How To Replace Your Drum Brakes

How To Replace Your Drum Brakes


Safety First

Replacing brakes shoes can release dusty hazardous materials into the air. Wear a mask, work in a ventilated area, and make sure no one else approaches the vehicle during brake maintenance. Prep your vehicle. Remove the wheel covers, then loosen the lug nuts. You want to do this before you lift the vehicle. Use a jack and stands to safely raise and support the vehicle. Also, the parking brake must be disengaged so the brake drum can be removed. For information on how to safely use a jack and stands, read our guide.


Remove and Inspect the Brake Drum

To get to the brake shoes, you'll need to remove the wheel and brake drum. The brake drum may be ‘stuck' on the wheel hub/axle. You may need to apply penetrating oil onto the hub to get the drum off. You may also need to remove some retaining screws or wheel stud clips to slide the drum off the studs and wheel hub/axle. Re-install the screws at re-assembly. If the brake shoes are in tight contact with the inside of the drum, the brake adjustor screw may need to be shortened. The drum should slide freely over the shoes for removal. With the brake drum off, set it in a container and clean it. You do not want to install a dirty drum and contaminate the shoe friction material. Inspect the brake drum for heat cracks and hot spots. Measure the inside diameter of the drum with a brake micrometer. The diameter specification should be stamped visibly on the outside of the drum. A brake drum with heat cracks, severe hot spots or exceeds the specification limit should be discarded and replaced with a new drum.


Remove the Brake Shoes And Hardware

The brake shoes are held in place by hold down and return springs. Specialty brake tools may be needed to make removal and reinstallation easier. The return springs have extreme tension. Use caution while removing and installing them.


Inspect the Remaining Brake Components

With the shoes and related system components removed, clean and inspect each item. It's always a good idea to install new brake springs. Wheel cylinder replacement is also recommended. A wheel cylinder may develop a leak after the brake job is completed. If this happens, the brake system fluid will become low and soak the brake components. Replacement of these items will ensure smooth, reliable braking performance. Clean and inspect the parking brake components and the self-adjustor assembly. Lubricate these parts and replace if needed.


Re-Install the Brake Shoes and Components

Now it's time to reassemble the brake parts. Lubricate the brake backing plates where the metal parts of the shoe make contact. Also, the self-adjuster screw threads. It should turn easily with very light resistance. Re-install the other brake parts. Make sure the secondary and primary brake shoes are installed in the correct positions. After assembly, you may need access to the brake adjustor star wheel when the brake drum is installed. It can be accessed through the backing plate or brake drum, depending on your vehicle.


Install the Brake Drum

Make sure the brake shoes are clean and free of contamination. Slide the new or re-machined drum over the wheel studs and shoes onto the hub. Use a brake adjusting tool and adjust the brake shoe and brake drum clearance. Do not overtighten. If you replaced the wheel cylinders, bleed them now. Follow the repair guide for bleeding procedures. Do NOT bottom out the brake pedal at any time. Clean away any brake fluid. It can damage variety of surface types.

Re-install the wheels and properly torque the wheel lug nuts. Reattach the wheel covers. Re-check the brake fluid level in the brake master cylinder. Prepare for test drive.


Test Drive

Once behind the wheel, press the brake pedal and make sure it feels normal. It should be firm with some initial travel. If the brake pedal seems to low, the brake shoes may need more adjustment or additional bleeding. Make sure the brake pedal travel is normal before test driving. Apply the brake pedal lightly during the initial test drive. It should be firm and smooth. The brake shoes will eventually seat. This will happen over time. Just make sure the brake pedal is firm and there are no strange noises or brake fluid leaks. Don't forget to check your brake lights and all your lights.

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Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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