The benefits of disc brakes vs drum brakes

Since making their 1980s debut on heavy commercial vehicles, brake pads are now the brake friction material of choice in CVs, as well as in most new semi-trailers and trailers across Europe. Brake friction supplier Lumag reviews the pros and cons of disc brakes and drum brakes.

Disc vs. Drum

Disc brakes can generate higher braking torque than drum brakes, but because braking torque remains more stable during long and repeated braking, this can lead to excessive brake disc heating. Drum brakes are less resilient in this respect, as they are susceptible to losing braking efficiency under high temperature and severe usage.  On the other hand, drum brakes, owing to their compact structure and installation in an enclosed operating space, provide the advantage of limiting penetration of contaminants that usually lower the friction coefficient. Such a solution, however, hinders the dissipation of friction heat generated through braking.

The distinct advantage of drum brakes is their resilience to heavy-duty operation in off-road conditions. For this reason, they are often used in construction and agricultural machinery, and other vehicles operating on dusty dirt roads. Drum brakes are also installed in vehicles for less demanding, price-sensitive markets. Ever harder road conditions, growing vehicle mass and strict legal requirements pushed drum brakes to the limit of their capacity. Therefore today the majority of trucks and buses, as well as many trailers and semi-trailers, come equipped with disc brakes.

Advanced technology

In addition to high braking torque, advantages of disc brakes include their low mass, compact installation size and high resistance to fading.  What is more, brake discs feature low hysteresis (delay between the input and output), are much more technologically advanced and effective than drum brakes, and shorten the stopping distance to boot. However, one must strictly follow maintenance instructions and inspection intervals in order to ensure full satisfaction of user requirements.

There are four major factors influencing the life of pads and discs in brake discs equipped with moving calipers: correct sliding of calipers in their guides, properly operating payload adjusting system, the condition of internal caliper components and adequate braking force distribution in tractor-trailer combinations. Brake discs are much more effective when the steering systems includes electronic adjustment systems. The full potential of an EBS system could not be utilised without its integration with brake discs. Moreover, the application of lighter brake discs reduces the unsprung weight of vehicles, significantly lessening wheel and steering system vibration.

Less cost, longer service life

A special advantage offered by drum brakes is their natural self-applying, or self-energising characteristic (during braking, the pressure of brake shoes exerted on the drum is heightened by the torque of the spinning wheel). This ensures high braking efficiency under low unit pressure, but at the same time hinders the operation of electronic braking systems. Also, drum brakes are cheaper to produce and boast longer service intervals.

When they are cold, braking efficiency of both brake types is comparable, but as the temperature rises, so does the superiority of disc brakes comes to the fore. This results from higher thermal stability of friction materials and a constant contact area between brake pads and the disc. In contrast, brake shoes deform when heated and the contact area between the friction material and the drum is reduced.

The UK market does seem quite unique vs the rest of Europe in terms of specifying drum brakes vs disc brakes, particularly when it comes to trailers and semi-trailers. UK operators have migrated back to drum brakes after an initial high take-up of disc brake actuation in the early years of the technology. This is largely due to the ratio of trailers to tractor units (almost three trailers to one tractor unit) and the potentially long-standing times between usages for trailers. Disc brakes can be more susceptible to seized components in the caliper than a drum brake unit (due to its constant exposure to the elements).



For more information, interviews or images please contact:

Claire Brown, Hornby Whitefoot PR

Tel: 07787 505963


With a history spanning almost 30 years, LUMAG was founded in Poland in 1988 by CEO Marek Żak, initially focusing on the production of brake linings before later implementing its own brake pad manufacturing technology. Over the years the company has achieved enormous technological progress, through applied engineering solutions as well as the continuous rise of quality and safety standards.

Since September 2013 it has been operating out of a purpose built new production facility located 60km from Poznań in the town of Budzyń, covering an area of approx. 19,000 square metres, allowing the company to satisfy ever-growing customer needs and to meet strict demands of the OEM market.

The factory features an automated mixing facility, designed and custom-built for the manufacture of friction materials, coupled with high-capacity processing lines. The investment has multiplied its previous production capacity and allowed it to increase its headcount by around 10%.

The company’s mission is to supply car and commercial vehicle users with high-quality products ensuring safe braking, and in doing so, improving the safety of all road users.

LUMAG’s UK operations are based in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

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