Manually Adjusting Drum Brakes

Probably the most neglected maintenance task in any drum brake equipped vehicle is the brake adjustment. While most drums since the 60’s have had self adjusters you shouldn’t trust them to keep the brakes quite as tight as they ought to, plus you need to manually adjust them after you’ve been mucking around in the drums.

While not a very fun job adjusting is quite easy and can make a big difference in brake performance, you’ll really feel it when you adjust those drums that have been out of spec for the last ten years! The instructions on this page should work with almost all conventional single cylinder brake drums. The vehicle pictured in this article is my 1971 Ford F250 with 12″ x 2.5″ rear drums.

Tools Required:
Brake Spoon
(A large slotted screwdriver works in a pinch)
Long narrow slotted screwdriver

Start by loosening the parking brake adjuster (click here if you need more help) then removing the rubber cover(s) over the brake adjuster (if they exist). Slip one of your brake spoons into this hole and pry on the “star” of the brake adjuster. Listen for the adjusting lever to click against the star as it ratchets, if you feel a lot of pressure (it does not want to move) try moving it in the other direction. Tighten this until you feel a lot of drag while turning the wheel, then back it off (slip the narrow slotted screwdriver though the hole to push the adjusting lever out of the way to make this easier). After you are done put the rubber plug back over the hole.

Now all you have to do is it all over again on the other side!

If the vehicle is equipped with self adjusting drums (most domestic vehicles from the 60’s onward do, my 1978 Ford Courier did not) take it for a drive. Self adjusting brakes work in reverse, in a safe place (large empty parking lots are great for this) back up briskly (about 10 mph), turn the vehicle in one direction, and slam the brakes. Do this three or four times per turning direction.

Congratulations, you’re done. Now go home and celebrate!

2 comments on “Manually Adjusting Drum Brakes

  1. You have a link that’s supposed to go to “Adjusting your Parking Brake” but it links to this page instead. Thanks for these write ups!

  2. Best instructions on manual brake drum adjustment that I have seen. Thank you.

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