4 Symptoms of Bad or Worn Brake Shoes (& Replacement Cost)

While most new cars use brake discs instead of brake drums, there are still many left. Here's to tell that your brake drums are worn

Symptoms Of Bad Or Worn Brake Shoes

Brake shoes aren’t something you put on your feet; they are a vital part of the brake drum systems that some cars come equipped with. With well-functioning brake shoes, you can expect superior stopping power every time you press the pedal. However, these parts aren’t made to last forever. If you notice symptoms of bad or worn brake shoes, your safety could be at risk.

As we evaluate the bad brake shoes symptoms, remember to watch for signs that something is wrong. By knowing where the brake shoes are located and how they function, you will also be better equipped to replace them when the time comes. Let’s begin with a quick look at the signs:

The most common symptom of worn or bad brake shoes is trouble with the parking brake. If you feel that the parking brakes holding power is reduced, it could definitely be something wrong with them. You may also notice vibrations when braking.

Here is a more detailed list of the most common symptoms of bad or worn brake shoes:

Worn or Bad Brake Shoes Symptoms

1. Parking Brake Troubles

Pull Parking Brake

The parking brake utilizes the back wheels, which is where most brake shoes are located. For the parking brake to work correctly, the shoes and drums must be in good condition.

When the shoes become worn down, you might notice a lack of holding power. The parking brake can feel loose, requiring more pull to engage. It could also slip a little once it is applied. 

2. Vibrations from Brake Pedal

Brake Pedal

One of the first signs that are noticed is a vibration when pushing down the brake pedal. This is often the first indication that the shoes or drums are wearing. 

If there are no other problems happening, you might dismiss it as an anomaly. However, you don’t want to ignore this problem. With prompt attention, you could avoid damage to the drums. 

3. Reduced Stopping Power

Abs Brakes Car

Most drivers don’t think about what happens when the brake pedal is pushed down. All they are concerned with is that the vehicle stops in time. With that said, when the brake shoes start to wear, the stopping time is gradually increased.

This problem gradually becomes worse as the shoes continue to wear down. If you have drum brakes on the back wheels and disc brakes on the front, a complete inspection might need to be done to determine which set is going bad since both cause the same issues. 

4. Unusual Brake Sounds

Driving Highway

When you push the brake pedal, you shouldn’t hear any sounds. The whole operation should be smooth and silent. But, when the brake shoes are wearing down, there will be noises that sound unusual.

Heat starts to build up and metal makes contact with metal. At first, you might hear a scraping sound, but it could eventually turn into a grinding noise that signifies your brakes need immediate attention.

Brake Shoes Location

Brake Shoes Location

There is one wheel cylinder operating the brakes for each wheel. However, there are two pistons operating the shoes, one located at either end of the cylinder. The brake shoe in the front of the wheel is known as the leading or primary shoe. The one near the back is called the trailing or secondary shoe. 

The front shoe is usually smaller and shorter than the rear shoe. Because the front one is stronger, the rear shoe must be larger to match the stopping power. Other than the size, the two have the same overall design and material construction. 

You don’t find drum brakes on a lot of newer models in the front, but they are still put on the rear of some vehicles. Most often, they are used because they cost less than disc brakes to manufacture. 

The Function of the Brake Shoes

Brake shoes are a vital part of the drum brake system. Each brake shoe has a crescent shape that uses friction material on the one side. This friction material sits towards the brake drum. As you press the brake pedal, the shoes move outward and push into the brake drum, thereby slowing down the wheels on the vehicle.

The biggest difference between shoes and pads is how the force is directed. Brake shoes stop a vehicle by pushing outward, while brake pads move closer together to slow down the wheels. 

RELATED: 4 Symptoms of Bad Brake Drums

Brake Shoes Replacement Cost

The cost to replace brake shoes is between $225 and $300 on average. Parts should make up about $120 to $150, while the labor could cost $75 to $180. Prices vary based on what type of car you drive and where you take the vehicle for service. Of course, you could save some money by replacing the brake shoes on your own. 

Brake shoes are meant to last longer than pads, but they still wear out and need replacement. When your vehicle needs brake shoes, you will purchase a kit that includes both the front and back shoes. You will also want to replace the left and right shoes together, as they are probably both worn. By performing replacement on both sides, you ensure maximum performance when you need to stop the vehicle.

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Written by:

Magnus is the owner and main author of MechanicBase. He has been working as a mechanic for over 10 years, and the majority of them specialized in advanced diagnostics and troubleshooting. Certified Automotive Diagnostic Technician.