Introduction: How to Change Drum Brakes

Picture of How to Change Drum Brakes

I'm not sure how relevant this instructable will be for newer cars, but it should work for anything from the 70's. Generally speaking, I'm not a mechanic, so, I don't know the technical terms for some of the pieces located inside the rear drum of the, if you know the correct term, feel free to leave a comment and I'll update the instructable.
This project started as one of necessity, (the first time I did this I only changed the brake shoes and had in fact put the driver's side shoes "on the wrong feet", heh, they were backwards, oops), but I also needed to change the springs as they are more than likely the original spring set and were a little rough.
DISCLAIMER: I don't claim to be a mechanic, nor do I claim to have any training in this field...I'm just a guy, working on my old clunker car, and feels that I should be able to replace/repair at least some of the minor damages.
The Car: It's a 1977 Buick LeSabre.œIit has been known as, the millennium falcon (œyou came in that, you're braver than I thought.) and as the œBuick Kampf Waggon (œIt's as big as a tank, and handles like a Bedford!)

Step 1: Lets Get Started

Picture of Lets Get Started

Not all of the tools listed here are required but they are very helpful.

What You'll need:

Car Jack (I'm not using the factory bumper it sucks and I don't really like it)
Jack stand (not strictly needed but a good idea if you want to play it safe)
Tire iron (again, I'm not using the factory L shaped iron as it's kind of lame)
A rubber mallet (for attaching the hubcaps at the end)
A giant screw driver (for taking off the hubcaps)
Pliers ( I used, linesman, needle nose, plumbers and two that I am not sure what they are actually for - but they were very helpful)
The spring and the drums and the shoes (heh the parts)
A little bit of break grease (thats the green bottle)
a seat - if you like to sit!

after looking at a closer view of the pliers - if anyone out there knows what the two in between the plumbers and needle nose are for - please let me know!

also, strictly speaking a brick is not the safest car stop - but I suppose its better than nothing. make sure the car is in park though, that is very important.

who is the handsome mechanic??? oh wait! thats me heh heh how embarrassing

Step 2: Getting at the Brakes

Picture of Getting at the Brakes

If you do not know how to take the wheel off your car, I would suggest not trying to perform the rest of this instructable - take the car to a mechanic.

But if you already have the car jacked up and the wheel off - read on!!

When you take the wheel off the car you will be presented the drum it basically looks like a big round rusted metal bowl.

You'll want to take that off by pulling it towards yourself and I found if you wiggle it while pulling it - its a little bit easier.

once you have the drum off - you should see the inner workings! it'll probably look like a rusty dirty nightmare. - Try not to breath any of the dust in there - it'll be asbestos from the brake shoes - and that'll kill you.

I would also suggest taking a picture of this step so that you have a clear idea of where all the springs and bits are and how they should look when its done.

Step 3: Springs and Such

Picture of Springs and Such

Take a look at the top and then the underside of the spring setup - basically - there are five main springs and 4 mounting points in the top portion and two main sprins and two main mounting points in the underside.

I found it easiest to start removing the upper springs using the needle nose pliers - as this will then release tension on the lower springs.

Once thats done it'll look pretty bare - be sure to save any metal washers that come off.

Step 4: Putting the New Ones On

Picture of Putting the New Ones On

If you have a can of break cleaner - I would use it now to clean up all the dirt on the brake mounts - PS its best if you place a thick newspaper or bucket under the brakes when your spraying them down - I learned that this'll stain concrete - heh heh

Next you will want to start putting the springs on - but first apply a dab of spring grease to the three bumps on the under side of the brake shoe.

Basically the shoe goes on, by hooking over the built in hook, then the metal retaining plate hooks into the shoe and is held in place by one of the spring loaded pins (linesmen pliers are the best to use for this)

Then goes on the retaining wire - it connects to the metal retaining plate and the fixed pin at the top of the brake (I'm not sure what it is truly called) - and then the short spring - it hooks onto the break and the fixed pin, same as the retaining wire.

When the shoe is sort of in place you'll want to align the cam from the pressure cylinder with the notch in the shoe itself (this is located behind the bend in the retaining wire

Step 5: Finishing It Up

Picture of Finishing It Up

Before you put on the next shoe - you'll want to apply a little bit of brake grease to the 3 bumps located on the back of the shoe and then pin the shoe in place with the spring loaded pin - again linesmen pliers are the best for this.

Now you'll want top put in the spacer bar, this goes directly below the pressure cylinder, in between the two shoes and directly above the centre of the axle

now just hook the shoe to the fixed pin( I used the crazy midevil looking pliers for this)

Now comes the underside:

hook the two shoes together with the remaining small spring and insert the tension bar - I found it easiest to do when it is fully compressed.

Step 6: Finished

Picture of Finished

Make sure everything is in place!

Once thats done play with the tension bar untill the drum slides on snugly.

throw the tire on and tighten the lugs up to their required torque (using a torque wrench)

lower the car and assess the damages.

Please be nice - it was my first instructable ;-)


JamesB321 (author)2016-02-17

The thing I struggled the most with when replacing my drum brakes was getting the tension bar set right. Everything I looked at online said that I should have been able to reach it from the back when the drum was put back on. Unfortunately I had no such luck and struggled for a long time to get the tension so that I could get the drum on. Unfortunately I don't have as much power in my parking brake any more. Does anyone have any suggestions? I am just thinking of taking it in to the shop so that they can adjust it for me.

shimniok (author)2015-08-27

Thanks for doing this!! It will be a big help. Quick note in case it isnt mentioned, the star adjuster is in backwards in the picture. Also if not mentioned, reverse hard stops should be done to self adjust the brakes.

vince 09 (author)2010-05-23

 i duno what all you work on but my truck has a 14 bolt full floater and it is so much easier to see the workings because the axle shaft and flange is not there it is just the spindle. just pointing that out lol 

vince 09 (author)2010-05-23

 i think the pliers with the spring on them are snap ring pliers. thats what i was told and thats what i use them for. i have no idea what those other ones are i have never seen them before 

Dr_Stupid (author)2008-07-04

You might also want to note that this is for REAR drum brakes ONLY. Fronts do not have the spacer bar, or the emergency brake link.

lawrencetony80 (author)Dr_Stupid2009-08-04

Dr., I've got a '62 chevy truck that has drum brakes all around, you say that this is ONLY for the rear, and the fronts don't have spacer bars or e-brake links, do the fronts go together just like this, minus the spacer bar and e-brake links? If there is some other steps for the fronts, I would GREATLY appreciate some info, as I've never done drum brakes before, disc brakes are very easy, but I find drum brakes a lot more intimidating, not to mention the last time my brakes were done by a mech. it cost me about $400, and I don't want to go that route again,lol, thanks in advance, and Stanislaw THANK YOU for the informative post, you've definitely taken away most of my fear of messing with drum brakes, keep up the good work:)

Jollyrgr (author)2008-07-04

Just an idea... Tag each part with something like 6PM, 11PM, 2PM so you know where on the "clock" it goes.

Amazing Ace (author)Jollyrgr2009-08-01

You're a genius!

Dr-G (author)2009-05-28

I am thinking about attempting this myself too. A mechanic friend of mine had a few tips too. Replace the springs (like you did) and also the wheel cylinders, as they are only $10-$30 each. I believe there are two bolts holding them on each side.

robsewell (author)2009-05-18

That was cool but I sill don't thank I can do it . Thank Anyway!!!! I mite just pay some one to do it. Thank you.

Pheonix2025 (author)2009-04-18

Nicely written with great pictures!!

williald (author)2009-04-06

Brilliantly done. Really good job, especially with the pics.

Derin (author)2008-09-25

the time when you rplace your brake pads is when you get this symbol:( (!) )

Derin (author)Derin2008-11-02

this light

brawns214 (author)2008-05-14

Remember afterwards, be sure to test your brakes out at slow speeds and make adjustments early. You don't want to be traveling on I10 at 80 and then find the highway traffic stopped and your brakes are a little too squishy. Also if you have drum brakes on all four like these old cars, try doing the front two first so you can still have the e-brake and the rear ones in case something went wrong. To instill confidence, I have to say that brakes are generally slightly above idiot-proof. Its not exactly idiot proof, because I'm sure they are stories about how things were installed backwards or something. Hey to those who have serviced drum breaks a lot. How thin do the shoes have to get before you should replace them. I just got my calipers back, so I was hoping to get a good idea of the thickness remaining this weekend and assess. Glad to know these drum brakes are much easier than I thought. I was impressed at how easy disc brakes were, so I'm glad to know drum brakes are also easy.

Derin (author)brawns2142008-09-25

till the (O) light comes on on the dash

Derin (author)Derin2008-09-25

probably lights up when u pull the handbrakes

Mr. Rig It (author)2008-05-09

oh you may also want to use some emery cloth on the inside of the drum to smooth down any ridges or if it has dicisive ridges have the drums turn so they are true again. You can turn drums to many times though because the walls will get to thin and warp. Autozone or any one else turning them should use a micrometer to measure wall thickness.

Stanislaw (author)Mr. Rig It2008-05-11

This is true - normally this is what I would have done - but the drivers side drum had deep gouges in it - I figured replacing them was easiest.

Mr. Rig It (author)2008-05-09

Just a quick note, if your drums are stuck and don't come off whack'em pretty good with hammer a couple times and they will loosen up. It doesn't matter if it is a rummer mallet or steel hammer. I just know someone will argue this and say you risk beaking them. If they were to break after a hammer stike then good, that would ltell you you needed new brake drums because the were to thinly walled from wear and you will be safer for it. Good ible.

Stanislaw (author)Mr. Rig It2008-05-11

Heh - most things can be fixed by a good smack - My grandfather's motto ;-)

razordu30 (author)2008-05-09

If you didn't mention this was your first instructable, I wouldn't have believed it. It's very clear and well done. I've helped changed drum brakes before but my dad was the one doing most of the work and it looks so much more complicated than disc brakes that I decided never to deal with it. Now I'll probably give it a try; plus the timing is great - my back brakes are already squeaking a little (I think it just needs brake cleaner, but we'll see). It's been less than a year since I had them changed, so I don't think it's the pads.

Stanislaw (author)razordu302008-05-09

Thanks! If it's less then a year I don't think they would need to be changed - brake cleaner is your friend - just be sure to have something to catch the excess spray otherwise it might stain your driveway - learned that the hard way heh heh

Jural (author)2008-05-09

You will need to back the brake adjustment off some to get past the groove the shoes have made inthe drum. At least on my car you do. Great Instructable. I have a '57 Chevy and this is all to familiar to me. You make it look clean and simple. Somehow mine never turn out that way:)

ll.13 (author)2008-05-09

Good Instructable! (:

gog (author)2008-05-08

One thing I always do when I have a wheel off the car, I make sure to position the rim under the frame of the car as additional protection if the car comes off its stands. This isnt a replacement for jackstands but it could save your life.

Stanislaw (author)gog2008-05-08

Thats a good idea

dchall8 (author)2008-05-08

First of all, the brakes are the ONLY thing that stops your car. If you are afraid you'll goof this up, spend the money for a mechanic.

Secondly, this is so easy to do and the cost at the mechanic is so high, you really need to find your inner junk to do this yourself. It is a dirty job but soap costs a lot less than $200. HOWEVER; if you get as far as the first picture in step3 and you see any, ANY, discolored dust, like maybe something oily was leaking into the dust, IMMEDIATELY put the drum cover back on, reinstall the wheel, tighten up the lugs, and drive it to the mechanic. Fixing that problem requires a whole new set of tools and confidence. It is not necessarily hard, but you have to be meticulously clean, very orderly, and skilled at inspecting and repairing metal castings.

Third, set aside half the money you are going to save on this project to get the right tools. The skinned knuckle can be avoided by getting the right tools. Some brake spring pliers have a special handle. Note the difference on these brake spring pliers. See the fat part at the base of the handle? That is a critical part that allows you to remove the spring without launching it into a corner of your garage, or lawn. Once you get the tools, you can do this for next to nothing. Disk brakes are even easier.

To the author: this is a great idea for an Instructable. This format really is much better than any other format I can think of for auto repairs. The ability to draw attention to certain aspects of a photo without zooming in on the part is so important. Use the heck out of that drawing tool to point out what you are talking about in your pictures.

Two cans of brake cleaner spray will go a long way to making this more enjoyable. Once you do it without the cleaner and once with, you'll know what i mean. It is also a good idea to precoat your hands with liquid soap. Rub in a generous amount up to your wrists and keep rubbing until it feels dry. Get plenty under your fingernails. Once you do the job without the soap and once with, you'll know what I mean.

Jack stands are more necessary than you emphasized. The vehicle absolutely has to stay in the air. Even if you use a cinder block and some 2x6's, you need something under the axle to keep the vehicle from falling IF something goes wrong. I have had two incidents in my shade tree mechanic career of cars falling off the jack. The worst was when my father was under the car - fortunately I was there to jack it off of him. The other time one of my tools punctured the side of the car and dented the part where the jack was supposed to go. Your hydraulic jack is great, but if you don't have one, it can be really ugly.

Something you left out was a discussion about the automatic adjuster. You have it illustrated in the second picture in step 3. Before you install the new brakes, that adjuster needs to be screwed in so it is as short as it can be. Otherwise you'll never get the drum cover on. I think you did discuss it but you didn't know what to call it. It needs a yellow box around it and some discussion.

Once you're finished with the job, you need to adjust the brakes. Do that by backing up slowly in a safe place and pushing on the brake pedal several times. This process engages the automatic brake adjuster and slowly pushes the brake shoes out against the drum.

Be very careful with any grease around brake shoes. I never use any. If it gets on the shoes or the drum, you get to start all over again.

The first time you try this job it may take more than an hour to do the first side. The second side will take you less than half that time. Start in the morning. In two years when you come back to do it again, the first side will take at least 45 minutes and the second side will take you 15 minutes. The learning curve is steep. There are some tricks you'll learn the first time and some you'll relearn the second time. Once you do it, take the rest of the day off. You've earned it.

Stanislaw (author)dchall82008-05-08

Thanks for your advice - I will make some changes to the instructable - it was my second time doing the job and I realize it'd probably be a hundred times easier with the proper tools. thanks for the feedback!

PKM (author)2008-05-08

"Please be nice - it was my first instructable ;-)" OK: good job, good instructions, good pictures- good 'Ible :) To think I didn't even know what the inside of a drum brake looked like except from diagrams... call myself a car nut... +

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-05-08

Great job! This will be very useful if I do my van

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