How to Adjust Drum Brakes?

Have you ever been faced with a delay in deceleration when you apply your brakes? This is a clear sign that your drum brakes are affected and need adjustment or replacement. In this article, we will explain how to adjust drum brakes.

Though drum brakes are durable, they can start dragging after long use and lead to grinding noise. The noise is an indication that the brake shoes have worn out. If not attended to, the bad brake shoes can cause severe damage to the wheel drum, which will cost more bucks to fix.

However, regular adjustment of these brakes ensures that they respond quickly whenever you engage them. You need to always ensure your brakes are working properly before hitting the road because your life depends on it. The paragraphs below provide a practical explanation of drum brakes adjustment.

How To Adjust Drum Brakes

Is it normal for the ABS light and the brake light to pop up on your dashboard when something goes wrong, and the cause of these lights could be a bad ABS module, drum brakes, etc.? To know if the drum brake needs adjustment, drag the parking brake lever; if it’s light and goes up freely, you should head on to adjust your brake shoes.

adjust drum brakes with parking brake

Step 1: Jack and suspend your back wheels

Park your vehicle properly and engage the parking brakes. Locate the jacking spot close to the rear wheels and place a jack to lift up one side of the vehicle from the ground. Use a jack stand to keep the car in place. Repeat the same process for the other rear side of the wheel.

Step 2: Remove the tires

After lighting your vehicle, remove the tires. Unbolt the lug nuts gently from the wheels. Make sure you keep the nuts in a safe place, so you can easily get them back.

Step 3: Adjust the drum brakes.

First and foremost, locate the drum brake adjuster. You can easily access the brake adjuster at the rear base of the brake drum. Remove the dust cover with a flat screwdriver.

Turn the brake adjuster clockwise or anti-clockwise to feel where you need to turn it to. It is important to note that most drum brake adjustment direction is clockwise. As you apply your screwdriver downwards, the brake adjuster moves upward to bring the brake shoes closer to the drum.

Ensure that there is little drag to allow for an easy stoppage. If the drag is too much, the brake won’t work properly. Once the tire can spin with a little drag (not freely or forcefully), you need to do the same on the other wheel. Drag the hand brake lever to see how it is. If it’s too free, add more adjustments.

Step 4: Check your work

Once you have adjusted the brake to your satisfaction, reinstall the dust cover to its position. Confirm everything is well positioned and intact.

Step 5: Install your tires.

Reinstall the car tires you removed previously. Afterward, ensure you tighten the lug nuts with a ratchet and socket or wheel spanners until the nuts are fitted snugly.

Step 6: Lower the car

Place your jack on the jacking spot and raise the car so you can safely remove the jack stand. Lower the vehicle and do the same on the other side of the wheel.

Step 7: Test drive the vehicle

Pump the brake pedal a couple of times before driving. Then, drive the car to a safe location and confirm whether the brakes are properly functioning. If the brakes are functional, then you are good to go!

If you are driving a trailer and experience brake failure, you might want to check out your brake system components to see whether they need adjustment. The above step-by-step guides are similar to how to adjust drum brakes on a trailer.


Which way do you adjust drum brakes?

It is pretty easy to adjust your drum brakes. However, you must understand the right direction to push the adjuster. In most vehicles, the right place to turn the adjuster is clockwise, while a few others are designed to work anti-clockwise. As you push the adjuster downwards with your screwdriver, the adjustment wheel moves upwards or in a clockwise direction.

Will drum brakes self-adjust?

When there is much space between the brake and the drum, most modern cars have automatic adjuster which senses the anomaly and reset themselves when you apply the emergency brakes.

However, if you don’t apply the emergency brake for a long time, the automatic adjuster will not adjust.

Do drum brakes self-adjust in reverse?

Yes, whenever you apply your brakes when you are reversing, the automatic adjuster adjusts itself.

A lever adjusts inside the brake system to adjust the wheel a little bit anytime you back off. However, this does not apply to all cars and is not a total remedy for adjusting your brakes when it is in a critical state.

How often do you need to adjust the drum brakes?

On average, a drum brake needs adjustment at every 10,000 miles or earlier until it needs replacement. However, there are few signs that show your brake shoes require adjustment. So, if you’re asking how to tell if drum brakes need adjusting, watch out for these;

  • Strange or grinding noise from the back wheels
  • Lose the parking brake lever
  • The car moves smoothly while on hand brakes
  • The ABS light tells you when there is something wrong with your brake. So, when you see the light on, you should drive carefully to a safe place and check your brake system components.

adjust drum brakes reverse

Final words

At this juncture, you’ve seen that brake drums last long. However, with time they can start malfunctioning. So, if you want a safe drive, you need to ensure your brakes and other car systems are working properly.  And that’s why we’ve provided a step-by-step guide on how to adjust drum brakes.

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Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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