How to replace your car’s brake shoes

A repair job that can be done at home.
by Jason Tulio | Aug 18, 2021
PHOTO: Jason Tulio

When it comes to deciding what car to buy, consumers put a lot of emphasis on engine specs, and for good reason. Examining a powertrain’s capacity and output helps inform you of what the car is capable of and how much it’ll cost to use it. Equally important, however, are the kind of the brakes a particular model comes with. After all, what use is all that propulsion if the car can’t come to a complete stop properly?

Nowadays, disc brakes are becoming more and more commonplace. However, some older and base-variant models still have drum brakes installed, most often on the rear tires. Here, we’ll take a look at how to replace a car’s brake shoes, which are an integral part of the drum steup. 

What are drum brakes and how are they different to discs?

Both types of brakes operate in similar ways. Once you step on the brake pedal, a piston inside the master cylinder compresses brake fluid to generate force. From there, the fluid travels through the brake lines to each of the four tires where the force is applied mechanically. The difference between discs and drums is how that force is applied.

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On disc brakes, a pair of calipers grip onto a rotor that moves long with the wheel. The pressurized brake fluid pushes against the pistons inside the caliper, making it apply force against the rotor. The subsequent friction brings the wheels—and the car—to a stop. With drum brakes, you instead get a cylinder with pistons inside that push out the brake shoes to create friction against a spinning drum. This system is housed internally, so you can’t see it in operation from the outside.

While disc brakes offer numerous advantages such as easier maintenance and better heat management, drums are easier to install parking brakes on and are generally less expensive to replace, though they are more complex to work on. 

How to replace your car’s brake shoes

Over time, a brake system’s components will wear down with use. With drum brakes, the brakes shoes are the main part that need replacing. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to do this. Remember, when in doubt, consult a professional mechanic.

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Tools needed:

  • Car jack
  • Jack stands
  • Oil pan
  • Flat-head screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Brake cleaner
  • Brake assembly tools (if available)

1) Park your car on a flat surface with the handbrake disengaged. You can also place chocks behind the front wheels.

2) Loosen the lug nuts on the wheels you’ll be working on. 

3) Using the jack, raise the rear side of the vehicle up.

4) Place the jack stands underneath in a suitable spot. Once they’re firmly established, lower the vehicle into place.

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5) Remove the tires and wheels. 

6) Pull out and remove the brake drum. You can use a hammer to loosen it if it’s on tight.

7) Place an oil pan underneath the wheel you’re working on to avoid making a mess.

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8) Spray brake cleaner over the entire assembly. Focus on areas with dirt and brake dust buildup.

9) Using the pliers, remove the springs connecting the brake shoes. The easiest way is to start with the ones on top. 

10) Remove any pins or screws keeping the shoes in place, then take them out.

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11) Remove the brake cable retainer clip using either a flat-head screwdriver or pliers. 

12) Spray the backing plate with brake cleaner. 

13) Apply brake lubricant to the anchor of the pin, parking brake actuator lever, and the bosses. 

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14) Install the new parking brake clip and lever onto the new shoes.

15) Add the adjusting screw assembly and spring to the shoes.

16) Install the shoe assembly onto the backing plate. Use the new pins and/or washers that should be included in the kit for the shoes. 

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17) Reinstall the tension springs in reverse order, from bottom to top. 

18) Clip the return spring to its proper anchor point. 

19) Using the adjuster screw, adjust the assembly to the shoes expand. For the proper torque specifications, you can consult your car’s manual.

20) Spray the drum with brake cleaner before installing it back on top of the assembly. If the drum doesn’t quite fit properly, you may need to adjust the shoes. For more on that, you can read our guide here

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21) Reinstall the wheel and tire, and screw on the lug nuts by hand. 

22) Once you’ve finished all the sides you’re working on, place the jack at the same jacking point as before, and raise it up until you can lift the vehicle past the jack stands. 

23) Remove the jack stands and slowly lower the vehicle back to the ground. 

24) Finish tightening the lug nuts.

25) Pump the brake pedal to get the hydraulic pressure working again. After this, you can take your car for a test drive. 

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PHOTO: Jason Tulio
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