How Long Do Drum Brakes Last?

An essential part of any vehicle is the brakes. They are as vital a component as the accelerator or the engine and incredibly important for safety.

Drum brakes are no different from regular brakes. They complete the exact same job of applying pressure to the wheel cylinders and actively slow the speed that the vehicle is traveling at.

With such an important job, it’s not surprising that you might find yourself asking ‘how long do drum brakes last?’

In this article, we’ll look at the answer to that question by identifying exactly how they work and the symptoms you should watch out for if your brakes could be on their way out.

How do drum brakes work?

To understand how long drum brakes will last, we must understand exactly how they work. It is common knowledge how brake disks work, but the function of drum brakes is lesser-known.

You used to find drum brakes in the majority of vehicles, however, this number has started to decline as brake disks have become more popular. 

Both drum brakes and brake disks work very similarly. The process for both is triggered by pressure applied to the brake pedal within the car. This encourages the brake fluid to move from the master cylinder down to the brakes.

The brake fluid then enters the wheel cylinder which is located within the wheel drum. The fluid applies pressure to the pistons in the wheel cylinder and forces the brake shoes into the lining of the brake drum.

The brake drum is attached to the hub, so this process applies friction and pressure which will in turn slow the wheels and the car until it comes to a stop. 

How long do drum brakes last?

Now that we know exactly how the drum brakes work, it’s time to move onto understanding how long drum brakes will last.

Like with any component of a car, it is impossible to give an exact time limit on how long they will last. The drum brakes will be impacted by a variety of different factors which could prolong or limit their lifetime.

That being said, on average drum brakes will last for upwards of 200,000 miles. 

However, it is important to remember that of all the components within your vehicle, the brakes are one of the parts which experience the most strain.

It is really common for the vehicle’s brakes to be overused and put under a lot of pressure which can cause irreversible damage to them. This combined with the everyday wear and tear that the brakes experience, makes it unsurprising that the life of the brakes can be reduced significantly depending on your driving patterns.

However, 200,000 miles is an incredible distance to cover and the majority of people will not drive this distance in one car, so the lifetime of drum brakes is actually pretty good. 

Signs that your drum brakes are struggling

With an estimated lifetime of 200,000 miles for drum brakes, you could assume that your brakes will not experience any issues during the time that you have your vehicle.

Especially if you have a new vehicle. That being said, it’s important to understand the signs of poor drum brakes as there are always exceptions to the average. If you suspect your drum brakes are struggling, you should take your car to the garage and have it checked by a mechanic.

Brakes are a vital component of your car and driving with brakes that are not performing as they should is extremely dangerous. 

The most common symptom that your drum brakes are struggling is a strange feeling when you press the brake pedal. As drivers, we use the brakes every single time we drive so we get a feeling for how they operate underfoot.

So when an issue develops within your brakes, the most common thing you will notice is the feeling. If your drum brakes are struggling, the brake pedal will often start to shudder or vibrate underfoot which is the first sign that something’s wrong. 

Another sign you might notice is a noise emitted when you press the brake pedal. When your drum brakes wear, it is common for a scraping noise to occur when pressure is applied to the brakes. This scraping noise is usually caused by extremely worn brake shoes which are located within the drum brake. 

Finally, you may also notice that the parking brake is not working as it should. As the drum brakes wear, the brake shoes will struggle to squeeze against the inside of the drum as they should. This not only affects the brake pedal but also the parking brake.

If you notice that your parking brake is not locking as it should, or your car is rolling a few inches after the brake has been applied, this could be caused by faulty drum brakes. 

What causes problems with the drum brakes?

You’ve probably already guessed it, but the most common cause of problems with the drum brakes is simply wear and tear.

The brakes of your vehicle are used a lot throughout the time that you are driving, as well as when you are parking and in emergencies where you need to stop quickly.

They are put under an immense amount of pressure every time you use your car, so it’s not surprising that they experience a lot of wear and tear. 

Some factors can contribute to issues with your drum brakes, and most of the time this will come down to your driving habits. Individuals who drive more erratically, or brake harshly when approaching junctions and roundabouts will put their brakes under a lot more pressure than those who brake slowly.

If the brakes are already experiencing a lot of wear and tear, it is possible that something as simple as an emergency brake could add enough stress to the drum brakes that it causes the brakes to break.

For the longest life of your drum brakes, you want to try and drive as smoothly as possible every time you take your car out, but of course, this is not always possible. 


So in short, there really is no exact number of years that the drum brakes will last.

That being said, the average set of drum brakes will operate within a car for roughly 200,000 miles giving them a significantly longer life than several other car components.

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Sean Mendez

Hi, I am Sean, a self-confessed petrolhead. I live in Boise, Idaho with a busy family of four and our energetic Labrador retriever. Thank you for visiting my website. You can find my email on the contact page.

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