Drum Brake Maintenance

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 Grease

Brake Spring Compressor Tool
Pictured at Right
Brake Spring Plier Tool
Pictured at Right
Left & Right Brake Adjuster Hardware Kits
Wheel Cylinders
Brake Drums
Brake Cleaner



TOOLS REQUIRED
Jack
Jack Stands
Appropriate Wrenches to remove wheels
Needle Nose Pliers
Brake Spring Compressor Tool
Brake Spring Pliers Tool
Vise Grips
2 Flat Head Screw Drivers
Catch pan
7/16 Brake Line Wrench (if replacing Wheel Cylinder)
1/2” Wrench/Socket (if replacing Wheel Cylinder)

Step-By-Step Instructions
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.
This photo shows, from the inside, what you will be doing to retract the shoes. Circled in red is the rubber plug that needs to be removed. The green arrow shows the adjusting wheel. If the adjusting wheel does not turn, you may need to insert a second screw driver and depress the adjuster (the pivoting metal piece partially circled in red).

3. With the drums removed, you should see this:
Hopefully you will not see this:
Put both drums aside. You will need to work on one side at a time and use the other side as reference.

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.
Remove the Parking Brake Strut which is the metal bar just below the Wheel Cylinder with a spring on one end. The Wheel Cylinder in the above photo is the large horizontal cylinder in the middle of the photo, directly below the springs and above the wheel lug nut stud.

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.
The Primary Shoe should be completely free - remove it. The Secondary Shoe will still be attached to the Parking Brake Cable via the Actuating Lever. Separate them.

8. Everything except the Wheel Cylinder should now be removed from the brake backing plate. Now is a good time to spray down the brake with brake cleaner one more time. Let it air dry, then clean it thoroughly with a rag. Spray it again if necessary.
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:

You definitely need to replace the Wheel Cylinder (referred to as WC from here on out). If you are not sure if the WC needs to be replaced, carefully pull back on the rubber seals. If brake fluid escapes, you should replace or overhaul the WC.

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.

It should now look like this:

9. At your work bench, remove the retaining clip (C) that holds the Secondary Brake Shoe (A) and the Parking Brake Actuating Lever (B) together. I found it very difficult to remove without destroying it. You should have a new one in your hardware kit, but my kit came with only one new retaining clip but an extra shoe retaining clip.

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.
Lubricate the threads of the threads of the Adjusting Screw with brake grease.


Refer to this Photo for the installation steps:
12. Position the Shoes, one at a time, on the backing plate. Insert the Shoe Retaining Pin from the back of the backing plate all the way through the shoe. Place a Retaining Spring over the pin, then use the Brake Spring Compressor Tool to install the Retaining Spring Cap (see the photo from step 6). This step can be very difficult by yourself because the brake shoe may not want to stay put while you try to install the retaining clip. Although not strictly necessary, I had a MUCH easier time performing this step with the brake spring tool. (PHOTO - A)

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!


Summary
A "quick" version is below:
  1. Remove the drums from both wheels.
  2. Remove the old brake hardware.
  3. Remove the brake shoes.
  4. Install the parking brake actuator on the new shoe.
  5. Lubricate the shoe backing plates.
  6. Install the new shoes and shoe retaining clips.
  7. Install the parking brake strut.
  8. Install the adjusting screw.
  9. Install the anchor pin plate, cable guide, and cable eye loop.
  10. Install the shoe retracting springs.
  11. Connect the adjusting cable to the parking pawl.
  12. Install new drums or resurfaced old drums.
  13. 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!


Relevant Sites
Here are some external links to sites with information relevant to this article.

13 comments:

123 123 December 10, 2009 at 6:38 AM  

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Anonymous,  July 6, 2011 at 12:01 PM  

Reattaching brake springs can be dangerous. I had the lining let go on a shoe permitting the pliers to snap up and hit me on the chin with considerable force. It could have been far worse. Safety glasses are a must and one should take care to not let their face get too close to the work, difficult to do if you vision is not that great.

Anonymous,  June 29, 2012 at 8:08 AM  

Nice step by step

Anonymous,  June 30, 2012 at 11:18 AM  

One of the best step by steps I've seen with great labelled diagrams. Executed exactly but still can't get drum on due to there not being enough slack in E-brake cable. My Haynes shows a spring lockout pin that can allow me to remove the cable and check it but many blogs have been written to solve people's issues here re: finding the hole. I am just trying to figue out if my 96 Aerostar has a sieze spring since there is always tension on the cable even when released. Tried PB Blaster, then white lithium to no avail. I'll post if any more successes.
Andy

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Rhen Nicey April 9, 2015 at 2:34 AM  

Generally speaking, car manufacturers install drum brakes on the back rear wheels and disc brakes on the frontal wheels. Many vehicles also have brake shoes emergency brake features to ensure maximum safety. It is always advisable for car owners to conduct regular checks on their brake parts and ensure that the brake pads and brake shoes are in good reliable working condition, it also saves them futile expenditure on replacements of brake shoes.

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