handicap on that car. If it’s only the rear brakes that are drums, you’ll never notice. Until you have to work on them, ha!

I have in the past driven many cars with drum brakes on all four wheels. A couple of them had big V8s and no power assist. I always kept them in good shape and well adjusted. They worked just fine. One neat thing about drum brakes is they sort of self apply (self-servo action) once engaged, so non-power drum brakes really don’t require as much pedal effort as one would think.

I agree with the complaints about the self-adjusters not working as well as they were supposed to. The VWs I drove didn’t even have self-adjusters, and those brakes needed adjusting often. Anyway, the complaints about drum brakes not working after driving through water are real. Heat fade in daily driving, not so much.

My favorite thing about disc brakes compared to drums is their ease of service. They are much easier to work on!