2 min read

Hydraulic vs. Mechanical Disc Brakes? Heavy Equipment Needs Both

Published on 8 May 2024

You’ll typically find two types of brakes on a piece of heavy equipment: hydraulic and mechanical. Why are both needed? Which brakes perform tasks that the other cannot? 

One type of brake doesn’t satisfy all the performance and safety needs of heavy equipment – both are needed in combination – yet each performs different functions. A garden tractor, for example, uses hydraulic service brakes during normal driving operations to control the vehicle; parking brakes, which are mechanical, are used to keep the vehicle stationary when needed. 

The chart below outlines the primary features, benefits, and characteristics of both, and how each meets the needs of heavy equipment vehicles.

Hydraulic vs. Mechanical Disc Brakes

Benefits and Performance Expectations

Hydraulic fluid-filled systems transmit force from the brake pedal/lever to the brake caliper. When the pedal or lever is used, the hydraulic fluid is pressurized and pushes the caliper pistons against the brake pads to create friction for slowing and stopping.
Cables or linkage systems transmit force from the brake pedal/lever to the caliper. When the pedal or lever is used, the cable or linkage pulls on the caliper, causing the brake pads to clamp onto the brake disc (rotor) to create friction to slow or stop the vehicle.
Modulation & Efficiency
A hydraulic system provides precise and consistent braking power, giving operators flexibility in the amount of force they use.
Mechanical brakes require significant force and use cables rather than fluid.
Because the hydraulic system is sealed, it’s less exposed to the elements and less susceptible to wear and tear. This means less maintenance — though the maintenance they require is more methodical. 
Mechanical brakes are prone to wear and tear and become less effective when not frequently maintained and adjusted — though the simple design of mechanical brakes can be easily maintained in the field.
Since the components of hydraulic brakes distribute heat evenly, they hold up well. Sealed hydraulic brake systems help keep dirt and other contaminants away.
Because mechanical brake components are prone to wear and tear, without preventative maintenance they may not last as long with heavy use. However, mechanical brakes don’t have many sensitive components that are affected by mud, dirt, and other debris.



Brake Use in Heavy Equipment

Not only do hydraulic and mechanical brakes function differently, but their functionalities translate to distinct benefits of each.

Hydraulic Brakes

  • Offer efficient braking performance with minimal effort from the operator
  • Provide consistent braking power – critical when hauling heavy loads and/or operating on rough terrain
  • Allow for precise control, enabling the operator to adjust braking power as needed

Mechanical Brakes

  • Provide a redundant braking system in case the hydraulic system fails, ensuring that the vehicle can be brought safely to a stop if the primary system fails
  • Are designed to provide a reliable and secure hold, especially on inclines or uneven surfaces

By combining hydraulic and mechanical brake systems, heavy equipment vehicles get the benefits of each system while mitigating their respective “weaknesses” – a highly effective pairing that helps ensure safety, reliability, and control.

Talk With a Hayes Brake Expert

Hayes designs and manufactures a variety of hydraulic and mechanical brake options for heavy equipment. Hydraulic options, such as the 1-663-1S  are designed for easy mounting. Mechanical brake options, such as our M110LM, are lightweight and can handle clamp forces of 10,000  pounds.

We encourage you to reach out today – we’re eager to help identify the ideal brake solution for your heavy equipment.

Contact Hayes

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