How To Adjust Drum Brakes In 8 Simple Steps

How To Adjust Drum Brakes In 8 Simple Steps

Did you recently get new self-adjusting brakes that you do not feel are adjusting properly?

Many of the newer vehicles on the road today use drum brakes in the rear of the vehicle while using disc brakes in the front.

Even though your drum brakes are self-adjusting, they only handle about 25 percent of the braking power that your car needs, so when the adjustment is off, the front brakes tend to overcompensate for the rear ones, which can create a dangerous situation.

This can also decrease the life of the drum brake, if your brakes feel off, make sure to adjust them. I have found that many people do not know how to adjust drum brakes, so I created this tutorial to demonstrate how simple it can be.

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How To Adjust Drum Brakes In 8 Simple Steps

Step One: Prepare And Secure The Vehicle

The drum brakes are located behind the wheel of your vehicle, so the easiest way to reach them is going to require you to jack up the car.

First, make sure that the car is in the park and the parking brake is also in position. Make sure the jack is in a good position to raise the back end of the car off of the ground.

Once the car has been raised, place a jack stand on each side of the car to help secure it.

Then, lower the car back down until it rests on the jack stands. This ensures that you will be safe while you adjust the drum brakes.

Step Two: Remove The Tire

Once the car is in position safely raised off of the ground, it is time to remove the tire.

Use your lug wrench to remove the lug nuts from the tire.

Make sure that you place them in a secure location so that you can find them again when you need them. Then, pull off the wheel.

Step Three: Find The Star Wheel

Access to the drum brake’s starwheel is slightly hidden if you do not know where to look. On the inside surface of the backing plate, there is an access cover.

All you need to do is feel around until you feel a porthole that is covered with a rubber plug.

If you are having issues locating it, it should be about three inches from the top. But the best way to see it is to use a flashlight.

Once you find the porthole, remove the plug. Place the flathead into the hole until you feel the teeth of the star wheel.

Step Four: Make The Adjustment

Once you have the flathead screwdriver in the access hole, you will need to place the tip of the screwdriver between the teeth of the star wheel. Turn the adjuster a few times to tighten it.

Only move it a little at a time so that you can make sure that you are adjusting the drum brake correctly.

If the drum becomes even looser against the brake pads, you’ve turned the adjuster in the wrong direction.

If the drum becomes too tight against the brake pads, then you will need to loosen it a bit.

Step Five: Rinse And Repeat

Repeat steps two through four on the other side of your vehicle.

Brakes work in pairs, so if you adjust the back right drum brake, make sure to adjust the back left drum brake as well.

If you have a vehicle that has four drum brakes, then it is advisable to check all four of them to ensure that they are working properly.

Step Six: Check All Of Your Work

Physically look at the drum brake to see if it is centered properly on your vehicle. You will also need to make sure that the brakes are balanced when they are applied.

You should feel the same amount of tension on both of the rear brakes when they are applied. If they still feel off, more adjustments may need to be made.

Once you are satisfied that the adjustments have been made properly, you can place the rubber plug back into its original position.

Step Seven: Replace The Tires

Place the tires back on the vehicle and tighten the lug nuts in a star pattern until they can no longer be tightened by hand.

Then, use your torque wrench to tighten them the rest of the way.

Once all of the tires are back on the vehicle, you can lower the car down off of the jack and the jack stands.

Step Eight: Test Drive

The brakes on your vehicle are important to make sure that you safely get to your destination, so before you even pull out of the driveway or garage, make sure to pump the brakes several times to ensure that they grip when you want them to.

Then, take the car for a test drive in an area where there is not a lot of traffic so that you can guarantee that it is 100% safe and the adjusted drum brakes will securely stop you when you need it.

Pro Tips:

  • Not every vehicle is designed the same, so some manufacturers have not actually punched out the portholes that will give you access to the star wheel. If you remove the drum, you can use a hammer to remove the metal, but you will also need to find something to cover it because there will not be a rubber plug since it was not punched out.
  • If you cannot remove the star wheel, you may need to clean and lubricate this part to help it move.
  • If you are uncomfortable adjusting the drum brakes on your vehicle, it is best to take it to a mechanic who is comfortable doing the job. This will make you feel safe and give you peace of mind that the brake is properly adjusted.

What You Need

As with any repair or adjustment that you are making to your vehicle, there is a list of items that you should make sure are available to you before you begin adjusting the brake drums. For this method, you will need the following items:

  • A Jack
  • Jack Stands
  • A Lug Wrench
  • A Hammer
  • A Socket and Ratchet Wrench
  • A Flathead Screwdriver
  • A Torque Wrench
  • A Flashlight

Wrapping It Up

Did you enjoy this tutorial on adjusting drum brakes?

Having properly adjusted brakes is a great way to make sure that you and your family are safe, so hopefully this guide has helped you to understand the steps that you need to take to adjust a drum brake.

Safety is always number one, so if you have any questions or concerns, please post a comment, and as always, share this tutorial with others.

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