Adjusting the parking brake

Story by the backyard hack mechanic: Sean750
Document history
#30 Apr 2004: corrected some typos
#28 Dec 2002: rewrote whole procedure, and added the additional 'brake adjustment in the drum' procedure along with photos
#10 Dec 2002: added additional procedure from Patrick C 750il
#12 Nov 2002: initial version

Problem : a difference in braking using the parking brake or parking brake doesn't function very good.

Models: all

Background : The parking brake has brake shoes integrated into the rear wheel brake rotors. They are operated by 2 parking brake cables mounted at the parking brake lever, and the cables are adjustable in the interior with locking nuts. To proper adjust the parking brake, you must also adjust the brake shoes with the brake shoe adjusters in the drums, ensuring that the shoes are pushing sufficiently against the inner surfaces of the drum.

This can be done without unbolting the brake caliper and disc rotor, if the shoe adjuster isn't seized up. To clear things up and make it more visible, I unbolted at 1 side the caliper and rotor to show the construction. But again, if the shoe adjuster isn't seized up, you don't have to remove those items. A small electrical torch may come handy, for instance a Maglight or something similar.

Let's start wrenching : At first, you need to jack up your car from the rear, so both wheels turn freely. I use the rear crossmember for that, but I've seen people using the final drive. I don't recommend that:

It's also a good idea to secure the front wheels with some wood:

Use jackstands and don't rely on the jack only. Remove both rear wheels (obviously you loosened the wheel lug bolts 1 turn before you raised the car). Remove the parking brake upholstery in the interior, showing 2 adjustable brake cable nuts (together with some dirt I didn't photoshopped away):

Loosen the nuts entirely, but don't remove them (I'd used a long socket, but you can also use a 10 mm wrench):

Both nuts loosened:

As said earlier, the procedure can be performed without remove the brake caliper and rotor. But the shoe adjuster can be seized up, and in that case you need to remove them. The photo's below are showing this procedure. If your shoe adjusters can turn freely and you don't want read about removing the brake caliper and rotor and move further with the adjustment procedure, click here.

Push the brake caliper piston a bit (few millimeters) back with water pump pliers to make removal of the brake caliper easy:

Remove the bolts of the brake caliper bracket (the bracket and NOT the bolts of the brake caliper itself!), these are 2 15mm bolts:

Remove the brake caliper bracket together with the brake caliper and don't disconnect the hose:

Don't let the caliper hanging, but put it somewhere between the suspension like this:

Remove the rotor mounting screw (allen screw), some gently tapping with a hammer may be necessary first. This can be a stubborn screw to remove:

And remove the rotor:

And here you see 2 small brake shoes for the parking brake. The shoe adjuster is located at the rear:

Here you'll see a close up of the shoe adjuster:

Turning the adjuster clockwise (seen from above) will compress the brake shoes, counterclockwise will expand them. This is the same for both wheels. These pictures shows how to adjust, but I forgot to put the screwdriver through the hole of a lug nut (like you are supposed to do while caliper and rotor aren't removed):


Ok. Now that you've seen the shoe adjuster works, now the total adjustment procedure with installed rotors. Use a small electrical torch to search the shoe adjuster teeth through the wheel lug bolt hole (close up of a shoe adjuster):

Turn the shoe adjuster counterclockwise with a flat-blade screwdriver to expand the brake shoes until the rotor can't be turned by hand:

Checking the resistance:

If the rotor can't turned anymore, turn back adjuster off about 8 notches (clockwise). Repeat procedure on the other wheel, don't forget that expanding the brake shoes is still counterclockwise, also on the other wheel. Both adjusters are at the rear of the drum. After both brakes are properly adjusted, install both rear wheels (makes the driving later on a bit easier).

Pull the parking brake lever up 4 notches:

Start at on the right wheel, adjust the cable adjusting nut and checking regularly the resistance of the wheel. At some point, you should feel some firm resistance while turning the wheel:

Repeat procedure on other wheel. Adjust both cables in that way that each wheel has the same resistance. After that, turn both cable nuts about 1/2 turn tighter. Release lever and check that both wheels run freely. Lower the car and check the parking brake. It must properly work after pulling the lever about 4~5 notches up.

Total amount of time : about 3/4 hour

Skills needed/difficulty level : both hands and your brain

Story by Sean750.

If you would like to add any comments, remarks and/or corrections to this procedure, feel free to email Mike Oswald and we'll put it on our site. Share your experiencies with us so others may benefit from it.