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What are Brake Shoes?

Brake shoes are friction materials that are forced against a road wheel fixed rotating metal surface known as a brake drum so as to slow and stop a vehicle. The shoes consist of copper, steel, and graphite compounds molded with resin and bound to a half-moon-shaped metal backing plate.

Brake shoes are old technology and aren’t commonly fitted to modern cars but are still used in base models by some manufacturers.

Where are Brake Shoes Located?

Brake shoes are located at the rear of a car behind the rear wheel and obscured by the rear brake drum. That said, not all vehicles fit drums, in fact, most modern car manufacturers don’t use brake drums any longer.

Brake shoe location

Common Brake Shoe Problems

Brake shoes are old, tried, and trusted technology, and they have stayed with us for a few reasons. Mostly price, they are as cheap as chips to make.

I’m not going to beat up on the humble brake shoe, they have served drivers well for over 100 years, and that itself says something.

The common issues with brake shoes are:

Shoe Wear

Rear car brakes tend to wear the least as the weight of the vehicle passes to the front axle under braking. That said, rear brake shoes are still the most common brake shoe issue.

How long shoes last depends on the driver’s style, loads carried, and environment, but typically, you could expect a set of shoes to last about 40,000 to 50,000 miles.

Shoes showing a lining of less than 3mm means it’s time to replace.

Shoe Contamination

Shoe contamination is common, too, but it also means we have another problem. A leaking wheel cylinder allows brake fluid to splash onto the brake linings; after replacing the wheel cylinder, the shoes will need to be replaced.

Broken Shoe/Fixtures

Broken hold-down springs will cause shoe damage and often cause issues when removing the drum to access the shoes. Rusty or otherwise old-looking springs should be replaced with every brake job.

Shoe Adjustment

Most brake shoe systems are self-adjusting but if the brakes haven’t been maintained, caked brake dust can cause them to jam.

I don’t love brake shoes, and truthfully, I think they had their day, but I do respect their longevity. I’ve been a mechanic for two decades plus, and I have yet to meet a mechanic that relishes replacing brake shoes.

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