Brake Shoe Replacement

Step by step guide on how to replace an automotive rear brake shoe and wheel cylinder, this information pertains to most brake shoe style systems.

Difficulty Scale: 5 of 10

Tools and Supplies Needed

Before beginning work, park the car on level ground while blocking (4 four blocks) front wheels to prevent wheel roll in either direction, parking brake should be released.

Step 1 - Once the car is lifted safety in the air, remove the wheel cover which will expose the lug nuts. (Note: If a lug wrench or breaker bar is used, perform this, and the next step while the vehicle is still on the ground.)

Remove Wheel Cove

Step 2 - Using an air impact wrench, breaker bar or a lug wrench loosen and remove the lug nuts that hold the tire. (Note: Only loosen lugs one turn while on the ground, remove after the car has been lifted.)

Removing Lug Nuts

Step 3 - Once the lug nuts have been removed, grasp the wheel and lift it from the wheel studs.

Removing Tire

Step 4 - After the wheel has been removed, use a small chisel with a hammer to remove the bearing dust cap.

Removing Bearing Dust Cap

Step 5 - Then, remove the bearing dust cap and the axle bearing retainer nut will be exposed.

Bearing Dust Cap Removed

Step 6 - Next, choose the right size socket and remove the axle bearing retainer nut.

Removing Axle Nut

Step 7 - Then, grasp the drum and pull while turning the drum which helps release the unit from the axle.

Rear Brake Drum Removal

Step 8 - Once the brake drum has been removed, hang a bucket on the axle which will be used for a catch basin.

Water Bucket

Step 9
- After the basin is in place, use water to rinse away harmful dust particles and allow to dry, wipe away water from the axle.

Rinsing Brakes

Step 10 - Then, inspect the brake shoe thickness to the new brake shoes, each shoe is different and requires comparison.

Brake Shoe Thickness

Step 11 - When a brake shoe is overheated, it can crack which indicates failure that requires replacement.

Brake Shoe Crack

Step 12 - To check the wheel cylinder, use a large screwdriver and pull back the rubber cups to check for the presence of brake fluid, which is an indication of failure.

Inspecting Wheel Cylinder

Step 13 - After completing the brake shoe and wheel cylinder inspection, identify the primary brake shoe spring. (Note: Some brakes utilize two primary springs.)

Primary Brake Shoe Spring

Step 14 - Using a pair of side cutters, grasp the spring and pull towards the brake shoe until released.

Remove Primary Spring

Step 15 - Once the spring has been released the opposite side will be easily removed.

Primary Brake Spring Removed

Step 16 - Next, use a pair of needle nose pliers to release the brake shoe hold down clips, one on each shoe.

Release Brake Shoe Hold Down Clips

Step 17 - After both shoe hold down or anchor clips have been released, grasp both brake shoes firmly and pull slightly outward which will allow the shoes to separate from the backing plate and wheel cylinder.

Remove Brake Shoes

Step 18 - Once the brake shoes are free from the backing plate, pull the parking brake cable spring downward and release the cable from the parking brake arm.

Release Parking Brake Cable

Step 19 - Now, the brake shoe set will become free from the backing plate.

Brake Shoes Removed

Step 20 - After the brake shoes have been removed from the backing plate, the wheel cylinder is now ready to be replaced if needed. Please visit our wheel cylinder replacement guide for further instructions.

Wheel Cylinder

Step 21 - After installing the wheel cylinder (if needed), use a flat surface to initiate spring and e-brake lever swap onto the new shoes.

New Brake Shoes

Step 22 - Once the new brake shoes have been unboxed, match the warn brake shoes to the new brake set.

Matching Brake Shoes

Step 23 - After matching the brake shoe set, align the shoes and start removing brake springs and swapping them to the new shoe set.

Swap Brake Springs

Step 24 - Then, remove the parking brake lever/self adjuster from the old shoe.

Parking Brake Lever - Self Adjuster Removal

Step 25 - After the self adjuster has been removed, reset the adjuster by pushing the adjuster wheel away from the pin and install it onto the new shoe along with the mounting spring. (Note: Other systems require a screwing action to reset.)

Re-Set Self Adjuster

Step 26 - Once all necessary brake components have been swapped over to the new set, they are ready for installation.

New Brake Shoe Set

Step 27 - Before installing the new brake shoe set, use a pair of side cutters (dikes) to grip the parking brake spring holding it in place away from the cable end.

Grip Parking Brake Spring

Step 28 - After reconnecting the parking brake cable to the lever mounted on the brake shoe, reposition the shoe set onto the backing plate.

Installing New Brake Shoe Set

Step 29 - Next, while holding brake shoes in place, position and install the brake shoe retainer clips.

Install Brake Shoe Retainer Clips

Step 30 - Once the retainer clips have been installed, reposition and attach the lower brake spring.

Install Brake Shoe Return Spring

Step 31 - To complete the shoe set reassembly, connect one side of the spring to the brake shoe.

Install Brake Shoe Return Spring

Step 32 - Then, using a pair of side cutters, grip the spring and pull in toward the secondary shoe while connecting it, this completes the shoe assembly phase of the repair.

Attach Main Return Spring

Step 33 - All brake shoes require a self a adjuster of some kind which must be reset and then re-adjusted when replacing brake shoes.

Reset Self Adjuster

Step 34 - Before the drum can be reinstalled it must be replaced or re-machined to ensure a square surface for the new shoe to connect when braking.

Brake Drum Lip

Step 35 - After the adjuster has been set, reinstall the brake drum, this process may need to be performed a number of times to fine tune the self adjuster. (Note: The drum should spin freely, with slight contact with the brake shoes.)

Reinstall Brake Brake

Step 36 - Once the drum has been installed, insert the drum-bearing retainer nut.

Reinstall Brake Drum Retainer Nut

Step 37 - After threading the retainer nut onto the axle, tighten the nut securely, the brake drum should still spin freely with minimal contact to the brake shoes.

Tighten Retainer Nut

Step 39 - Then, insert the bearing dust cap and tap into place using a hammer.

Install Bearing Dust Cap

Step 39 - Once the dust cap has been installed, lift the tire and install it onto the wheel studs.

Reinstall Tire

Step 40 - After the wheel has been installed, gather the lug nuts and thread them onto the wheel studs by hand to avoid cross threading.

Installing Wheel Lug Nuts

Step 41 - Next, tighten the lug nuts in a cross pattern, if an air impact wrench is not used, recheck lug tightness once the vehicle has been lowered onto the ground.

Tighten Lug Nuts

Step 42 - Once the wheel nuts have been tightened, align the wheel cover with the rim valve stem and gently press into place.

Reinstall Wheel Cover

Helpful Information

In general, if a vehicles parking brake doesn't hold, or travels to the end of its throw, the rear brake shoes need to be checked for replacement.

Drum brakes generally cost less to produce than disc brake systems and are less efficient than their counterpart, this is why there are featured on the rear only. Each brake shoe replacement varies, and some applications require a spring removal tool. Drum style brakes are more susceptible to moisture which can decrease braking ability. Brake components are manufactured using an asbestos style of material which can be hazardous when inhaled, using an air filter mask can help avoid accidental ingestion.

When replacing brake shoes check spring hardware (return and mounting), and replace if damaged or broken, on larger applications replacing the spring hardware is necessary. When changing brake shoes, disassemble one side at a time to preserve a reference copy on the opposing side. Some brake systems must be adjusted after assembly, these systems generally provide an adjustment slot which is used to manually turn an adjuster wheel to obtain proper "shoe to drum" clearance.


Common Problems


Written by
Co-Founder and CEO of
35 years in the automotive repair field, ASE Master Technician, Advanced Electrical and Mechanical Theory.


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Article first published