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DIY: Drum Brakes


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DIY: Drum Brakes

What you will need:

  1. Wrenches
  2. Jack
  3. Jack stands
  4. Brake spring pliers
  5. Brake retainer tool
  6. Screwdriver or pry bar
  7. Pliers or vise grips
  8. Hammer
  9. Large chisel
  10. White Lithium Grease
  11. Latex Gloves
  12. Dust mask
  13. New brake shoes

Before You Start:

  • Follow these instructions carefully. Read and be sure you understand them before you begin.
  • Gather together all of your tools and supplies before you begin.
  • Allow plenty of time to do the job so you don't have to hurry.
  • Remember that these are general instructions. For more detailed instructions pertaining to your specific vehicle, consult an appropriate repair manual.
  • Safety is important whenever you're working around machinery. Beware of hot objects, sharp instruments and hazardous materials.
  • Don't substitute tools unless you're sure you won't compromise either your safety or the performance of your vehicle.
  • Never work on a vehicle that is only supported by a jack. Use jack stands to support the vehicle while you work. Work on a solid, level surface. Never jack a car up on dirt or grass.
  • Do one wheel at a time so you can use the other wheel as a reference in case you get confused.
  • Check for any fluid leaks or cracked brake lines. Replace them as necessary.

Brake linings contain asbestos. Do not use compressed air or dry brush to clean brake parts. Many brake parts contain asbestos fibers that, if inhaled, can cause serious injury. To clean brake parts, use water soaked rags or a suitable vacuum cleaner to minimize airborne dust.


  • Remove about half the brake fluid from the master cylinder and put it into a sealed container. Dispose of it properly. Do not reuse old brake fluid; always use fresh brake fluid from a sealed container. Brake fluid will eat paint so do not get it on your vehicles finish. If you do, wash it off (brake fluid is water soluble) with plenty of water.
  • Using a lug wrench, crack the wheel lugs loose one or two turns. Do not remove them completely.
  • Jack one side of the vehicle up and support it with a jack stand. Do the same for the opposite side.
  • Remove the lugs and take the wheels off.
  • To remove the brake drums:

Rear Wheel Drive:

  • Remove brake drum. Look at the wheel studs for a round clip. If they are there, use a wire cutters or other suitable tool to remove them. You don't have to worry about breaking or losing them. They are there to keep the brake drum from falling off while on the assembly line. They serve no purpose now. If brake lining is dragging on brake drum, back off brake adjustment by rotating adjustment screw. If brake drum is rusted or corroded to axle flange and cannot be removed readily, apply some rust penetrent and lightly tap axle flange to drum mounting surface with a suitable hammer.

Front Wheel Drive:

  • Remove bearing cap and wheel bearings. Slide drum off, backing off the adjustment if necessary. See DIY: Wheel Bearings if you are not sure how to do this. Some bearings are one-piece bearings in which case you just slide the drum off.

   Any time the brake drums are removed for brake service, the braking surface diameter should be checked with a suitable brake drum micrometer at several points to determine if they are within the safe oversize limit stamped on the brake drum outer surface. If the braking surface diameter exceeds specifications, the drum must be replaced. If the braking surface diameter is within specifications, drums should be cleaned and inspected for cracks, scores, deep grooves, taper, out of round and heat spotting. If drums are cracked or heat spotted, they must be replaced.

   Minor scores should be removed with sandpaper. Grooves and large scores can only be removed by machining with special equipment, as long as the braking surface is within specifications stamped on brake drum outer surface. Any brake drum sufficiently out of round to cause vehicle vibration or noise while braking or showing taper should also be machined, removing only enough stock to true up the brake drum.

   After a brake drum is machined, wipe the braking surface diameter with a denatured alcohol soaked cloth. If one brake drum is machined, the other should also be machined to the same diameter to maintain equal braking forces. I would recommend that the drums be resurfaced whenever you replace the shoes. If you do not plan on resurfacing the drums, mark a wheel stud and put a matching mark on the drum so you can reinstall it in the same position it came off. Also mark them left and right.

   Copyright © 2001 - 2003 Vincent T. Ciulla All Rights Reserved

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