The good thing about drum brakes is that they require little and seldom maintenance. Commonly, the brake shoes need to be replaced every 60,000 - 100,000 miles. I will show how to change the shoes and perform some other maintenance on drum brakes in this article.
These instructions, though intended for a general audience, are specific to a Ford Ranger with 10" drums. The drum brakes on your vehicle may be slightly different but should still be similar enough for this article to help. If you are not comfortable working on critical components, like the braking systems, you should probably let a qualified professional mechanic do the work for you.
If you are not familiar with drum brakes or would like to learn more about them I have a short article summarizing the history of drum brakes and a real brief description of how they work here.
Parts and Materials
1 Set of Brake Shoes
1 Drum Brake Hardware Kit
Brake Spring Compressor Tool Pictured at Right
Brake Spring Plier Tool Pictured at Right
Left & Right Brake Adjuster Hardware Kits
Appropriate Wrenches to remove wheels
Needle Nose Pliers
Brake Spring Compressor Tool
Brake Spring Pliers Tool
2 Flat Head Screw Drivers
7/16 Brake Line Wrench (if replacing Wheel Cylinder)
1/2” Wrench/Socket (if replacing Wheel Cylinder)
1. Release the Parking Brake, loosen the lug nuts on the rear wheels, chock the front wheels, jack the rear axle up and place it on jack stands. Remove the rear wheels.
2. Remove the Drums. If they do not slide off you will have to retract the shoes. On the back side of the brake backing plate you will see a rectangular rubber plug near the bottom. Remove the plug and shine a light through the hole. You will see a wheel with teeth. Insert a flat head screw driver and rotate that wheel UP to retract the shoes.
3. With the drums removed, you should see this:
4. Place the Catch Pan Under the Brake Assembly and liberally spray the brakes with brake cleaner. Let air dry.
5. Remove the Shoe Retracting Springs (A), the Adjusting Cable eye (B) and the Anchor Pin Plate (C). If you bought the hardware kit, the springs can be disposed but keep the adjusting cable and anchor plate.
6. Now the Shoe Retaining Springs and Pins need to be removed. There is one per shoe. These can be discarded if you purchased the hardware kit.
7. Remove the Adjusting Screw (A), the Adjusting Cable (if it was not completely removed in step 5) (B), the Lower Spring (C), and the Adjusting Pawl and Spring (D). The Lower Spring can be discarded if you purchased the hardware kit.
This is also a good time to take all the hardware and parts that will be reused and clean them thoroughly. I would suggest putting all the parts to be discarded off to the side but do not discard them yet - just in case you need to reuse something.
This is a good time to replace the Wheel Cylinder if you need to. If not, skip ahead to step 9.
WC1. If your brake looks like this:
WC2. The WC is held on by two bolts and the brake line that go through the brake backing plate. Use a 7/16” brake wrench to loosen the brake line. Use a 1/2” wrench or ratchet to loosen the two bolts. If they are on too tight, spray the area with penetrating oil like PB Blaster. Now would be a good time to start cleaning the parts while the oil soaks in.
WC3. Remove the brake line fitting - it does not need to be pulled back from the WC. Remove the two bolts.
WC4. Pull the old WC out and clean the mating surface before installing the new WC. Place the new WC in the slot, install the two bolts, and then install the brake line. These need to be tightened down pretty good. Now is also a good time to loosen the bleed valve to make bleeding the brake easier.
The old Brake Shoe can be discarded but we will be reusing the Actuating Lever.
10. Install the Actuating Lever and retaining clip on the new brake shoe. Then install the Parking Brake Cable to the Actuating Lever making sure it is installed the correct way (use the other brake as reference). Let the brake shoe and lever hang down for now.
11. Apply Brake Grease to the shoe backing plates. Make sure you get all of them.
13. Install the Parking Brake Strut with one end in the slot in the primary shoe and the other end in the Actuating Lever - not the Secondary Shoe. Use the other brake for reference.
Make sure the Wheel Cylinder pushrods are in the proper slots in the brake shoes. (PHOTO - B)
14. Install the Adjusting Screw into the bottom of the Shoes in its appropriate slots. The long end of the screw should be facing the front of the vehicle (PHOTO - C). Install the Adjusting Pawl and spring (PHOTO - D) and then the lower Spring (PHOTO - E).
15. Now for the top of the brake. Install the Anchor Pin Plate (PHOTO - G) and the Cable Guide (PHOTO - F). The cable guide should fit flush against the shoe. One of mine did but the other one took a little filing to get it to seat properly.
Install the eye of the Adjusting Cable (PHOTO - H).
16. Install the Shoe Retracting Springs (PHOTOS - I & J). This is where the Spring Pliers really come in handy. Slip the hooked jaw of the plier over the spring hook and place the end of the other jaw in a hole on the top of the opposite brake shoe. Then squeeze the plier handles together and the spring should easily slip over the stud. This method is so much easier than trying to strong arm the springs into place using vice grips.
17. Finally, route the Adjusting Cable around the cable guide and connect the hook at the end to the Adjusting Pawl. The hook should attach from behind the Pawl, not over top of it. You can lift the pawl up to make installation easy.
18. Make sure everything is seated correctly including the Wheel Cylinder pushrods, Parking Brake Strut, and Adjusting Screw.
19. If you have new drums, install them. If you are reusing your old drums, either have them resurfaced or at least scrub any hard spots with fine emory cloth.
20. From behind the brake, use your screw driver to push DOWN on the adjusting screw until the shoes come into contact with the drum, then back the screw off. If you installed a new Wheel Cylinder, now is a good time to bleed the brake. Remember to top off the brake fluid. The brakes should self adjust when you apply the brakes while going in reverse.
21. Now repeat for the other side!
A "quick" version is below:
- Remove the drums from both wheels.
- Remove the old brake hardware.
- Remove the brake shoes.
- Install the parking brake actuator on the new shoe.
- Lubricate the shoe backing plates.
- Install the new shoes and shoe retaining clips.
- Install the parking brake strut.
- Install the adjusting screw.
- Install the anchor pin plate, cable guide, and cable eye loop.
- Install the shoe retracting springs.
- Connect the adjusting cable to the parking pawl.
- Install new drums or resurfaced old drums.
- Manually adjust the shoes until they touch the drum, then back them off a bit.
Maintenance That is Often Avoided
Working on drum brakes often seems too complicated to the novice DIY mechanic. They may hear horror stories of the complexity of the brakes and how somebody could not reinstall a spring. Honestly, drum brakes are not too hard. The key is to work on one side at a time so you can use the other side as a reference. If you hesitate at the notion of working on your own drum brakes but don't even flinch at the thought of working on disc brakes, you have nothing to worry about. Just image drum brakes as jigsaw puzzles with only a few parts!
Here are some external links to sites with information relevant to this article.