How to Adjust Rear Drum Brakes

Lead Image
  • 2-5 hours
  • Advanced
  • 20-500
What You'll Need
Vehicle jack
Auto stands
Lug wrench
Penetrating lubricant
Brake adjustment spoon
Wrench socket set
Long screwdriver

Although automobile disc brakes are the newest thing in brake design, rear drum brakes continue to be used by most cars and small trucks. If your vehicle operates with drum brakes that need manual adjusting and you prefer to adjust your own brakes, you can by following the steps below.

Step 1 - Prepare Vehicle

To enable you to work safely and effectively on your car's brakes, you'll need to first safely raise the car's rear wheels high enough off the floor so that you'll be able to pull the wheels and have direct access to the wheel's braking system. To safely raise your car's rear end and keep it elevated while you're working on it, first use a jack to hoist the rear end high enough to slip a jack stand under the car frame on each side of the car. Then, adjust the jack to lower the car until its full weight is resting on the jack stands.

Step 2 - Remove Lug Nuts and Wheels

To gain access to your wheel's braking system, you'll need to remove the car's rear wheels. Using your lug wrench, remove the wheel's lug nuts and set them where you will easily find them when it's time to replace them. Pull the wheel off and set it flat on the floor.

Step 3 - Locate Star Wheel

A black car on the road.

On the inside surface of your wheel's backing plate, about 3 inches down from the top of the plate, you'll find the porthole. If necessary, use a flashlight or drop light. Once you've found the porthole, remove the rubber plug and insert the end of a brake spoon adjustment tool or a flathead screwdriver into this hole. You should feel the teeth of the star wheel. With the tip of the adjustment tool between the teeth of the star wheel, press down on the end of the adjustment tool Turning the adjustment wheel to loosen or tighten the shoes against the brake drum.

Step 4 - Adjust your Brake

As you adjust the star wheel you'll need to know how much to tighten it. To determine this, move the brake drum in a circular motion, in the same motion as it is normally moved by the turning of the car's rear wheel.

Step 5 - Integrate the Parking Brake Mechanism

Climb into your car and apply your parking brake and foot brake simultaneously to center the brake shoes and integrate the parking brake mechanism.

Step 6 - Check Brake Tension Balance

A parked car.

Have a helper apply slight pressure on the foot brake, just enough that it tightens the brake shoes but still allows you to turn the drum. If both rear wheel drums seem to operate with the same tension, your brakes should be balanced. If not, adjust the star wheels until the brakes are balanced.

Finally, replace the rubber plug into the porthole; replace both wheels and lug nuts. Lower the car so that its wheels are resting firmly on the floor, then tighten the lug nuts.