Learn How to DIY Adjust Your Drum Brakes

Learn How to DIY Adjust Your Drum Brakes
December 28, 2021
Learn How to DIY Adjust Your Drum Brakes

Drum Brake Maintenance


Most stock vehicles come with back drum brakes and front disc brakes. There is no argument that most of your stopping power comes from the front disc brakes but that doesn’t mean we can neglect the back brakes. If you notice a soft or spongy pedal, strange sounds coming from the rear when braking, or a lack of stopping power, and your front brakes seem fine, it may be time to clean and adjust your rear drum brakes.

When Do I Need to Do Drum Brake Maintenance?

You must be aware of how your vehicle normally behaves when braking. Does your pedal feel softer than usual? Is it getting harder and harder to stop? If so, the self-adjuster could be dirty or gunked up and not working correctly. This is a good time to clean and adjust your rear drum brakes. This will make driving safer for everyone on the road.

What Do We Need to Clean and Adjust Drum Brakes

  • Bandana, mask, neck gaiter, etc (just something to cover your mouth and nose – Brakes make a lot of dust that you don’t want to breathe)
  • Gloves ( Padded work gloves are recommended to prevent banging up your knuckles)
  • Hammer (This is for lightly tapping to loosen up the stuck drum so you can slide it off the lug posts)
  • Goggles or Safety Glasses
  • Penetrating oil (some times a well-placed drop on the lug posts will help you loosen it up)
  • Pliers (needlenose and standard pliers wouldn’t be bad to have on hand)
  • Standard screwdriver (flat head)
  • Brake parts spray cleaner
  • Jack and jack stands
  • Wheel chocks (placed at the front tire to prevent any rolling)
  • Breaker bar
  • Socket set (This will likely be metric but it does depend on the car)

How to Remove the Rear Drum Brakes

1. Make Sure the Parking Brake is OFF

If the parking brake is on you will not likely be able to get off the rear drum brake so make sure the parking brake is off.

2. Raise and Secure the Vehicle to Remove the Tire

First, remember to loosen the lug nuts before raising the vehicle. It can take a lot of pressure to loosen them and you don’t want to shake the car too much when raised.

Now, place the chocks behind the front tire and jack up the vehicle. Secure it with the jack stands. Finish removing the loosened lug nuts and tires from the car.

3. Remove the Drum Brake Clips or Clamps

Next, to remove the drum, you have to use the pliers to remove the clamps or clips on the lugnut posts. These will likely break and that’s nothing to worry about.

4. Take off the Brake Drum Rotor

This is where you may need that hammer. The brake drum could be stuck due to years of corrosion and rust. Tap on the drum near the lugnut posts to loosen up the rust that has them frozen. If this doesn’t work, place a few drops of penetrating oil on the lugnut posts where they meet the drum and let them soak for a few minutes. Give it a few light taps with the hammer again to help the oil seep further. This should help release the drums

*DIY Mechanic’s Note*: If you don’t have your mask and safety glasses on yet, stop what you are doing and get them on. Brakes can kick up a lot of dust and you don’t want that powder in your eyes or lungs.

What’s the Condition of the Brakes?


You can use a special tool to measure the thickness of your remaining brake shoe to see if you need to change it but you have already come this far. I would just replace your drum brake shoes since we are here.

Now Let’s Check the Adjuster

With your mask and safety glasses on, check for brake fluid leaks around the adjuster and hose connections. Using the standard screwdriver gently move the dust boot so you can see the adjuster. Be very careful to not poke holes or put any tears in it. You are looking to see if the adjuster is dry. If the brake drum shoe adjuster is wet, replace it.

Brake Drum and Shoe Maintenance – How to Clean Them

Again, make sure your mask and goggles are in place and spray all of the brake parts in brake parts cleaner. Spray them thoroughly and get good coverage. This will start to drip to the ground so place a thick dry rag or a drip pan under it to catch the excess.

Now, spray the inside of the brake drum with the brake parts cleaner thoroughly and wipe it off with a clean shop towel or clean paper towel. Once you have wiped this all off, let it dry.

*DIY Mechanic’s Note*: Do not spray brake parts cleaner in a closed-in area. Make sure the area is well-ventilated. If you start to feel dizzy or disoriented while spraying the cleaner, stop what you are doing, step out and get some fresh air and look for ways to better ventilate the area. A box fan blowing out will often suffice.

Brake Shoe Adjustments


Locate the brake shoe adjuster. Make sure the adjustment wheel spins and tightens the shoes.

Using the standard screwdriver or a brake drum adjustment tool, turn the adjuster wheel up. This will tighten the brakes. Remember how many turns or clicks the adjuster wheel makes. Now we have to test the tightness of the shoes by turning the drum. If you are feeling for drag or contact but it still turns you are good to go. If the drum will not turn or it’s really difficult to turn that means the shoes are too tight. Turn the adjuster wheel in the other direction. Make sure to test the tightness after each click because you don’t want them too loose.

Most brake shoes can be loosened or tightened from a port behind the drum with a screwdriver or a special tool called a brake drum adjustment tool or spoon.

Once you have the brake drum shoes tight enough to feel drag but it’s loose enough to turn, that’s the sweet spot. Now, make sure the shoes are in their proper position and reinstall the drum.

Remember, when you go perform this task, make sure you have everything you need to do the job. That’s where PartsHawk comes in. We are your one-stop shop for all your drum brake, disc brake, and all-around automotive parts needs. Contact us if you have any questions or need help finding the parts you need for your drum brake maintenance.

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