How to adjust drum brakes

How to adjust drum brakes

It’s a good idea to check your brakes often. I suggest every time you rotate tires.  However once a year can be enough depending on how much you drive.  A long with checking your brakes I like to clean and adjust rear drum brakes while I’m at it.   All drum brakes have automatic adjusters, they don’t always keep your brake shoes adjusted correctly.  Having correctly adjusted drum brakes helps with brake pedal feel.  Properly adjusted drums prevents premature front brake wear.

Remove Drum

If you want to adjust your rear drum brakes. The first thing you have to do is grab your Jack and Jack Stands, and remove you tires to get to the drums.  Next you have to remove the drum.  If this is the first time it’s been off since it was built there will be one or two metal rings around the studs. Remove these and throw them away.  I usually use a par of side cutters(dykes) to cut the them off.  Some times the drum will stick on the hub, you can use a hammer and give it a tap on the face of the drum avoiding hitting any of the wheel studs.DrumRemoval

On some drums you will see two threaded holes in the drum.  These holes are there so you can thread a bolt in the drum and use it to press the drum off.  Be careful if the drum is really stuck you can damage the drum with too much force.  If the drum seems to move a little bit but won’t come off you most likely have a large lip on your drum.  You should consider taking it a mechanic or plan on replacing the drum and shoes once you get it off.


Once you have the drum off you should clean the shoes, DrumBrakehardware and drum with Non-Chlorinated Brake and Parts Cleaner or any Break Clean you purchase at your local parts store.  DO NOT blow the dust off with compressed air.  Even though manufacturers swear they don’t use asbestos any more in brake shoes.  Brake dust is still not something you want to breath too much off.

Adjusting the Brakes

Now that the brakes are clean you can adjust them.  DrumAdjusterIt’s very simple you just have to turn the adjuster wheel.  I usually us a pocket screwdriver but if you want to use the proper tool it’s a Brake Spoon.  You will notice that wheel moves easy one direction and very hard the other.  You will want to spin it the way that it’s easy to spin.  When you move it you will normally hear a slight click.  I start by only adjusting it a few clicks.  Then I put the drum back on and rotate it.  Once you feel a slight drag as it rotates you’re done.  If not adjust it a few more clicks. Try not to over adjust it. Backing the adjuster off requires pushing the adjuster bar back while turning the wheel.  Which isn’t as easy as it sounds if you haven’t done it before.

If you want to avoid removing the drum AdjusterHoleyou can use your Brake Spoon and adjust the start adjuster through the hole in that back of the drum backing plate.  Most of the time there is a rubber plug in the hole you have to remover first.  I removed before I took the picture so you get an idea of what you are looking for.  I will suggest if you’ve never done this before that you try it once with the drum off so you can see what you are doing and get a feel for it.

Put Back Together

Now that you have the brakes adjusted all you have to do if put the tires back on.  The only thing is to make sure you properly torque the lug nuts.  It’s a good practice to re-torque your lug nuts 50-100 miles after you have removed the wheels.  This is in case your lug nuts loosen up.  No one wants to have a wheel fall off while driving, so be safe and use a Torque Wrench.

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