How to Loosen a Stuck Brake Drum When Performing Brake Services

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How to Loosen a Stuck Brake Drum When Performing Brake Services

21 July 2015
 Categories: Automotive, Articles


If you are performing work on your vehicle's rear drum brakes, then removing the drum is an integral step in the process. Unfortunately, brake drums are prone to sticking and becoming difficult to remove. However, making an adjustment to the brake shoe tension can help free up the sticking drum and allow you to pull it free. The procedure is simple and requires only a few basic hand tools to accomplish. Below are the tools needed and step-by-step techniques for loosening a stubborn brake drum:

What you will need

  • 2 long flat-bladed screwdrivers
  • Flashlight
  • Eye protection

Step-by-step procedure

1. Safety is your first consideration—Drum brakes contain a number of internal components that are attached with springs, so wear safety glasses to protect your eyes in case tension is suddenly released and a part goes flying toward your face. In addition, keep in mind that brake dust irritate your respiratory system, and avoid needlessly stirring up clouds of dust. Finally, remember that a vehicle elevated on jack stands can fall if handled carelessly; a sudden collapse can have fatal results, so do not shake the drum or vehicle while performing work on the brakes.

2. Locate and remove the brake drum's adjustment port cover—After jacking up the vehicle and removing the wheel, look behind the wheel for an oval rubber cover approximately an inch in length. The cover may be located at the top of the drum or bottom, depending upon the specific make and model of the vehicle.

After finding the adjustment cover, use a flat-bladed screwdriver to gently pry the cover from the drum. Be careful not to tear the small rubber part with the blade of the screwdriver or lose it when it falls from the drum.

3. Locate the brake adjustment mechanism—Use the flashlight to illuminate the interior of the drum, and look inside to find the adjustment mechanism. It should be located directly behind the adjustment port cover, though it may be located a couple of inches deep into the drum.

The adjustment mechanism consists of a star wheel, which is simply a gear mounted on a shaft, and a ratchet; this mechanism is designed to increase or decrease brake shoe tension on the brake drum. Since you want to remove a stuck drum, your goal is to decrease tension.

4. Lock the ratchet and turn the star wheel—After finding the adjustment mechanism, insert a long flat-bladed screwdriver through the adjustment port on the drum and depress the ratchet to lift it from the teeth of the star wheel. While holding the ratchet away from the star wheel, insert another long flat-bladed screwdriver so the tip of the blade rests in between two teeth on the star wheel.

Next, push the second screwdriver downward to rotate the star wheel downward to decrease the tension placed on the drum by the brake shoes. You may hear clicking as the star wheel rotates; this is normal and helps verify you are turning the wheel. Rotate the star wheel about one full turn, then remove the screwdrivers from the drum.

5. Test the drum—After loosening the adjustment mechanism, attempt to remove the brake drum by hand. If it still holds firm, repeat the process in step 4 and turn the star wheel another full turn. Continue checking for tightness and turning the star wheel until the drum can be removed.

6. Replace the brake adjustment mechanism cover—After removing the drum, installing new brake shoes or performing other work, be sure to replace the small rubber cover you removed in step two. This cover protects the interior of the brakes from debris intrusion and prevents damage to your braking system. To replace the cover, simply insert it into the adjustment port opening until it pops back into position.

For more tips or assistance, contact local truck part suppliers or experts.