Signs Your Brake Shoes Are Worn Out

Mia Bevacqua
August 3, 2018

Signs of worn brake shoes

If your vehicle is showing any signs of having trouble stopping, it requires immediate attention. The brakes are the most crucial safety feature on any car — if they’re not working, have the vehicle towed to a repair shop.

Worn or damaged brake shoes can cause several problems. These are the most common:

  • Noise: The top problem associated with bad brake shoes is noise. Shoes with worn or contaminated friction material can make a squeaking or squealing noise. If the friction material is worn away, you might instead hear a grinding sound as the metal backing plate rubs against the drum.
  • Low brake pedal: Worn shoe linings can result in a brake pedal that’s lower than normal. But a low brake pedal can also be caused by a bad master cylinder, a bad ABS actuator or other issues. Diagnosis is key.
  • Hard or grabby brake pedal: Shoe linings that are contaminated (or brake drums that are glazed) can cause the sensation of a hard or grabby brake pedal.
  • Parking brake doesn’t hold: If the parking brake shoe linings are extremely worn or out of adjustment, the brake may not hold.
  • Reduced stopping power: If the friction pad is worn away, heavy-duty trucks will experience an extreme reduction in stopping power when towing a trailer or hauling a heavy item.

» LEARN MORE: Get an estimate for brake shoe replacement 

How brake shoes work

Brake shoes and drums have fallen out of popularity in the past couple decades — these days, they’re typically only found on the rear wheels, if at all. Disc brakes have taken over instead.

But many cars do still have brake shoes, and even those with all disc brakes tend to have a smaller drum-and-shoe setup for the parking brake.

Inside each brake drum are a pair of brake shoes. When you step on the brake pedal, hydraulic fluid creates pressure that presses the shoes against the drum. This creates the friction needed to stop the car. Each shoe has friction lining attached to a curved metal backing plate.

Brake drums aren’t just for stopping — they’re also part of the parking brake system. Applying the parking brake causes a cable to engage the brake shoes, pushing them against the drum. This helps prevent the vehicle from moving.

Get it diagnosed by a professional

How to fix worn brake shoes

The safety of your vehicle depends on the brakes. Worn or damaged shoes should be replaced as soon as possible. While swapping out a set of brake pads is relatively simple, brake shoes are more complicated. 

Because the shoes are held in place by a collection of small springs and clips, replacement can be tedious and is best left to a professional.

Before spending time and money to replace the brake shoes, a thorough diagnosis should be performed. In same cases, the brakes can be adjusted instead of replaced.

If a new set of shoes is required, the drums must either be resurfaced or replaced at the same time. Measuring the inner diameter of the drum and comparing it to the manufacturer’s specification will determine whether it can be reused. A drum that is too worn will need to be replaced.

Mia Bevacqua

About the Author

Mia Bevacqua is an automotive expert with ASE Master, L1, L2 and L3 Advanced Level Specialist certification. With 13-plus years of experience in the field, she applies her skills toward writing, consulting and automotive software engineering.

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