Rebuilding drum brakes is one of those things that becomes a common chore if you’ve got older cars. It takes no special skill, just knowledge of where everything goes and the confidence to do it. I avoided my brakes as much as possible early on, afraid of doing something wrong – but after assisting in the process a few times, it’s now a simple, routine procedure (although I still absolutely abhor bleeding my brakes, with more practice that will probably become a breeze too).
If you’ve never rebuilt drum brakes or changed your drum brake pads before, don’t be afraid to tackle it the next time it needs done on your car. If possible, having an expert walk you through the first time is ideal – but I’ll be as thorough in my instructions as possible so you can use this as your guide. Remember that while drum brakes are generally the same, many makes and models have their individual quirks – for example, my friend Jen’s Plymouth has two brake cylinders per wheel instead of just one!
Let’s start with figuring out what to call everything…
Diagram courtesy of http://www.allfordmustangs.com/forums
Before you start, keep in mind:
- Stopping your car is even more important than making it “go”. Keep safety in mind and get a knowledgeable helper if you’re unsure about anything! A great thing about car folk, is they’re usually willing to explain something or help if asked.
- Brake fluid is toxic and will strip paint. If you’re only changing pads, you won’t disrupt your hydraulic brake system – but if you’re rebuilding them, then you’ll be opening your brake lines. Keep in mind that brake fluid needs to be disposed of correctly and take great care to keep it away from anything with paint.
- Another thing to know about brake fluid is that it will absorb water over time, aka “hydroscopic”. Meaning that every 2-3 years you should do a brake fluid flush in your system, bleeding out the old and replacing it with new. Also, if you’ve had an unsealed brake fluid container sitting around on your garage shelf for more than a year, you should replace it.