It wasn’t until the 60s and 70s that attempts were made to improve car braking systems to reduce stopping distances, prevent skidding on slippery roads, and make vehicles safer to drive. We compare the early drum brake system and the modern ABS system, to find out how far brake technology has come.
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Drum brakes were the norm for cars back in the day, and they still exist on many old cars today. This is because it isn’t a bad braking system, and if properly maintained it does work effectively, even if it does have its design flaws.
How it works is that when you apply the brake pedal, a hydraulic system causes a curved brake ‘shoe’ to press against the inside of a round drum which rotates along with the wheel. This contact produces friction to slow the car down, and hopefully, stop.
Early cars used this brake system on all four wheels, and some cars today use a front-disc / rear-drum configuration. While the brake shoes are made of a heat-resistant friction material, it is inevitable that wear and tear does occur and they’ll need replacing.
Replacement of the components isn’t that cheap and can be a mechanic’s nightmare. It’s a tedious, finicky process compared to disc brakes, which are just a case of popping on a fresh set of pads and rotors.
The other issue with drum brakes is that they’re not that effective on steep hills. If you happen to be descending with a heavy load, they tend to lose grip because of the heat build-up within the drum known as ‘brake fade’.
Most car manufacturers switched the front brakes to disc brakes in the 1970s, because the front brakes are where most of the stopping takes place. Today, the majority of cars will have disc brakes on both the front and back wheels. As well as being more effective than drum brakes in certain situations, they are cheaper and some also offer the added advantage of ABS or ‘Anti-lock Braking System’.
ABS has been around since 1929 when it was first used on airplanes, but it wasn’t used in cars until the early 1970s when Chrysler introduced an ABS brake they called the ‘Sure Brake’. Other car manufacturers followed suit and in 1993, Lincoln was the first manufacturer to use the ABS system exclusively on all their vehicles.
ABS works by using wheel sensors on the disc brakes and is designed to help the driver steer and avoid skidding while applying the brake pedal. If a wheel does try to lock up, ABS reduces braking on that wheel by pulsating the disc brake pads which allows you to turn the vehicle while braking.
The best way to use ABS is to apply steady and constant pressure and don’t pump the brake pedal. Not all cars that are equipped with ABS perform the same, so it’s a good idea to learn what the braking characteristics of your vehicle are so you know what to expect.
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