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Replacing Drum Brakes — Three Pro Tips

Drum brakes on a car wheel, looking worn and rusted

With so many parts hiding inside today’s drum brakes, replacing them is not for the faint of heart. Dealership technicians probably work on drum brakes at least once a week, and brake specialists probably more than once a day. After years in the business, these professionals can offer tips to make DIYers’ foray into replacing drum brakes a little bit less complicated. The next time you’re tackling a drum brake replacement, keep these three pro tips in mind to make the job easier.

1. Move Stuck Drums

Sandwiched between the wheel and wheel hub, brake drums may not move for months. The brake drum is already a tight fit on the wheel hub, as a tight clearance is necessary to keep the drum centered. Over time, rust forms, taking up more space than the original metal, often locking the brake drum to the wheel hub. To remove stuck brake drums, there are a few proven methods:

  • Slack: Before starting, use a brake adjusting tool to slacken the brake adjuster. This will improve clearance between the drum and shoes.Removing a rear brake drum from a vehicle.
  • Bolts: Many drums have a couple of tapped holes in the face, usually 8-by-1.25 mm. Two bolts can force the drum off the hub. Sometimes, however, the bolts may not be enough, and will simply crack the face.
  • Hammers: Use two hammers to shock the drum. Place a ball peen hammer with the peen close to the center hole, then strike it with a sledgehammer. Strike it several times, around the center hole, and be careful not to damage the wheel studs.

2. Use Specialized Tools

There are several different brake tools, such as for removing and installing tension springs and retainers or adjusting the brake self-adjuster. When you’re replacing drum brakes, you’re going to get a lot further — and work faster and safer — by choosing the right tools for the job.

You might be able to get by with channel-lock and needle-nose pliers and a big flat screwdriver, but these are general tools meant for general applications. Consult your local NAPA Auto Parts store expert to find the tools designed for your vehicle.

3. Get the Right Supplies

Getting the right parts is usually easier than choosing the right supplies, and the wrong supplies can cause problems down the road. Use brake cleaner and a brush to clean away rust, brake dust and old lubricant from the backing plate, wheel hub and parts to be reused, and have the following items on hand:

  • Anti seize lubricant: Use this product only in a few spots. It prevents rust on the wheel hub, making the drum easier to remove. You can also use it on brake shoe contact points on the backing plate.
  • Brake grease: Use this to assemble the self-adjuster, wiping away any excess.

Remember to use any lubricant sparingly to reduce the chance of contamination. You can further reduce the risk of contamination by applying the brake cleaner to a rag, rather than applying it to any components directly. Wipe down the brake shoes and brake drum before installing the new drum.

Of course, one of the best tips you can put into practice is to obtain a repair manual. The repair manual has specific information for your vehicle, as well as pictures to help you keep drum brake parts in order. Finally, never be afraid to ask questions if you get stuck — keeping yourself and your car safe is worth a chat with your local NAPA AutoCare.

Check out all the brake system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on replacing drum brakes, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Benjamin Jerew View All

Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.

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