What are the different types of brakes and which is best for your car? We explain the need-to-know answers in this car lover's guide.

Nobody likes going to the mechanic. With all the routine repairs associated with car ownership, it really is no wonder the auto mechanic industry is worth over $65 billion in 2021.

Brakes are a big part of that. Your pads might only cost $40, but the labor costs really add up, especially if you drive a lot.

Luckily, there are many different types of braking sytems out there that might work for you. Different types of brakes offer different benefits and risks. Let’s talk about some of them.

Factors To Consider For Different Types of Brakes

All braking systems are different and may be used for different purposes. However, you generally want to look at the upfront cost of the braking system, including the labor for having them installed.

You also want to consider the longevity, how long they’ll last you. you could easily get two brakes that use the same system and have one last you a year, and the other last you 3 years. Maybe even for a difference of $30. You’d be surprised.

Lastly, you always want to factor in safety. Don’t just put monster truck brakes on your Corolla. Make sure you’re using the right braking system for your vehicle.

While you are probably not changing your entire braking system on your car, it is a super important aspect to look for when you’re purchasing a new vehicle. If anything is more important than your engine, it’s your brakes!


This is the most common type of brakes and for good reason. It’s time-tested, predictable, and reliable.

Disc brakes have two main components, namely pads and rotors. They work by the caliper, which holds the pad in place, to squeeze with hydraulic pressure to create friction on either side of the rotor.

The brake pads are usually made of ceramic, and the rotors of various metals, usually gray iron or an iron alloy. The ceramic pads have a thin metal tab that goes up on the sides of the pads to create a squeaking sound when the ceramic is getting too thin, notifying you when it’s time to change your pads without causing too much damage to the rotor.

The longevity of this braking system varies widely. If you drive with your brakes a lot or spend a lot of time in the city, a cheaper pair of brakes may only last you 20,000 miles. However, if you get a good pair of pads and you drive cautiously, they could last you up to 100,000.

Rotors are also tricky business. Some people change their rotors every other time they change their pads, and some don’t even need to do that. Your mechanic should be letting you know about this when the time comes.

Drum Brakes

Drum brakes are very similar to disc brakes, where two pads, known as shoes, are used to apply pressure to a drum in the center. This method only has a few small differences, but the main consideration with this system is that it is more difficult to inspect. This is because you have to take off an extra layer and get into the brakes to see it, which can be more costly to get inspected.

Since these systems use similar equipment to the disc system, maintenance with drums is just as variable. However, a good set of shoes and drums should last you a while, just like with pads and rotors.

Electronic Motor Brakes

This may sound like something from the future, but it’s very much a reality in newer vehicles, especially hybrids. The use of electromagnetism even allows for frictionless braking. Yes, you read that right.

The crazy part is that because there’s no friction, there’s also no routine maintenance costs like replacing brake pads every 50,000 miles or so, eliminating a huge amount of waste and regular expenses for your vehicle, especially if you drive a lot.

Another advantage of electromagnetic braking is that a very negligible amount of heat is generated. With mechanical braking, however, a large amount of heat is produced at the brake shoes which can lead to a brake failure.

This is an excellent option for longevity and long-term cost if your car has the option. There are plenty more electronic motor brake advantages to know about.

Air Brakes

This system is usually used in heavy trucks and buses and is probably the most complicated system on the list. And yes, it causes that loud squeaking sound you hear whenever they stop.

This is roughly how air brakes work:

Essentially, the system uses an air compressor to, well, compress the air, and a reservoir to store enough of it. Your brake pedal or foot valve will control how much air you use. Your brake chambers, or brake pots, turn your compressed air into mechanical force. The air pushes the shoes or pads outwards, creating large amounts of friction to stop the vehicle.

The power that comes with this is often too much for a motorcycle or a standard sedan, which is why it’s used mostly for heavy machines, and sometimes even in racing cars!

Anti-Lock Brakes

This system is compatible with almost all brake systems, including the ones listed above. They are extremely common in newer cars. Anti-lock brake systems, or ABS systems, prevent the wheels from skidding on wet or icy surfaces.

Regardless of the brake system, if the brakes are hit too suddently, ABS will prevent the wheels from locking up if you hit the brakes too suddenly. This can be a lifesaver in the winter!

Which Brakes Are Right For You?

The answer isn’t simple. Different types of brakes offer different advantages and disadvantages for all kinds of different vehicles. If you’re unsure what kind of brake system you’re looking for, talk to your dealer or your mechanic for more information.

Keep up to date with the latest news in the auto industry, and keep those engines revving loud!

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