Repairs and Maintenance

Why Do Toyota Tacoma Drum Brakes Last So Long?

The Toyota Tacoma’s rear brake drums are incredibly durable. How long do the shoes inside these drums last? One of our readers recently reported putting an astonishing 175,000 miles on his set of brake shoes before needing to replace them. Taking a closer look at how the rear drum brakes on the Toyota are used by the braking system reveals that perhaps it’s really not that unusual for a well-designed truck like the Tacoma to get a huge number of miles out of what most people would consider a regular wear component.

Why Do Toyota Tacoma Drum Brakes Last So Long?

Toyota Tacoma’s rear drum brakes last a long time thanks to how they are used.

Drum Brakes Explained

There was once a time when all cars and trucks made use of drum brakes, as they represented the high point of automotive technology for quite a long period. Drum brakes work by pushing pads called ‘shoes’ against the interior surface of a rotating drum, creating enough friction to slow a vehicle.

Exploded view of a drum brake design from http://www.aa1car.com/library/drum_brakes.htm

Eventually the introduction of disc brakes, which force a brake pad against a spinning disc, pushed drum brakes to the rear set of car and truck wheels. There are a number of reasons as to why this occurred. First, disc brakes are much better at managing heat, as the pads are not enclosed inside a drum and receive more ventilation while the vehicle is moving at speed. This makes them much more resistant to ‘fade,’ which is the loss of stopping power as a set of brake pads begin to overheat.

This brings us to the next reason why disc brakes supplanted drum units at the front of the vehicle. When stopping, most of the force required to come to a halt is applied at the front wheels. This means that far more heat is generated as the result of friction on the front brakes when compared against the rear, which favors a disc brake design for both safety and performance reasons.

Why Are Drum Brakes Still Around?

If disc brakes are so much better at stopping an automobile, then why are drum brakes still around? There are a couple of compelling arguments for outfitting a car or truck with drum brakes:

  • Cost. It’s a lot cheaper to manufacture drum brake assemblies than it is to build a four-wheel disc system, which is why trucks and entry-level cars still feature standard drums.
  • Parking Brake Designs. Incorporating a parking brake into a drum brake system is fairly simple. Many four-wheel disc setups require a separate, drum-like setup alongside the disc in order to install a parking brake, introducing yet another cost into the equation.

A closer look at the shoes and springs inside the Tacoma’s drum brakes.

For an application like the Tacoma, drum brakes are an excellent choice for the rear axle as very few drivers require sports car-like performance from their braking system. This means that Toyota is able to pass on cost savings on the initial purchase price as well as maintenance savings during the course of ownership by going with a drum brake design.

Proper Maintenance Equals Long Drum Brake Life

All of the above to explain one very simple concept: the drum brakes on the Toyota Tacoma last so long because they do far less work than the vehicle’s front discs. Less demand from the braking system = less friction to eat away at the pads. It’s important, however, to examine the drum brake mechanism every time you service the discs on your Tacoma in order to inspect its components for signs of wear.

A final look at the Tacoma’s drum brake mechanism.

Brake shoes require periodic adjustment to ensure that they are positioned just above the interior of the drum for optimum bite, and the drums themselves should be checked for warping and thickness. Finally, check to see if your brake shoes show any grooves that could mean it’s time for machining or replacement: you want as much shoe surface area as possible contacting the drum when you push down on the brake pedal.

  • Somebody

    You can take the manufacturing cost reason out of the list. Disk brakes are **FAR** less expensive to manufacture than drum brakes. There are fewer components, and the components are smaller.

    • Roland Stoneville

      The reasons for using disc brake systems over drum brakes as outlined in previous posts are relevant, however one of the main reasons for the adoption of disc brakes on the front is due to their minimal lock-up tendencies as compared to a drum setup which equates to the driver maintaining a higher degree of control.

  • The illustration of a “typical brake drum” was lifted from my website without permission.

    See http://www.aa1car.com/library/drum_brakes.htm

    • Jason Lancaster

      Larry – You’re absolutely correct. I apologize. Should we remove it? I’ve added a link to the caption so everyone will know where it came from, but I’m happy to pull it out of the article too.