Disk brakes: worthwhile or worthless?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

I claim that the disk brake is the biggest rip-off the manufacturers have come up with since the inner and outer bumper. First of all, disk brakes get wet more easily than drum brakes. But the worst feature of the disk brake is the heat build up and the subsequent warping, which requires them to be machined or replaced. Car repair shops love disk brakes because the typical disk brake job costs about $200 per pair. Drum brakes can usually be repaired for less than $100 a pair. What is your opinion?

RAY: From a purely financial point of view, you have a point, Dan. Drum brakes are cheaper to maintain over the life of a car. But technically, I'm afraid you have your head up your kiester. Disk brakes have such important safety advantages, that there's really no comparison.

TOM: The greatest advantage of disk brakes is that they don't lock up the way drum brakes do when you pounce on the pedal during a panic stop. When the brakes lock up, you can go into a skid and lose control of the car.

RAY: And you're all wrong about disk brakes getting wet. The other great advantage of disk brakes is that water flows right off them. They're not as susceptible to wet failure as drum brakes are.

TOM: And although disk brakes dissipate heat much better than drum brakes, the disks do warp. But that has more to do with the cheapness of the materials used by the manufacturers than it does with disk brake technology itself. In fact, modern day drums--which are still used on the rear brakes of many cars--don't hold up nearly as well as the heavy drums made years ago.

RAY: I think you're guilty of overly romanticizing these old cars, Dan. I don't know why. Maybe you had a significant life experience in a '65 Catalina? I guess that would be enough to warp anybody's thinking!

Get the Car Talk Newsletter