The ULTIMATE Guide on How to Replace Drum Brakes


Chris Fix: Hey guys. Chris Fix here. Today I’m going to show you how to replace your drum brakes on your car or your truck. This is going to be a complete guide. I’m going to show every detail, every step on replacing the drum brake system. Including how to replace all the brake hardware and replacing the wheel cylinders. So when you’re done watching this video, you’re gonna know how to replace the drum brakes in your vehicle. And if you’ve never changed drum brakes before, don’t be intimidated because these things do look kind of complicated. All it is, is a couple of springs, a wheel cylinder, and then some shoes. It’s very simple. And again, I’m going to show you everything you need to know. So after watching the video, you’ll be able to replace the brakes yourself. Now one question I get asked all the time is, how long do drum brakes last?

And the brake shoes on drum brakes can last anywhere from 50,000 miles to 150,000 miles depending on how you drive. So they do less longer than your typical caliper brake pads. Now in this video I’m going to be changing the drum brakes in my truck. With that being said, the process of replacing drum brakes is very similar, if not identical for almost every vehicle out there. So these are what the drum brakes look like on my pickup truck. These are what the drum brakes look like on a van. And these are what the drum brakes look like on a compact car. So as you can tell, the drum brakes are very similar from car to car, which is good because after you’re done watching this video, you’ll be able to replace the drum brakes on pretty much any vehicle. And before we begin, I want to thank Advanced Auto Parts for helping out and supplying the brake drums and shoes for the video.

All right, now here’s everything you need to completely replace the drum brakes. Let’s start off with our hand tools. First it’s very important to wear eye protection when you’re working with drum brakes. Drum brakes, use these springs which have a lot of energy and they can come flying off when you’re removing them. So you want to make sure that your eyes are protected. So let’s get those on now. And next you can see that there’s not many tools that are needed to change the drum brakes. You might need a hammer to remove the drum, couple of different pliers to help you with the springs and screwdriver. And then I have a little trick with these wrenches I’ll show you. We are going to be replacing the wheel cylinders, so it’s a good idea to have a set of flare nut wrenches. They’re inexpensive, they’re good to own.

On the left we have the flare nut wrench and you can see it goes over to brake line and then hugs five of the six sides of the nut. This will lessen the chances of you stripping the nut. And on the right we have a regular wrench which has only two contact points on the nut and you’re more likely to strip the nut that way. That’s why for a few bucks it’s totally worth it to pick up a flare nut wrench. There’s also a specialty brake drum tool set that you could get. And I’m going to show you how to use these different tools just in case you want to go out and get a kit. It does make the job faster and easier, but with that being said, I’m also gonna show you how to use regular hand tools that you already have to accomplish the same job as these specialized tools.

Next we have the brake parts. You want to make sure that you get two drums, one for each side, always replace brakes in pairs. And then we have our four brake shoes and anytime you get new drums and shoes you want to make sure that you replaced the springs. This is very important. Let me show you why. I cut apart this drum so that you could see how everything works. When you press on the brakes, the wheel cylinder pushes the shoes outwards, which then against the drum creating friction and slowing the vehicle down. When you let go the brakes, the springs pull the shoes off the drum so there’s no more friction. And there isn’t too much space between the shoes and the drum. So the springs have to be in good shape and working properly to ensure that the shoes don’t continue to rub against the drum with your foot off the brake.

So you can see the importance of getting brand new brake hardware anytime you change your drum brakes. So we’re changing that out. We’re also going to be changing out the wheel cylinders, also important and easy to do while you’re already in there. These things are inexpensive, so I suggest doing that as well. And then finally we need break clean. We’re going to need brake fluid. You could check the brake fluid in your vehicle by looking at the owner’s manual. Make sure you get the right type. In this case I’m using DLT three and then some anti-seize to lubricate the backing plate. So our drum brake system works flawlessly. And now we’re ready to get started. But before we do that, I don’t know if you guys noticed these brake calipers in the background. Well, at the end of this video, I have a very special announcement.

It’s going to be really cool. You guys have been requesting this over and over again. And I listened. So these are some brake calipers, a little hint there. And we’ll find out at the end of the video what we’re doing with these. But now let’s go get started on these drum brakes. And the first thing we need to do is lift the vehicle up and put it on Jack stands. And I’ve already done that here. The vehicle is lifted from the rear differential and then the Jack stands are supporting the axle. And before we remove the wheel, we want to make sure that the front wheel is blocked off so the truck doesn’t roll. And it’s also a good idea to shake your vehicle and make sure that it’s sturdy. And this is very sturdy. So now we could go and remove the wheel. That gives us access to our drum and this is what we want to remove next.

But before we even do that, go into your interior of your car and make sure that your emergency brake isn’t on. In this case mine was on, you’ll never be able to remove that drum brake with the emergency brake on, and so make sure it’s off. Now this is going to be the hardest part of this whole process, removing this drum brake. A lot of times these things get rusted on here real good. And it makes it difficult to remove like with this, but I have a few tricks. To remove the drum you want to grab both sides and try to wiggle it off, pulling it towards you. In this case, this thing isn’t budging. A lot of times these rust to the hub and make it real difficult. Now some drum brakes have a hole, so all you need is a bolt. Just screw it in, grab a ratchet and tighten that bolt until the drum pops off. And then it should wiggle right off. But some drums don’t have these holes. And since that’s the case with my truck, the next best thing is to grab a big hammer and we’re gonna hit both sides of the drum. You want to use a good amount of force and make sure you don’t hit those studs by mistake. I can feel them coming loose and give it a little wiggle.

All right! And look at all that brake dust and rust we knocked loose, which brings me to my next point. Since drum brakes are enclosed, a lot of the brake dust gets stuck inside the brakes. So once that drum comes off, you want to immediately spray down the brakes with brake clean. Get rid of all that brake dust so you’re not breathing it in. Because this stuff is definitely not good for you. And you could spray down everything. There’s nothing here that you don’t want to spray. We’re going to be replacing the wheel cylinder so that doesn’t matter. And look at all the brake dust coming off. Now with all the brake dust cleared away, don’t remove any springs or anything just yet. We want to get referenced pictures of how all the springs and everything is set up. So you want to grab something that could take pictures like your phone and snap a couple of pictures.

Make sure everything’s in focus to get a clear picture of the top spring set up. And the end of the bottom spring set up. And with the reference pictures taken, we can remove the brake springs. And the springs we want to remove are these two top springs. And this kit that we have here has a tool specifically made for removing those. The tool goes right over the spring pin and then all you do is twist it until the spring pops off. Just like that. So a tool like this works great, but not everybody has this tool. So I’m also going to show you how to remove the spring with just the pliers and a flathead screwdriver. First, use your pliers to open up the spring a bit so you can slide your flathead screwdriver in just like that. And then pry the screwdriver and with a little help from our pliers, it’ll come right off. And then we can remove the spring.

Next we’ll remove the self-adjusting cable off the spring pin. And this goes down to the self-adjuster lever, so remove it from that as well. Now that the springs are removed from the top, we could remove the two brake shoes. And to do that, each shoe has one spring holding it down that we need to remove. And this is what the hole down spring looks like. You’re going to have to turn it 90 degrees so that the pin end could fit through the spring. And again, we have a specialized tool we could use for this. First you want to press your finger on the back of the pin so it doesn’t move. Looking from behind the backing plate, the pin is right there. So with your finger on the pin, use the tool to press against the spring and then turn 90 degrees. And the spring comes right out.

Now you can push the pin out and remove it as well. And now for the other side, instead of using the specialized tool, I’m going to show you how to do it with a plain old vice grips. It’s the same process. Get your finger on the pin in the back. And then grab on that spring cap once it’s clamped on, press down and turned 90 degrees. And it’ll come right off. And that’s a little trick on how to use a vice grips to remove those hold down springs. It is pretty simple. And with the two hold down, springs out the brake shoes should come right out. This is our parking brake link and just take a note on which side the spring is on for when we installed this later. Now we can easily remove the lower spring with the pliers since there’s no tension on the shoes.

And then we could separate the shoe and self-adjuster. So now we only have one shoe connected and it’s connected to the parking brake. Many times even with the parking brake disengaged. The lever is hard to remove. So you might want to just remove the clip from the shoe and leave the parking brake lever connected. But in this case it looks like it’s going to be really easy to remove. So I’m just going to pop this off and you could see how easy that was. And with the arm removed from the parking brake cable, we could use our pliers to open up the gap of the clip. And then use a flathead screwdriver to pry it off. And the parking brake arm comes right off. And another thing that I’ve been doing is as I take parts off. I set them up so they look exactly the way they were.

So eventually when you get all the parts off, not only do you have your pictures so you could see where all the springs go, but you also have this all laid out. So you know exactly how to install the new brakes. So with everything apart, now we want to move on to the wheel cylinder. And while I suggest replacing this with every break replacement, if you don’t want to replace it, you can tell if the wheel cylinder is bad because it’ll be leaking out fluid. So if you see any dampness around the boot covers on this side or this side, you definitely have to replace this.

And while this is in good shape, it’s still a good idea to replace it since they are inexpensive and we have it all apart. And since this is still dirty, now’s a good time to see the contact points of the brake shoes. These contact points are where the brake shoe contacts the backing plate and slides back and forth. You can see there’s a contact point right up there. There’s a contact point right down there and there’s one more contact point right down there. And it’s the same thing on the other side. There’s a contact point up here, one right down there, and then one right down there. All six of those points should be clean and smooth, so let’s go clean up everything now. A metal wire brush and some brake clean are all you need.

Don’t be afraid to use too much break clean, spray down everything and get it nice and clean. And spend some time here in removing the brake dust, grease and rust from the backend plate. So this is all cleaned up and looking real good. Our contact points are smooth and clean. Now let’s go remove the brake cylinder. And to do that, we have to go behind and start by removing the brake line. We want to use a flare nut wrench, and in this case it’s seven sixteenths. Brake fluid will start the drip out. So I like to use a towel so we don’t make a big mess. Loosen up the nut all the way so we could pull the brake line out. And with the brake line removed, we have two bolts holding in the wheel cylinder, so get a ratchet and remove them. That’s one. And that’s the other. And then we could pry the wheel cylinder off. Out with the old in with the new. And the new one just fits right into place. Now we want to tighten our brake line first to stop the brake fluid from leaking out.

And once it’s snug, you want to torque it to around 10 to 15 foot pounds, which on this is about a quarter of a turn. Definitely don’t over tighten this. Next we’re going to screw in the bolts, but be sure to put a little bit of anti-seize on the threads. So they come out easily in the future. You also want to tighten these down to about 10 to 15 foot pounds. Good. And it’s that easy to replace a wheel cylinder. Since we did remove the brake line, we have to bleed this wheel cylinder, but we’ll do that after we put everything together. So let’s attach all the springs and shoes. You can see I have everything laid out the same exact way it came off. And just in case if I’m not completely sure, I did take pictures so I know exactly where all the springs go. So the first thing we should do is we should get the pins out of the old wheel cylinder. And these pins just pull right out. And then you want to just do a quick inspection.

You can see that they’re all rusty. So you want to sand them down and get them nice and clean. A little bit of 400 grit sandpaper. Or you could use a metal wire brush and then get them cleaned up so they look like this. Then we can push them into the new wheel cylinder and make sure they’re all the way in. Do the other side as well. So with those cleaned and pushed in, now we can move on to the emergency brake. We have to reuse this. So we’re going to want to clean this up as well with a metal wire brush or some sand paper. Beautiful. You could see how cleaned up this is. The pin is all cleaned up so it will move smoothly. And that’s exactly what we want. So here’s our brake shoe, our emergency brake lever. Then we have one of these clips. And the clip should slide right in, and then just use your pliers to close the end.

Now we just want to make sure that this moves smoothly with no resistance and it does. So we’re all set here. And there’s one more thing we could set up on this brake shoe. You could see our old brake shoe has this adjuster lever with the spring and the pin that goes through and our new one has none of that. So let’s get that stuff on there. This is really easy to install. Just get it in place and then get a big pliers like a vice grips or something. And just squeeze it into place until it seats all the way. Just like that. Now we need to get the self-adjuster lever arm in there with the spring. You could use your old brake shoe as a reference. The spring goes in first, then slide the lever arm over the pin. And pull the spring over the lever arm.

And that is all done. And that’s everything we need to set up. So let’s go install our new shoe. And before we add the shoe, we have those six contact points, three on each side. And we want to add some anti-seize to each of those contact points to provide some lubrication. And you don’t want to use a lot of anti-seize, just a little bit. Because the drums are very dusty. And any lubrication you use is going to collect dust. Again, just use just enough to coat the surface. And anytime you work with anti-seize and brakes, you want to make sure that you wipe off your hands of anti-seize or any oils before you touch your brake shoes. Cause you don’t want to get in. He sees on your braking material. Now one thing I want you guys to note is the size of the brake shoe.

These brake shoes are actually two different sizes. Most cars are set up this way. If we check out the bottom, they’re lined up. But if we look at the top, this left brake shoe is shorter than the right brake shoe. The longer brake shoe goes in the rear. And the shorter brake shoe goes towards the front of the vehicle. And that’s how most vehicles are set up. So let’s go set this up. So the first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to connect our parking brake. If you removed it, all you do is slide it in the fork there and that snaps right in. So now we’re ready to install the shoe with the whole down pin. With the pin pushed through the backing plate, align the shoe so the pin goes through the hole. And then we could get the spring and cap. And I actually like using the vice grips better than the specialized tool.

So now we can attach the other shoe as well and that follows the same exact process. And before we set up this shoe correctly, we want to grab our parking brake link and just use a metal wire brush to clean it off. Then add the springs and let’s set it in place. The right side of the link slides into the parking brake. And the left side slides into the brake shoe. There we go. With that in, let’s move to the bottom of the brakes. And taking a look at the picture, that’s what it should look like. So let’s go set it up. The first thing you’re gonna do is you’re going to grab your self-adjuster and you’re gonna want to loosen this up. The reason why is you want to make sure this end spins freely and that the threads are lubricated because you don’t want this to seize up.

This came pre lubricated, but if yours isn’t lubricated then I’d put some anti-seize on there. This side actually doesn’t have any lubrication, so I’m going to add just a little bit of anti-seize. Cause you want this to spin freely and that is all you want. Just a light coating, just like that. Good. So now let’s go install this. This part slides into the brake shoe right behind the auto adjuster arm. It looks pretty much identical to this side, which also slides in just like that. And that holds it in place. So next looking at our picture, we want to get that spring in here. So push it into the hole on the shoe, just like that. And use the pliers to stretch it into the hole on the other shoe. Next we have our self-adjusting cable and it attaches at the hook of the spring, right onto the self-adjusting lever. And that looks perfect.

So the bottom is done. Let’s move on to the top. Now hopefully you guys are realizing this is really easy. It’s all about finding the right spot for the springs. And if you have your picture, it’s like a roadmap. It tells you exactly where everything goes. So now we need to go attach our self-adjuster cable and also this yellow spring with the cable guide. So let’s start with the spring and guide. Slip the yellow spring onto the cable guide, and then put that onto the brake shoe. Route the cable over the guide, and let’s attach the parking brake cable to the spring pin at the top. You could use a flathead screwdriver to do this, just like that. Now these springs at the top here are pretty strong, especially compared to the bottom springs, so it might be a little tough to get this over the spring pin. That’s why our break kit comes with one of these tools.

At the end of the tool, you could see that little indent there that goes right on the spring pin. It makes it really easy to do this. I’ll show you that in a second. But let’s just say you don’t have this tool. A little trick that I came up with is to use a wrench like this with a closed end. So get your spring on there, put the closed end of the wrench over the spring pin. And then pry the wrench to the spring slides down. And with a little maneuvering, get the spring over the pin. So a common wrench works just in case you don’t have this tool, but this tool is great. Watch this, put the spring in the shoe and then slide the tool through the spring loop. And pry until the spring slide over the pin. So both tools work. Sure this is a little bit easier but you can get this to work as you saw.

And with that being said, all the springs are in and that’s all there is to it. We still have to bleed that brake cylinder. I’ll show you how to do that in a second. But before we do that we just want to inspect to make sure everything’s set up perfect. At the top we want to make sure that all the springs are seated properly. The self-adjuster cable goes around the guide here and the parking brake link is set in place correctly. We also want to make sure the ends of the wheel cylinder are connected to the brake shoes properly. And in this case everything looks good. Double check that the larger brake shoe is at the rear and the smaller brake shoe is at the front. Then you could come down to the bottom. Now down here we want to make sure that the self-adjuster looks good cause that’s very important.

And in this case I see a big gap but I could tell why. You see this right here? This popped up. So what I need to do is I just need to push us downwards. There we go. And see how that gap closed up? Cause this self-adjuster works but when you jam on the brakes, this moves upwards and tightens your brake drums. So as your shoe material wears down, this automatically pushes the shoes outwards so that your drum brakes will work. So it looks like we’re good to go. Next we need to bleed the brakes. But you want to have the drum on to do that. But before we do that, the drums are coated with an oily coating to prevent rust. Oil and brakes don’t mix. So spray the inside of the drum with brake clean and then wipe it down with a clean towel to remove the oils.

Next, use a metal wire brush to knock off the rust buildup on the hub face so it’s smooth and flat. And so the drum comes off easier next time. Put a thin layer of anti-seize on the hub surface. And with the brake adjuster all the way closed, let’s get the drum on. Now we’re ready to bleed the brakes. I have a whole video on how to bleed and flush brakes and make a one person bleeder just like this. So if you want more information, check that video out, but it’s really simple. All you need is a wrench and some brake fluid, so let’s get it done. You want to remove the rubber cap from the bleeder and make sure you don’t lose it. Next you want to get a closed end wrench and go right over to the bleeder valve. And then you’re going to connect your hose right over that valve. So it’s nice and snug.

Now we can turn the wrench to crack the bleeder valve open. And you can see the brake fluid is starting to come out already. You want to make sure the hose is angled upwards, so any bubbles that come out float to the top and don’t get sucked back into the wheel cylinder. Now we want to press on the brake a few times to remove all the air. When bleeding the brakes, press the brake with a firm but smooth motion and then let off slowly. You’re going to want to repeat this a few times. And any air that was once trapped in the brake lines is now removed. So tighten that bleeder valve, remove the hose and the wrench, and then don’t forget to add your cap. Now we need to top off the brake fluid in our master cylinder, and that’s the master cylinder right there.

You can see on the master cylinder there is a max line and sometimes there’s a minimum line. You don’t want to fill it over the max line. And anytime you remove the cap to the master cylinder right before you want to wipe it down so no debris gets inside. It’s also a good idea to use brand new brake fluid. You want to make sure that your brake fluid has a cap on it because brake fluid is hydroscopic. So it absorbs water and you don’t want it to absorb water. So always use fresh new brake fluid. And it’s that easy to bleed your brakes. Now there’s one more thing we need to do. First you want to check to make sure that your brake pedal feels solid. With the car off it should feel nice and solid and this does. That means we got all the air out of the system.

If it’s squishy, you want to bleed the brakes again. Now you want to spin the drum and feel for any resistance due to the brake shoes rubbing against the drum. It’s okay to feel a little resistance, but if there’s none or if there’s a lot of resistance, we need to adjust the brakes. And in this situation I just don’t feel any resistance. So let’s pull the drum off and adjust them. So we’re going to make our adjustment right here at the star wheel. Since I’m not feeling any resistance at all, I’m going to turn this star wheel. You’re going to hear it click, and this is going to open up just a little bit. If your brakes had too much resistance, what you would do is you’d pull this lever down and then you would turn it the opposite way to close this and bring it together. But in this case, we want to open it up just a little bit, probably about eight clicks or so. And let`s test fit the drum.

Now I can feel a very slight resistance, which means the shoes are slightly touching the drum. Now what I’m going to do is I’m going to take off the drum one more time. And I’m going to close this up just a little bit cause I opened it up a little too much. So now the brake shoes shouldn’t touch the drum. Beautiful. That is perfect. So what we did was we expanded the brake shoes a little bit so they were barely touching the brake drum. And then we brought them back in just a little bit. So now they’re not touching, but they’re really close to touching. So when we press on the brakes, it’ll only have to move a little bit and the brakes will engage. And we are done. That is how you change drum brakes. Now I got to do the other side. And also when you’re done, go for a ride, go slow, test out the brakes, make sure they feel good, but that’s everything.

That is a complete guide on how to change drum brakes. Every single step, every little tip and trick. So now you could go and change your own drum brakes and save a ton of money and get the job done right. Now I told you at the end of the video I’d be explaining why we have some brake calipers. Well, I know we just replaced the drum brakes, but we’re going to be doing a drum brake to caliper brake conversion on my truck. So we’re going to be going from these drum brakes that we just installed to a nice set of brake calipers, which is definitely an upgrade.

We’re even going to include the parking brake so it will work just like it came from the factory. As always, hopefully this video was helpful. If it was, remember to give it thumbs up. Any questions that you guys might have? Just comment below. Also, if you’re not a subscriber, consider hitting that subscribe button for getting updates on when I do stuff like the drum to disc conversion. And finally the links to the products I used. Plus links to any supporting videos can be found in the description.