Drum vs Disc Trailer Brakes

Drum vs Disc Trailer Brakes

19th Sep 2023

One of the most common topics we get asked about are the various trailer brake designs used on the Cruisemaster range of independent suspension systemsIn this Cruisemasterclass, we're going to be discussing the different types of trailer brakes available, how they work, and their benefits.

Cruisemasterclass Episode 16: Drum vs Disc Trailer Brakes

Mechanically Actuated Trailer Brakes

At the entry-level end of the market, we have mechanically actuated trailer brakes, these are available in either drum or disc. They work by having the cable pull on a lever from an overrun coupling on the front of the trailer. 

These brakes are cost-effective, and don't require a brake controller in the tow vehicle to use, which is why you'll often see these on rental trailers. 

However, they're not very effective since they rely on the overrun capability of the coupling and the relative weight of the trailer. Due to their limited braking capacity, trailers with a GVM over 2T are not able to use mechanically actuated brakes.

Electrically Actuated Trailer Brakes

Electrical Drum Brakes

Electrical Drum Brake Component Overview

Stepping up into the electrically controlled side of things, we have the electrically actuated drum brakes (illustration above). These are very common on caravans, as they're economical and provide decent braking capabilities. 

These work by electrically actuating a magnet located inside of the brake drum. This electromagnet grabs on the face of the drum and drags a lever as the wheel moves along, spreading the shoes apart. These shoes touch the inner surface of the drum, generating friction that in turn slows down the trailer. 

However, electric drum brakes have some downsides due to their design. Their torque varies with speed, meaning they're less effective at high speeds. You may also experience wheels locking up when slowing down at lower speeds around town after driving at highway speeds. 

With many moving parts inside an electric drum brake, they are not as durable on rough terrains such as prolonged corrugations compared to disc brakes. 

Cruisemasters range of electric drum brakes come in two different sizes, 10-inch and 12-inch, with the size used depending on the trailer weight and the tire size.

Hydraulic Actuated Trailer Brakes

Hydraulic Disc Brakes

Hydraulic disc brakes, offer the best braking performance of all the brakes in the trailer market. They work by having an electric-to-hydraulic actuator located on the trailer. This receives a proportionate voltage signal from a brake controller in the car and converts the signal into hydraulic pressure. Below is an illustration of the process. 

Hydraulic Trailer Disc Brake Illustration 

That hydraulic pressure goes through hydraulic brake lines, which end up in the caliper at the wheels. That hydraulic fluid then pushes on a piston inside the caliper, which pushes the brake pads onto the brake rotor, decelerating the vehicle.

Benefits of Hydraulic Trailer Disc Brakes

While hydraulic disc brakes are typically more expensive than their electric drum counterparts, they have several performance benefits due to their design. They have better and more consistent stopping power than electric drums, along with better heat handling capabilities, particularly those versions with ventilated rotors for off-road applications.

Hydraulic disc brakes will handle corrugations and vibrations better, and are semi-dirt clearing. Whereas you'll often find that an electric drum brakes will hold rocks and other debris in the bottom of it if you've been off-road with them.

Trailer Electric Drum to Hydraulic Disc Brake Conversions

If you're after improved stopping performance on your caravan or trailer that is fitted with electric drum brakes a hydraulic disc brake conversion is a great solution. Here at Cruisemaster, we offer upgrades allowing you to convert from electric drum to hydraulic discs. 

Our disc brakes have a mounting system that bolts directly to the standard weld ring, which allows for easy mounting. As the new brake system runs on hydraulics there will be some plumbing involved with the brake lines to the hydraulic actuator, so it can be labor intensive to install. We recommend having brakes installed by a workshop, such as the Towing Performance Centre

Another feature of the Cruisemaster hydraulic disc brake system is the park brake function. This runs a cable from the handbrake to a lever on the back of the caliper, that pushes the back of the piston to provide holding power.

Drum vs Disc Trailer Brakes

Now that we've covered the different types of trailer brakes, let's dive a bit deeper into the drum (pictured left) vs disc (pictured right) brake debate. While both drum and disc brakes have their pros and cons, when it comes to safety and performance, hydraulic disc brakes are the clear winner as outlined below.

Drum Trailer Brakes

Drum brakes have been around for a long time and are still a popular choice for many trailers. They're cost-effective, simple to install, and can provide decent braking capabilities. 

However, as we mentioned earlier, they do have some downsides, such as their limited braking capacity and the fact that their torque varies with speed. This can make them less effective at high speeds, which can be a safety concern for towing heavy loads.

Disc Trailer Brakes

Disc brakes, on the other hand, offer superior performance and are the preferred choice for many trailer owners. They provide more consistent and stronger stopping power, even at high speeds. 

Additionally, they handle heat better, making them more durable and better suited for off-road use. With fewer moving parts, they're less prone to damage from corrugations and vibrations, making them a better long-term investment. 

While disc brakes may be more expensive than drum brakes, the benefits they offer in terms of safety and durability make them worth it for many trailer owners. If you already have electric drum brakes on your trailer, you can upgrade to hydraulic disc brakes with a simple conversion.

Disc Trailer Brake Park Brakes

Another advantage of disc brakes is that they can be equipped with a park brake function, which provides additional security when the trailer is parked. However, it's important to note that not all hydraulic disc brake systems have this feature, and it's crucial to ensure that the park brake is designed to operate safely and reliably. 

At Cruisemaster, we take safety seriously, which is why we don't allow park brakes to be held with hydraulics as it is susceptible to temperature changing the volume of fluid. Our park brake function runs a cable from the handbrake to a lever on the back of the caliper, providing reliable holding power without relying on the hydraulic system.

We offer a range of suspension systems equipped with hydraulic disc brakes, as well as conversion options for those looking to upgrade from electric drum brakes. Make sure to contact our team for more information on any of our braking systems or our other products. 

For more caravan and towing tips, make sure to keep an eye out for the latest episodes of our Cruisemasterclass series by subscribing to the Cruisemaster YouTube channel and following us on Facebook & Instagram.

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