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How to Care for Drum Brakes

It is important to know how to care for your drum brakes before you start hearing that relentless grating, screeching sound every time you slow down or stop. When you first hear it, you notice it’s coming from behind, so you think it’s the vehicle behind you, but after a while, you notice the sound still follows you even when there is no car or truck back there. Finally, you realize it’s your brakes making all the noise. As you take a look back there, you see the drum brakes and you know what that means, the unending noise you’ve been listening to is the brakes shoes scraping the metal drums interior. Your linings on your rear brake shoes are worn completely out.

Caring for Your Drum Brakes the Right Way

In order to properly care for your drum brakes, you need to know a few things about them. Though disc brakes are superior, manufactures still use drum brakes on front wheel drive vehicles and light trucks for a couple of reasons. Drum brakes are lighter in weight and deliver less friction, improving gas mileage. Also these vehicles, being front end heavy, need more effective front brakes, not rear brakes, thus the drum brakes on the back.

With this in mind, your drum brakes are without brake shoes and you need a new set. When choosing, you want to select shoes priced in the mid-range or higher, after all you don’t want to have this problem again soon. You’ll also want to do both rear wheels – meaning you’ll want to purchase an axle set. If you plan to do the work yourself, you should go ahead and purchase a hardware kit which will include all the parts you’ll need to get the job done and get your drum brakes operational again. Unless you are a mechanic who works on drum brakes, you will need a service manual for your car as well to guide you through the replacement process.

Ensuring Your Drum Brakes Get Maintained Properly Starts with Education

Safety is the next step in drum brakes repair and shoe replacement. You should never work on a vehicle being held up by a jack, instead block the front wheels and get your vehicle on to automotive safety stands (aka jack stands). It is a good idea to keep the parking break off, and to have the transmission in neutral, especially if you are working on one side at a time.

Now to the actual drum brakes, the process begins by removing the brake drums. The process  is different on every vehicle’s drum brakes, some are held in place with a clip, others with a screw. The drum can be difficult to remove due to dirt and corrosion. Hitting it with a soft-head hammer can help, as can soaking with oil. Take care not dent, bend or crack the drum. Once loosened, remove the clips or screws and then the drum.

Machine the drums to ensure they remain the same diameter. Measure the shoes of the drum brakes and replace any that are worn more than half. If you are unsure of these measurements, it is best to replace each shoe in the drum brakes. Check for leaking brake fluid and bleed as indicated. You’ll want to clean everything as you replace and reassemble. Once each part is returned to its proper position, hang your drum and reinstall your wheel. The self-adjustment activation for drum brakes is different on each vehicle, some are activate by applying the brakes, others by hand brake and in some cases manually crank of the adjuster.

You are ready to replace your brake shoes; it’s time to get to work on your drum brakes. The issue is, unless of course you are an expert at caring for drum brakes, once you get to the removal of the retainers, springs and shoes – the entire unit may look like a puzzling mystery at first glance. Here are three simple tips to help you get the drum brakes job done right.

Drum Brakes Tip 1

In order to avoid a mess and spare parts you don’t want when you are done with the work, you will need an exploded view drawing or schematic to get all the parts back into their appropriate places. If you don’t have this technical 3-D diagram as a guide for your drum brakes project – taking pictures or making your own drawings will help you remember the proper placement of each part. You’ll be glad you took the extra time, especially if everything falls to the garage floor during the process!

Drum Brakes Tip 2

Keep in mind that your drum’s surface should be shiny and smooth. If you heard that incessant grinding and grating for a while, it was metal-on-metal and you will likely need to have your drums machined. The machine shop knows the drums must be maintained at the same diameter to keep your vehicle from pulling every time you brake. The maximum allowable diameter is marked in the brake drums and your machine shop knows not to machine beyond the cast limit.

Drum Brakes Tip 3

When you are ready to reassemble, it is important to completely clean the drum’s friction surface, removing all fingerprints. You’ll also need to clean up any parts you are reusing. Once everything is ready – let the reassembly begin.

If you need additional details regarding care of your drum brakes, call on Lorentz Automotive today for more information.


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