- Front brakes and rear brakes handle different aspects of the braking process.
- Drum brakes enclose the braking components within a drum-like container, while disc brakes rely on a thin brake rotor squeezed by brake calipers with brake pads.
- Modern vehicles use disc brakes as their front brakes for improved stopping power.
- Rear brakes can use either disc or drum brakes and include parts of the parking brake.
- Front and rear brakes affect stability in different ways, and they also distribute braking force and heat differently.
Brakes slow or stop your car on demand. All vehicles have brakes equipped on both their front and rear wheels to achieve the best braking performance. While both types work together to decelerate your ride, front brakes and rear brakes handle different aspects of the braking process.
Read on to better understand the differences between the front and rear brakes and how they complement each other.
Disc Brakes and Drum Brakes
Before going over the difference between front and rear brakes, it’s a good idea to get the lowdown on the two common types of brake systems: the drum brake and the disc brake.
The drum brake gets its name from the drum that holds all of the brake components. Inside this brake drum, wheel cylinders press brake shoes against the inside of the drum. This slows the wheel’s rotation and stops the vehicle.
Drum brakes are the earlier brake design. Some vehicles still have drum brakes in the rear, but it has been several decades since drum brakes have been used at all four corners.
Disc brakes are the most common brake type. While they are smaller and weigh less than drum brakes, they deliver better braking performance and are easier to install.
Instead of a bulky drum, a disc brake uses a thin brake rotor, which is also called a brake disc. Stepping on the brake pedal will make the brake calipers press the brake pads against the rotor’s surface. The contact between the brake pads and the smooth surface of the brake rotor produces friction that decelerates the wheel.
Disc brakes have two different types of caliper: the floating caliper and the fixed caliper. They perform the same job.
Most modern vehicle models have disc brakes on all four wheels, though there are some that still have disc brakes for the front wheels and drum brakes for the rear wheels.
Now, on to determining the differences between front brakes and rear brakes.
All modern vehicles have disc brakes in the front. The front brakes provide the majority of the stopping power (up to 75%) during normal braking. Having this bias in stopping power aids with weight transfer, helping the driver to maintain control of the vehicle.
When compared to the rear brakes, the front brakes typically have:
- Higher hydraulic pressure
- Larger brake friction surface area
- Ventilated brake rotors for more efficient heat dissipation
The position of the front brakes lets the vehicle’s aerodynamic features channel air over them, which can help cool the brakes while engaged.
Check out these tutorial videos in case you need to replace your front brakes:
Some vehicles have disc brakes in the rear while others use drums. The rear brakes do not provide as much stopping power as the fronts during normal braking. Still, the rear brakes are important for many reasons, including the fact that they house parts of the emergency brake system (also known as the parking brake system).
When compared to the front brakes, the rear brakes typically have:
- Lower hydraulic pressure that produces enough clamping force to stop the rear wheels without exceeding the force generated by the front brakes
- Reduced friction brake surface when rotors are used
- Smaller braking components when rotors are used
Here’s a tutorial video in case you need to replace your rear brakes:
Front Brakes vs. Rear Brakes
While both front and rear brakes stop the vehicle, they operate in different conditions and meet different requirements. This doesn’t mean one is more important than the other. After all, they specialize in certain aspects and cover the other brake’s weaknesses.
Distribution of Braking Force
When the brakes are engaged, a car’s center of gravity shifts in the direction it’s going. If it goes forward, it puts more weight and force on the front wheels. This gives more traction to the front tires, so they will need more powerful brakes to stop them. Note that most vehicles have their engines in the front, which makes their front end heavier than their rear.
Depending on the vehicle’s weight distribution, the front brakes can handle as much as 75% of the total force produced while slowing or stopping the vehicle. To meet such a heavy braking force, the front of the vehicle usually has lightweight disc brakes that produce lots of braking power.
Distribution of Heat
Brakes rely on friction between brake shoes/pads and brake drums/rotors/discs to decelerate wheels. The higher the friction, the better the braking force—and the hotter the brakes get.
Because the front brakes handle most of the braking force, they produce more heat than the rear brakes. They can exceed 500°F when you hit the brake pedal hard.
Front brakes need to quickly vent that heat to avoid problems like brake fading, which is a sudden loss of stopping power. Most front brakes use disc brakes, which deliver more braking power and get rid of heat more efficiently.
In addition to slowing or stopping the wheels, the brakes also keep the vehicle stable and prevent the wheels from locking up.
Rear brakes play a much larger role in stabilizing the vehicle compared to front brakes. They are usually limited to 40% of the braking bias, otherwise, they could lock up.
The parking brake (also known as the handbrake or emergency brake) keeps your vehicle stationary when parked. The parking brake can also be used to help slow the vehicle in the event that the primary brake system fails.
The Bottom Line
Front brakes and rear brakes are on the same team but handle different jobs. The front brakes focus on slowing the vehicle, while the rear-mounted counterparts keep the machine stable. So if a brake in the front or the rear develops a problem, the other brakes cannot compensate for it.
If you see warning signs of a bad brake on either the front or rear , fix or replace the faulty part immediately. There are many aftermarket front brakes and rear brakes that offer OE-grade stopping performance at competitive prices.
Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.