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The first word your mind associates with brakes is probably disc, right? Disc brakes have been around for decades and have replaced drum brakes on the front wheels of most cars. Their superior stopping power, especially in wet weather, makes them a big step forward in safety. It might surprise you to learn, then, that many modern cars still have drum brakes — especially on the rear wheels. Why? It turns out there are several reasons.


Having fewer moving parts than disc brakes, drums are more economical for automobile manufacturers. Plus, automakers can also share those rear drums with your car’s parking brake.

Disc brakes actually complicate things quite a bit. Using disc brakes on the rear wheels requires automakers to install a fifth brake just for parking brake duty. In such a competitive industry, rear drums are a sound choice for a carmaker’s bottom line.


Because of their superior heat capacity, discs are arguably safer than drums. But most of the braking power comes from your front brakes. Even in panic stops, your rear brakes get less stress and less heat than your front brakes.

In high-performance cars and vehicles intended for towing, automakers sometimes use disc brakes in both the front and rear. In everyday driving for a typical passenger vehicle, however, there’s no disadvantage to disc brakes in the front and drums in the rear. That’s part of why drum brakes are still a norm in new cars, despite their age.


You know that high-pitched squeal that comes from your brakes when they’re coated in dust from the road or themselves? That’s strictly a disc brake thing, because the drum protects the inner workings of the brake from the dust. Having drums in the back cuts that noise potential in half.


Because of the lower stress, reduced heat and closed environment that keeps potentially damaging material out of your drum brakes, it’s very likely that your drums in the back will last longer than your discs in the front.

If your car has drum brakes, it is good to get them checked out once in a while. Since a drum is enclosed, there’s nothing you can really eyeball. Unless have experience doing your own brake jobs, pulling a drum brake apart is something best left to the pros. When you have your tires rotated, it’s a perfect time for a brake inspection and/or brake service.

Check out all the brake system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for brake maintenance and repairs. For more information on drum brakes, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

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