How to Loosen Drum Brake Adjuster: Easy Steps

Are your drum brakes causing tire problems? Struggling with a tight drum brake adjuster and caliper? You’re not alone. Properly adjusting your drum brakes is essential for optimal performance and safety on the road. A tight adjuster can lead to a range of issues, from reduced braking efficiency to premature wear and tear. But fear not! Loosening the drum brake adjuster doesn’t have to be a daunting task.

To loosen drum brake adjuster, you can follow these steps:

  • Turn the adjuster screw counterclockwise until it comes to a halth.
  • The shoes on the drum should come loose from the wheel.
  • Pull the drum off of the wheel. If the drum will not come off the wheel, unscrew the drum and pull it off.
  • Push in the catch lever with a screwdriver to loosen the brake.
  • Stick a flat head screwdriver into the rubber plug opening and press back on the catch lever on the far side of the star whee.
  • Stick the spoon into the opening and slot it into the star wheel.

If the brakes have been adjusted too tightly, turn the adjuster wheel in the opposite direction

Table of Contents

What is a drum brake adjuster?

A drum brake adjuster is a device that keeps the brake shoes close to the drum without touching it. It is usually a star-shaped wheel that can be turned to tighten or loosen the brakes. The adjuster is supposed to work automatically when the brakes are applied in reverse or with the parking brake, but sometimes it may need manual adjustment

How does a drum brake work?

A drum brake is a type of brake that uses friction caused by a set of shoes or pads that press outward against a rotating cylinder-shaped part called a brake drum. The brake drum is attached to the wheel and rotates with it. When the brake pedal is pressed, the shoes or pads are pushed by a hydraulic cylinder against the inner surface of the drum, creating friction and slowing down the wheel. The drum brake has several components, such as the backing plate, the wheel cylinder, the brake shoes, and various springs and pins.

Differences between drum brakes and disc brakes

While both drum brakes and disc brakes serve the same purpose of stopping a vehicle, there are some notable differences between them. Drum brakes use internal components enclosed within a drum, while disc brakes utilize calipers that grip onto a rotor. These differences affect the performance of the braking system, including the engine’s ability to slow down the vehicle when the pedal is pressed, the grip of the tyres on the road surface, and the effectiveness of the strap that holds everything together.

One significant advantage of drum brakes is their ability to provide more stopping power at low speeds. They also tend to be less affected by water or dirt on the road surface compared to disc brakes. On the other hand, disc brakes offer better cooling capacity and perform more consistently under heavy braking conditions. Both types of brakes are essential for ensuring the safety of your vehicle’s engine, as they help control the speed and stop the vehicle when needed. Whether you’re pressing the pedal or driving on different types of tyres, the brake fluid plays a crucial role in maintaining the effectiveness of both drum and disc brakes.

How to adjust rear drum brakes in reverse

Advantages and disadvantages 

Drum brakes are a type of braking system that use a set of shoes or pads that press outward against a rotating cylinder part (called the brake drum), creating friction and allowing a car to halt1. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of drum brakes:


  • They have an enclosed design that makes maintenance easier and more affordable.
  • They are cheaper to produce and purchase than disc brakes.
  • They can provide more braking force and last longer than disc brakes of the same size.
  • They can be used with disc brakes on the same vehicle.
  • They generate lower heat and have better corrosion resistance than disc brakes.


  • They can collect water inside the drum, which reduces the friction and the stopping ability.
  • They experience brake fade faster due to the heat buildup and the thermal expansion of the drum.
  • They can cause vibration, noise, or grab due to the distortion, glazing, or debris of the drum or shoes.
  • They are more complex and time-consuming to maintain than disc brakes.
  • They require periodic adjustment to compensate for the wear of the shoes.

Importance of regular inspection and adjustment for optimal performance

To ensure your drum brakes and tyre pressures operate at their best, regular inspection and adjustment are crucial. Over time, the brake shoes wear down, leading to decreased effectiveness. By inspecting the brake system periodically and checking tyre pressures, you can identify any signs of wear or damage and take appropriate action. See the step-by-step guide with an image for more information.

Adjusting the drum brake adjuster is essential for maintaining optimal performance of the tyre. This adjustment ensures that the brake shoes are positioned correctly against the brake drums when you press the pedal. If not adjusted properly, it can result in reduced braking power or uneven wear on the shoes. Check out the image below for a step-by-step guide on how to adjust the brake pressures.

Regular maintenance also involves checking the condition of other components such as wheel cylinders, springs, and tyres. Any leaks or damage to the brake system should be addressed promptly to prevent further issues. Additionally, it is important to regularly check tyre pressures and ensure that the drum spins smoothly.

Step 1: Preparing for Drum Brake Adjustment:

Before you dive into adjusting your drum brakes, it’s crucial to make sure you have everything you need and take the necessary safety precautions. 

  •  Gather all the necessary tools and materials for the job.
  • Make sure to read the wikiHow article on adjusting drum brakes to familiarize yourself with the process.
  • Put on protective gloves and eyewear to ensure your safety while working on the brakes.

Gather the necessary tools for the task

To successfully adjust your drum brakes, you will need the following tools: tyre, step. Gather these tools beforehand.

  • Jack and jack stands
  • Lug wrench or socket set
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Brake spoon or brake adjusting tool
  • Safety glasses and gloves

Having the brake drum and wheel drum ready will save you time and frustration during the adjustment process. Additionally, having a recovery tool and wire on hand will also be helpful.

Ensure safety measures are in place before starting the adjustment process

Safety should always be a top priority when working on any vehicle component, including the tyre. Before getting started with the drum brake adjustment, take a step back and consider the following safety measures for tyre pressures.

  1. Park your vehicle on a flat surface and engage the parking brake. Adjust the wheel drum and tyre at the back.
  2. Chock the wheels on both sides of the axle that doesn’t require adjustment using a brake adjuster tool.
  3. Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from debris.
  4. Put on gloves to keep your hands clean and safe while following the step-by-step instructions.

Identify the location of the brake adjuster mechanism

Every vehicle has its own specific location for the brake adjuster mechanism. Typically, it can be found inside each rear wheel hub assembly. 

  1. Remove any wheel covers or hubcaps if present.
  2. Look through one of the holes in the wheel hub assembly (usually at a 12 o’clock position) until you spot a brake adjuster tool.
  3. This star-shaped object is actually an adjusting gear connected to an arm called an adjuster lever. In the image, you can see the adjuster lever connected to the brake pedal and brake drum. To adjust the brakes, simply follow this step.

Identifying the brake adjuster tool mechanism is crucial as it allows you to access and manipulate it effectively during adjustment. This mechanism is located near the brake pedal and is typically found inside the brake drum. See the image below for a visual representation.

Remove any obstacles that may hinder access to the adjuster

Check if there are any obstacles that may impede your access to it. Common obstacles include steps, images.

  • Brake drums
  • Dust covers
  • Rust or debris buildup

Carefully remove the brake drum, using the appropriate tools, to ensure unobstructed access to the adjuster mechanism.

Remember, taking the time to gather the necessary tools and ensuring safety measures are in place will contribute to a successful brake adjustment process. Don’t forget to consult an image guide for visual reference.

Step 2: Testing and Inspecting Rear Drum Brakes:

Performing a visual inspection for signs of wear or damage on brake components

Before loosening the drum brake adjuster, it’s important to visually inspect the rear drum brakes for any signs of wear or damage. This will help identify any potential issues that need to be addressed. 

Once the wheel is removed, closely inspect the brake hose for cracks or leaks. Additionally, check for any loose or damaged components such as springs, clips, or retainers.

Inspect the back part of the drum brake assembly, also known as the backing plate, to adjust it properly. Look for any signs of excessive rust, corrosion, or uneven wear. If you notice any issues during this step, it’s best to consult with a qualified motor mechanic for further evaluation and repairs.

Checking brake shoe thickness using appropriate measuring tools

One crucial step in maintaining rear drum brakes is to regularly adjust the thickness of the brake shoes. Over time, these shoes can wear down due to friction and may require replacement. 

To check the thickness of brake drum accurately, use an appropriate measuring tool such as a vernier caliper. Measure both ends and the center section of each shoe to ensure even wear. If you find that they have worn below the manufacturer’s specified minimum thickness, it’s time to replace them.

Testing parking brake functionality to ensure proper engagement and release

The parking brake is a crucial step in keeping your vehicle secure when parked on inclines or during extended periods. To ensure its proper functionality, it is important to adjust and test the parking brake. 

Try moving your vehicle forward slightly by releasing pressure from your front wheels while keeping your foot off the accelerator pedal. The rear wheels should remain locked firmly in place without any noticeable movement.

Next, adjust the parking brake completely and verify that your rear wheels rotate freely without resistance. If you encounter any issues with engaging or releasing the parking brake, it’s essential to have it inspected and repaired by a qualified mechanic.

Verifying wheel cylinder operation by checking for leaks or sticking pistons

This pressure causes the shoes to make contact with the drum. It’s crucial to ensure that these components are functioning correctly without any leaks or sticking pistons.

Inspect each brake drum carefully for signs of fluid leakage around the piston seals. Any evidence of leakage indicates a faulty cylinder that needs immediate attention. Check for sticking pistons by gently pushing them back into their housing. They should move smoothly without resistance. 

If you notice any leaks or sticking pistons on your brake drum during this inspection, it’s recommended to consult with a qualified motor mechanic for further diagnosis and repairs. 

Regular maintenance and testing will help keep your brakes in optimal condition, ensuring safety on the road during your camping trips and beyond.

Step 3: Loosening the Drum Brake Adjuster:

Locating the star wheel adjuster mechanism within the drum brake assembly

To begin loosening the drum brake adjuster, you’ll need to locate the star wheel adjuster mechanism within the drum brake assembly. This mechanism, found at the top or bottom of the brake assembly, near where the wheel cylinder connects to the brake shoes, is responsible for adjusting the tension on the brake shoes. 

Using a suitable tool to turn the star wheel counterclockwise

Once you’ve located the star wheel adjuster mechanism on a wikihow, you’ll need a suitable tool, such as a screwdriver or a specialized brake adjustment tool, to turn it counterclockwise. This will loosen the tension on the brake shoes and allow for easier removal.

Applying gradual pressure while turning to prevent over-adjustment

 Apply gradual pressure and avoid excessive force to prevent over-adjustment of the brakes. This will help maintain good braking performance and protect other components of your braking system from damage.

Ensuring both sides are adjusted evenly for balanced braking performance

When adjusting the drum brake on your vehicle, it’s important to maintain even adjustments on both sides. This will ensure balanced braking performance and prevent uneven wear on your brake shoes. To achieve this, keep track of the number of turns you make on each side and try to match them as closely as possible. 

It’s worth noting that if your vehicle has an automatic self-adjusting feature for its drum brakes, manually adjusting them may not be necessary. However, if you suspect any issues with your braking system or notice uneven wear on your brake shoes.

Remember that working on your vehicle’s braking system requires caution and attention to detail. If you’re unsure about any step of the process or lack the necessary tools.

Step 4: Adjusting Drum Brakes – A Step-by-step Guide:

Understanding how adjusting screws work in conjunction with other components

Adjusting drum brakes on your vehicle may seem like a daunting task, but with the right knowledge and approach, it can be done effectively. One crucial component to understand is the adjusting screw. This small but mighty part plays a significant role in fine-tuning your drum brakes.

By turning this screw, you can increase or decrease the tension on the shoes, which directly affects their contact with the drum.

Following a systematic approach to achieve optimal adjustment

To achieve optimal adjustment of your drum brakes, it’s important to follow a systematic approach.

  1. Start by loosening the lug nuts on your vehicle’s wheel where you’ll be working.
  2. To adjust the brake drum on your vehicle. Raise your vehicle using a jack and secure it with jack stands for safety.
  3. To adjust the drum brake assembly: Remove the wheel to gain access.
  4. Using a suitable tool, such as a brake spoon or flathead screwdriver, turn the adjusting screw clockwise to tighten or counterclockwise to loosen.
  5. Make small adjustments at a time and test for proper clearance between the shoes and drums after each adjustment.

Checking for proper clearance between shoes and drums after each adjustment

After making adjustments using the adjusting screws, it’s crucial to check for proper clearance between the shoes and drums before moving forward. This step ensures that your braking system will function optimally.

To check for proper clearance:

  1. Spin the drum manually while observing its rotation.
  2. Listen carefully for any scraping or rubbing sounds that indicate excessive shoe-to-drum contact. If you notice any, it may be necessary to adjust the shoe-to-drum alignment.
  3. If you hear any unwanted noise coming from your brake drum, continue adjusting the screws until the sound disappears.
  4. Ensure that the drum spins freely without any resistance.

Repeating adjustments until desired braking performance is achieved

Adjusting drum brakes often requires multiple iterations to achieve the desired braking performance. It’s essential to be patient and persistent throughout this process.

Continue repeating the adjustment steps mentioned earlier, making small tweaks each time. Test for proper clearance between the shoes and drums after every adjustment and listen for any signs of rubbing or scraping. By fine-tuning your adjustments, you’ll gradually improve your brake system’s performance.

Remember, achieving optimal adjustment may take some trial and error. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen immediately. Keep at it, and soon enough, you’ll have well-adjusted drum brakes that provide reliable stopping power.

Tips and Techniques for Effective Rear Drum Brake Adjustment

how to adjust drum brakes without removing wheel

Lubricate Moving Parts to Prevent Rust and Ensure Smooth Operation

One crucial aspect of loosening the drum brake adjuster is ensuring that all moving parts are well-lubricated. Over time, these components can become susceptible to rust and corrosion, which may hinder their functionality. To prevent this, it’s essential to apply a suitable lubricant to the various moving parts of the brake mechanism.

Here are some key areas where lubrication is necessary:

  • Pivot Points: Apply lubricant to the pivot points where the brake shoes connect to the backing plate. This will allow them to move freely without any resistance.
  • Adjuster Mechanism: Ensure that the adjuster mechanism is adequately lubricated. This includes applying lubricant to any gears, threads, or levers involved in adjusting the brake shoes.
  • Cable Connections: If your drum brakes are equipped with a cable-operated adjuster, make sure to lubricate the cable connections as well.

By regularly lubricating the brake drum and adjusting these components, you can maintain smooth operation and prevent potential issues down the line.

Apply Anti-Seize Compound on Adjuster Threads for Easier Future Adjustments

One common challenge is dealing with seized or stubborn adjuster threads. These threads can become corroded over time due to exposure to moisture and other environmental factors. To make future adjustments easier, applying an anti-seize compound on these threads is highly recommended.

Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Clean the adjuster threads using a wire brush or appropriate cleaning tool.
  2. Adjust by applying a thin layer of anti-seize compound evenly along the threads.
  3. Reassemble the adjuster mechanism according to manufacturer specifications.

The anti-seize compound will act as a protective barrier against rust and corrosion, allowing for smoother adjustment in subsequent maintenance sessions.

Take Note of Manufacturer Recommendations for Adjustment Procedures

Different vehicle manufacturers may have specific guidelines or recommendations regarding rear drum brake adjustment procedures. It’s crucial to consult your vehicle’s manual or reach out to the manufacturer directly for accurate instructions.

Here are some manufacturer-specific considerations you should keep in mind when you adjust your product.

  • Recommended Tools: Some manufacturers may suggest using specialized tools for adjusting drum brakes.
  • Sequence of Adjustments: Certain vehicles require adjustments to be made in a particular order. Following this sequence is vital to ensure proper brake performance.
  • Torque Specifications: Manufacturers often provide torque specifications for various components involved in the adjustment process. Adhering to these specifications helps maintain the integrity of the braking system.

By following the manufacturer’s recommendations, you can ensure that your rear drum brakes are adjusted correctly and safely.

Seek Professional Help if Unsure or Encountering Difficulties

Adjusting drum brakes can be a challenging task, especially for those who lack experience or confidence in their mechanical abilities. If you find yourself unsure about any aspect of the process or encounter difficulties along the way, it’s best to seek professional help.

Mastering the Art of Loosening Drum Brake Adjuster:

Gaining Confidence Through Practice and Repetition

Practice makes perfect. The more you work on adjusting drum brakes, the more confident you’ll become in tackling this task. Start by understanding the basic components of a drum brake system and how they function together. Familiarize yourself with the adjuster mechanism and its location within the brake assembly.

how to loosen rear drum brakes

To gain confidence, follow these steps:

  1. Begin by safely raising your vehicle to adjust it and removing the wheel.
  2. Locate and adjust the oblong rubber plug on the backside of the brake backing plate.
  3. Use a flat-bladed screwdriver or a brake adjuster tool to remove the plug.
  4. Insert a head screwdriver into the hole until it engages with one of the notches on the star wheel adjuster.
  5. To adjust, rotate the screwdriver upward to loosen or downward to tighten.

Remember, practice is key here. Adjust and repeat this process multiple times until you feel comfortable with it.

Learning from Experience to Improve Efficiency and Effectiveness

As you gain experience in loosening drum brake adjusters, pay attention to what works best for you in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Take note of any challenges or issues that arise during your adjustment attempts.

Here are some tips based on common experiences:

  • If you find it difficult to access and turn the star wheel adjuster with a screwdriver, consider using a specialized brake adjuster tool designed for this purpose.
  • If you encounter resistance while trying to adjust the star wheel, try applying penetrating oil or rust dissolver spray to help loosen any corrosion or rust buildup.
  • If you accidentally overtighten or overtighten your brakes during adjustment, use a snatch strap wrapped around both shoes to retract them slightly before readjusting.

Adjusting and learning from your own experiences will help refine your technique over time and make the process of learning more efficient.

Staying Updated with New Techniques or Tools Related to Drum Brake Adjustment

In the ever-evolving world of automotive maintenance, it’s important to stay updated with new techniques and tools related to drum brake adjustment. As technology advances, new methods may emerge that can simplify the process or provide better results.

Here are a few ways to stay informed:

  • Follow reputable automotive blogs or forums where professionals and enthusiasts share their knowledge and experiences. This will help you stay updated and adjust to the latest trends in the automotive industry.
  • Subscribe to newsletters from qualified motor mechanics like Adam Adler, who often provide valuable insights and tips on brake adjustments.
  • Attend workshops or seminars conducted by industry experts to learn about the latest advancements in drum brake adjustment techniques.

By staying up-to-date, you’ll ensure that you’re using the most effective methods and tools for loosening drum brake adjusters.

Sharing Knowledge and Tips with Fellow Enthusiasts or Professionals

Sharing your knowledge and tips with fellow enthusiasts or professionals not only helps others but also reinforces your understanding of drum brake adjustment. Engaging in discussions about this topic can lead to valuable insights, alternative approaches, and troubleshooting suggestions.


In conclusion, loosening the drum brake adjuster is a crucial skill for maintaining your vehicle’s braking system. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can effectively adjust your rear drum brakes and ensure optimal performance.


1. How often should I adjust my rear drum brakes?

It is recommended to check and adjust your rear drum brakes every 12,000 miles or as specified by your vehicle manufacturer’s guidelines.

2. What tools do I need for loosening a drum brake adjuster?

You will typically require basic hand tools such as a wrench or pliers, along with a brake spoon or adjustment tool specifically designed for adjusting drum brakes.

3. Can I perform a rear drum brake adjustment myself?

Yes, performing a rear drum brake adjustment is a task that can be done by individuals with basic mechanical knowledge. However, if you are unsure or uncomfortable, it is always best to consult a professional mechanic.

4. How will I know if my rear drum brakes need adjustment?

Signs that your rear drum brakes may require adjustment include excessive pedal travel, squeaking or grinding noises when braking, and uneven braking performance between the left and right wheels.

5. Are there any specific precautions I should take while adjusting drum brakes?

Yes, it is essential to follow safety precautions such as chocking the wheels, working on a level surface, and using appropriate protective gear to prevent accidents or injuries during the adjustment process.