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Brake shoe material


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I'm about to replace brake shoes on a 1955 Oldsmobile and want to know if a preferred alternate brake shoe material exists.  I'm not looking to go so authentic that I get asbestos-based shoes.  Most of the parts suppliers don't really say what their brake materials are.  I suspect it is a non-metallic composition.  Any reviews, any preferences? 

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For what it's worth I have no love for asbestos linings. I have had asbestos-free linings on one of my cars that outperformed the old fashioned stuff in every way. For a period in the late 90s and early 2000s, asbestos linings were banned outright in the US. The new asbestos-free linings had one annoying fault that caused technicians to hate them. They had to be broken in carefully because when they cured from the heat the lining would expand a little. This results in locked brakes.


Now I probably don't have to tell you that auto repair (in the US) ran almost entirely on flat rate, and probably still does. A lot of guys used to skip breaking the linings in and just give the car back to the customer. Its mickey mouse, and dangerous too because the first time the linings get hot the brakes are probably going to gas fade. Nevertheless it was common. When they pulled this trick with non asbestos linings, the car would come back a day or a week later on a tow truck with locked brakes.


I had some of these linings on a mid-60s drum brake sedan I drove for over a decade. It was approaching 400k miles when it got wrecked. I had several sets of brake shoes on that car over the years. The non-asbestos shoes outperformed the asbestos ones in every single way. They were less compressible, resulting in a less spongy pedal. They were easier to modulate, despite the car having servo-action drum brakes, They were less prone to fade on long downhill runs, and you could still easily lock them if you wanted to. The difference in performance and control was dramatic.


To answer the question, If I had to reline drum brakes today, I would call someone who can reline shoes, like either Brake and Clutch (Seattle, WA) or Brake and Equipment (Minneapolis, MN) and tell them this story, and see if I could get more linings like that. If not, I would take their recommendation for lining material. The shoes should be arc ground to fit your drums, and it is getting tough to find anyone who can do that.

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  • 3 months later...

It is not well publicized but brake lining material has a SAE rating/marking.   The range in coefficient of friction.  

Hard material last longer but does not stop as well,   conversely soft material stops better but also wears faster. 

The codes are stamped on the edge of the friction material.   You also need to look up the codes (they are alpha) as I do not 

have the memorized.   The next problem is asking your source to look at the code so you will know what you are getting. 

on newer vehicles, you may have many choice from different sources..... on old cars, you will probably have limited options. 

If you live in a big city,  there may be places that reline brakes and clutches and they may give you several choices.

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