The Best Brake Shoes (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Bring those drum brakes back to life with a good set of shoes.
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From the 1960s to the 1980s, discs gradually replaced drums on the front of vehicles. As time advanced, disc setups eventually took the place of rear brakes. These days it's a challenge to find a car with drum brakes being used for anything other than the parking brake. But the truth is that not everyone is driving a brand-new vehicle. Plenty of people motor around with drums out back, and if you’re old-school, you’ve probably got them on all four corners.
Long story short, drum brakes are still relevant. So if you’re going to start fixing your car or are considering making a profession of it, you want to familiarize yourself with them. We provide a little guidance on the topic and offer up some suggestions on what we believe to be the best brake shoes on the market.
Service-level brake shoe set that offers better performance over stock. The design incorporates a semi-metallic/ceramic compound to improve performance while retaining a very competitive price point.
- Competitive price point
- Exceptional quality
- Semi-metallic/ceramic compound for improved performance and comfort
- Does not include hardware
An affordable set of brake shoes that still offers the quality and performance your vehicle relies on. Despite the low price, the use of premium friction material and hardware are present.
- Great price point
- High-quality construction
- Ceramic compound for improved performance and comfort
- Does not include hardware
An all-in-one kit that makes it possible to completely service a drum brake system. The use of premium materials and ceramic friction compounds also work to improve braking performance with no sacrifice to comfort.
- Includes everything needed to service drum brakes
- Offers better performance than stock
- Exceptionally high price point
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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Brake Shoes
- Bring the vehicle to a stop. Brake shoes and pads work to achieve the same goal. And though one may do it better than the other, either is responsible for bringing your vehicle to a stop. They also both work to do so by applying friction to a given surface. That means that shoes and pads wear down, and you need to replace them every so often to preserve braking capabilities.
- Keep the vehicle in place. Even on a modern vehicle, brake shoes are still put to work. The parking brake assembly uses this type of braking system to keep the vehicle in place. Sure, those with a manual gearbox lean on them far more than folks with an automatic, but they still serve the same purpose on any vehicle.
- Affordable. If there’s anything to love about drum brakes, it’s the low maintenance costs. Brake shoes are generally more affordable than pads. That, in combination with the fact that they work just as well as many factory disc brake setups available to certain platforms, is why many opt to stick with drums.
Types of Brake Shoes
Drum Brake Shoes
There are different types of drum braking setups. Leading/trailing, duo servo, and twin leading setups are all different drum brakes and all three feature different shoe types. But for the sake of simplicity, we'll lump them all together under the category of drum brake shoes. These are what bring the vehicle to a stop under usual driving conditions. And while it does come in handy to understand the various types of shoes, a year makes model search, and the brakes' location on the vehicle will almost always be all you need to make sure you get the right brake shoes.
Parking Brake Shoes
Even if you have disc brakes on all four corners, you probably still have drums on the rear of the car. Most parking brakes feature a Drum-in-Hat design with the rear rotor double as a disc and drum brake system. The disc is responsible for slowing the car as you press the pedal. At the same time, the drum is an independent system that works with a mechanical lever in emergencies or for parking. The primary difference between the shoes in a drum-in-hat system and those that exist in a primary braking system is that they are much smaller. We should also note that with an actual drum brake system, your rear brakes work as both the primary brake and the parking brake.
AC Delco has a history that dates back to the late-19th century. The company works out of Grand Blanc, Michigan, and is a known OE replacement parts supplier. The level of experience directly links to the parts' quality, which is precisely why we're proud to feature offerings such as the ACDelco 17960BF1 Professional Rear Drum Brake Shoe on our list.
Here we have another company that's been in business since the 1800s. Bosch's brand is a staple of quality replacement parts, which might not be a surprise considering its headquarters is in Gerlingen, Germany. The Bosch BS589 Blue Drum Brake Shoe Set is a single example of the quality this company brings to the table.
Raybestos might not be as old as some others, but the company is far from green, considering it started back in 1909. The brand works out of McHenry, Illinois, and is a go-to brake parts supplier for street-driven vehicle owners. The Raybestos Element3 Professional Grade Drum Brake Shoe Set is a fine example of why that is.
Power Stop didn't step onto the scene until 1997. However, with the short amount of time in the industry, they've become a renowned supplier of performance brake parts. The company answers to the call of any kind of specialty driving. The Power Stop Replacement Rear Brake Kit quality is precisely what you can expect regardless of your application.
You probably guessed that Wagner is yet another long-standing supplier of brake parts. The company works out of Southfield, Michigan, and has been hard at work since 1891. That said, it's hard to put together a list of good brake parts without including offerings such as the Wagner Quick Stop Brake Shoes.
Brake Shoe Pricing
- $15-$20: Most service-level shoes will run for prices somewhere in this price range. Even premium brands typically sell brake shoes for street-driven vehicles in this affordable price range.
- $20-$50: Stepping up to shoes that feature ceramic or semi-metallic friction materials will increase the price somewhere in this price range.
- $50 and up: Shoes rarely go for more than $50 unless you purchase a comprehensive service kit that includes multiple sets or other brake system components.
Just like with disc brakes, you have a choice of friction materials to select between. And just like with disc brakes, the same principles apply. Organic shoes offer the quietest ride, semi-metallic shoes provide the best performance, while ceramic shoes land right in the middle. What works best depends on the type of driving you to do and what friction material best matches it.
For the most part, a simple year makes model search combined with picking the shoes for the proper location on the car is enough to get you where you need to be. However, some applications, old ones, in particular, can require you to jump through a few hoops. Even with a comprehensive search, you may come up with multiple options. Details like the brake drum size are essential to your selection. That said, you might run into the situation where you need to take these measurements to ensure you purchase the correct shoes.
- Inclusion of Hardware Kit. Springs, pins, and adjusters aid brake shoes' operation and mounting. And just like the shoes, those bits of hardware wear out. While not always necessary, it's worth performing a complete service by replacing the hardware along with the shoes. That said, you need to purchase the appropriate hardware, which may or may not be included in the shoe set you purchase.
Best Brake Shoes Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- While you are servicing the brake pads and rotors on the rear of your vehicle, it’s worth taking the time to inspect the shoes of the parking brake assembly. How long these brake shoes last does depend on how often you use your parking brake, but you should always take the time to make sure they are sound enough for use over the next 50,000 miles or so until you need to replace the rear pads again.
- While it may be tempting to skip, it’s worth replacing the hardware every time you return the shoes. Even if a spring or pin seems to be in ok condition, it’s good practice to replace it anyway. Otherwise, you run the risk of having those parts fail on you at the worst moment possible.
- Servicing brake drums goes beyond replacing the main components and hardware. More often than not, drum brakes have an automatic adjuster to compensate for the wear of the shoes. During replacement of the shoes and drum, you’ll likely need to set the adjuster to the appropriate setting to prevent excessive wear.
Q: Are ceramic or metallic brake pads better?
That depends on the driving conditions you subject the vehicle to. Metallic pads and shoes generally offer the best performance and are a clear choice for track conditions. However, the quiet nature of ceramic pads or shoes and their good performance characteristics make them an excellent choice for a blend of performance and street driving.
Q: How do you check the condition of your brake discs and pads?
You can usually get a good look at brake discs and pads without having to tear the vehicle apart as the rotor's surface is exposed. Any signs of abnormal wear on the rotor's surface is a clear indicator that it's time for a service. Drum brakes are a sealed system, though, meaning you need to take them apart for a visual inspection. However, odd signs and insufficient braking power are other signs that the shoes need to be replaced.
Q: How long do brake pads last?
We cover this topic in-depth in our piece How Long do Brake Pads Last. But in most instances, under normal driving conditions, both brake drums and brake shoes should last you around 50,000 miles before needing service.
Again, our top pick goes to the Raybestos Element3 Professional Grade Drum Brake Shoe Set. We feel that the price combined with the quality and performance is very hard to beat for a daily-driver. But we can’t argue with those who prefer the Wagner Quick Stop Rear Brake Shoe Set cost. But that’s just our take on the matter. What shoes do you use on your vehicle? What materials do you think are the best for it?
If you’re looking to learn more about brake systems, we encourage you to read the complimentary passages mentioned throughout this review. Consider diving into our Bike Brake Pads and Brake Caliper Grease coverage.