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How to Adjust Rear Drum Brakes

132852 Views 150 Replies 50 Participants Last post by  Blasirl
How to Adjust Rear Drum Brakes

This writeup was inspired by this thread:

Why do my Cruze's drum brakes need adjusting?

The Cruze's drums are not adjusted very well from the factory. I believe the word "horrible" would describe it well. XtremeAaron and I had run into an issue where the brakes would create an audible and repetitive noise based on the rotation of the wheel when coming to a stop. The reason for this noise is that the brakes were only engaging during those noises, indicating that they were not adjusted correctly and were not even being used in most braking conditions to stop the car. They were only touching enough to create those noises.

Adjustment of drum brakes is very important for safe braking and stability. I highly recommend that anyone with a Cruze LS, 1LT, and ECO adjust their drum brakes.

This writeup will explain how to adjust these brakes.

Tools needed:

- Jack
- Jackstand
- Flathead screwdriver
- T30 Torx wrench/bit
- Lugnut removal tool


To start, lift the car off the ground. Be sure that you have a jackstand as well as a jack. A jack is only intended to lift a car, not to hold the car up. This will need to be done on completely level ground as the parking brake will need to be disengaged this whole time. You will need to block off the front wheels to make 100% sure that the car doesn't roll). I simply left the car in 1st gear, but if you do this, be sure to take the car out of gear before starting it.

Once you get it off, you'll see something similar to this:

Using the T30 Torx bit/wrench, remove the screw that holds the drum in place:

Once the screw is removed, the drum should slide right off. If it doesn't, lightly wedge it with a flathead screwdriver in varying locations.

Once you get it off, you'll see the hydraulic piston and below it, the adjustment mechanism:

The adjustment mechanism pushes the brake shoes outward when the the adjustment nut is turned upward. I used a flathead screwdriver to turn it. It will only turn in one direction unless you pull back the locking plate.

On my Eco, I had to rotate the adjustment nut at least 7 clicks. Your needs may vary, so I would start at 2-4 clicks. Once you have made the adjustment, put the drum back on, making sure to line up the screw hole:

Lightly tighten the screw that goes in that hole, and spin the drum by hand. If you feel absolutely no resistance from the brake shoes, remove it and turn the adjustment nut a few more clicks. Repeat this procedure until you feel a small amount of resistance. You should still be able to turn the drum by hand without a whole lot of force. A small bit of resistance is fine, but if it's difficult to turn by hand, you adjusted it too far and will need to turn the adjustment nut in the other direction. To do so, you will need to lift the lock plate. You can do this either by lifting it directly, or pressing down on the opposite end of it.

Once you have a good adjustment, tighten the T30 screw. I highly recommend anti-sieze lubricant on the T30 screw that holds the brake drum. Place the wheel back on, lower the car, and repeat this procedure for the other wheel. Once all sides are done, take the car out for a drive.

If you hear the brakes rubbing while coasting, perform a few very hard stops from at least 40mph. If the rubbing noise does not stop, you've adjusted the brakes too far and will need to go back a few clicks.


After adjusting my drum brakes, I noticed vastly improved braking performance and brake pedal feel. The car exhibited significantly less nosedive during harder braking, and felt much more confident and secure while coming to a stop. Engaging the handbrake was also more secure and required less actual height on the hand brake lever. The previously heard brake noise is also now completely gone.
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After 32000 Km, I decided it was time to check out the rear brakes. the car was bought new in late Feb 2015.

They only needed a few clicks of adjustment... which has me convinced that all is good ad properly adjusting.

I am entertained by the location of the backing plug. center of the rear shoe web adjacent to the hold down pin. I am guessing that is where GM techs take a heavy drift to the well worn brakes to knock the drum off.

I also use antii-sieze on the hub surfaces of drum and threads of the hub. I use caliper lube on the sliding and threaded components of the actual braking system.

Now for all you folks that actually enjoy doing Preventive Maintenance aside from the stuff above, you might find this interesting or crazy.

On other cars that I have owned with drums and no means of backing off the shoes. Each time that I would go to check my brakes, which is typically each oil change. I would have the car up on stands all around, remove all the wheels, remove the rear drums.

Find my drill and a round stone like the one attached below, and some earplugs!

I would attach one drum to one of the front hubs of the car backwards with lugnuts clamp the other side disk so it would not rotate. an start the car and gently put it in idle first gear.

Run the drill in the opposite direct of the rotating drum and carefully grind down the lip until it was polished down to the same level as the braking surface. For those of you that recall having turned brake rotors and drums this will instantly give you flashbacks from generated noise.

Crazy or interesting. It is what I will be doing for this car too in about 4000 KMs. and every 24000 thereafter.


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For rear drums, this is what the return spring looked like on the 04 Cavalier.

Took a strong guy with the help of a boy to install this spring. Maybe the mechanics complained about it being too much work, but this spring had the power to recenter the shoes after the brakes were applied. And if the shoes do not self center, the self adjusters WILL NOT WORK.

To adjust your brakes, all you had to do was to back up the vehicle and tap on the brake pedal. I would intentionally set my adjusters loose, my driveway has a decline, would roll backwards and could tap on the brake pedal about ten times. Each time the brake pedal would come up. This way, I knew for sure my adjusters were working.

This is what the Cruze rear drums look like, for you older guys, not much different than used on a 41 Chevy, only difference is adding that tab on the front shoe that if the shoe clearance was sufficient, Would click down on that toothed gear a notch, then when the pedal releases, would bring it up to close that shoe gap.

But you can see that return spring is very weak compared to what Chevy was using, practically effortless to install it. And this is the problem.

The shoe rests at points on the backing plate, slightest bit of rust on those points can cause the shoe to drag, also the anchor points at the bottom, that prevents the shoes from self centering. Those pins and springs that hold the shoe are exactly what the 41 Chevy was using. But on these cars, the shoes, not just the rears, but all four had drum brakes. With city driving, would practically have to be adjusted every couple of thousand miles, a special tool is available for this.

Full service gas stations use to charge a buck for this. Ha, I purchased that tool when I was like 14 years old, hmmm, like 63 years ago.

Ha, still make it, found this on the web, too lazy to did out my camera.

View attachment 181649

Hmmm, 8 bucks now, think it was like 75 cents back then.

After cleaning all the contact points of the shoes, and even for that adjuster, the best lubricant I found that works the longest is Permatex Anti-seize. That black brake grease is next to worthless, Also using this on the front calipers particular under the clips and where the pads contact them.

Ha, take it from a guy that was doing this for over 60 years. First sign of excessive clearance is the pedal gets lower, but if you quickly hit it again, the brakes will pump up, a couple of times, will get a full pedal.

If the pedal does not come up with pumping, have air in the system, another newly created problem with ABS. Could search for a stronger return spring that holds those two shoes together. Parking brake has to be adjusted just right so the shoes can return to their home position.

Another new problem is the brake hoses made in China, not vulcanized properly, inside collapses acting like a check valve. sp when you release the pedal, brakes are still engaged.
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It should be the case with this setup too, the shoes open up at the top when the brakes are applied, the level rotates, the adjuster screw should be slightly loose in between the saddles of the shoes, a click of the star wheel, and boom one little adjustment.

I just wonder if the handbrake lever on the rear shoe is just holding everything too tight to allow play and operation of the adjuster. Looking at the pivot points of the adjuster lever and the handbrake level, and compare them to the seat locations of spring and the adjust screw, everything appears parallel

Looking at pictures the whole handbrake level should be going back with the moving shoe, but I wonder if the handbrake cable is too tight and counter rotates against the movement of the shoe yielding zero net movement of the adjuster system.

Spring is coming, I think I have a periodic inspection of the car coming due.
Of all things I liked about my Cruze upon first inspection at the dealership the brakes condition were not one of them. The front rotors (especially the driver's side) already had excessive wear and a slight grooving at just over 26k. So I knew it would be an issue I'd have to deal with and fairly soon.
Thanks for sharing these posts because I too am old enough to remember "self adjusting" rear brakes. Simply by backing up many of my Chevrolet cars in the past made this easy. So on the next dry weekend I will be performing a rear brake adjustment procedure as well as adding new grease to the pivot points. Also way before it's time I will have to do a front pad replacement and either resurface or replace the rotors. I just hope I don't end up having to replace the brake hoses, man what a pain that one would be.
Thanks again.
I'm going to get mine up in the next few days. I bought new shoes because I can't stand the random cold/ wet braking squeal anymore. It's embarrassing. I'll check out the adjustment as well. I've never changed the rear shoes with over 50k on it and I bought it with around 24 I think but I have checked them several times with minimal wear. Maybe they weren't even working? lol.
When you replace your rear brake shoes, make sure to buy some that have the parking brake lever attached; it is riveted to the trailing shoe and there are a number of replacement shoes for sale - Delco replacements even - that don't have the lever attached.

Makes no sense to me.
Adjusted mine today, first time in 83k im sure. It was out about 13-15 clicks on each side. Haven’t took it for a spin yet but man they were out of adjustment!
If you feel absolutely no resistance from the brake shoes, remove it and turn the adjustment nut a few more clicks. Repeat this procedure until you feel a small amount of resistance
What's the point of feeling the resistance? Aren't you basically wearing it off if this is the case?
What's the point of feeling the resistance? Aren't you basically wearing it off if this is the case?
Without rereading 150 posts, I will say that the point of it is to somewhat wear of the high spots to help the shoe fit to the drum better allowing it to have a firmer grip when you actually need the brakes.
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