How to change brake shoes / drum brakes

I just finished changing the rear brake shoes on my 2001 Toyota 4Runner (3rd gen). Changing the brake shoes (drum brakes) was challenging at first, at least when compared to how easy it is to change brake pads (disc brakes). Each model of vehicle may have slightly different approaches to how the brakes are changed. I had to change my brake shoes earlier than expected because my axle seals had leaked gear oil into the brake assemblies, causing the rear brakes to lock up occasionally in the winter. This problem can occur when the rear differential breather valve gets clogged and so built-up pressure has to escape through the axle seals. Hopefully this post will help you in changing your brake shoes.

Brake shoes are used in drum brakes. Brake pads are used in disc brakes. As I mentioned above, changing brake shoes was more challenging than changing brake pads. The reason for this is because brake shoes use many different springs and levers together to keep brake tension/compression just right. It took a while to figure out how to take them apart on the first wheel. I took pictures of the assembly with a digital camera so I would have something to refer to when putting everything back together. It made reassembly much faster. Having done so, I have to emphasize this exhortation:

Use a digital camera to take pictures of the brake assembly from all different angles before you start taking it apart. Otherwise you won’t remember where everything goes. This is good idea for any type of vehicle maintenance. Here are the pictures I took before getting started (after removing the wheel and drum):

Pictures of the assembly at different angles that can be referred to later to see where parts go. Click each image to enlarge.

Reference picture

Use this picture as a reference to see what parts I’m referring to throughout this post. I’ve labeled the parts per the 4Runner repair manual for convenience. The other pictures through this post I’ve tried to touch up a bit here and there to make it clearer what I’m talking about.

Reference picture showing all applicable parts' names. Click to enlarge.

Tools / materials needed

  • New brake shoes (like Raybestos 764PG), usually comes with pins for various levers
  • Jack and jack stands
  • Flat head screwdriver
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Hammer
  • Replacement spring & accessory kit, including c-washers (like the Dorman HW17253 kit)
  • High-temperature grease, for brakes (like CRC 5351 grease)
  • Brake cleaner (like 3M 08180) – plan on one can per wheel

Removing the old brake shoes

My first question was “where do I start to get all of these parts out?” I had some printouts from a few repair pages and some websites, but I soon realized that they didn’t work particularly well. I figured out a relatively quick way of removing the shoes and other various parts – just follow my steps below. Click on any of the images below to see larger versions of the pictures.

  1. Jack up the vehicle on level ground. Make sure to have the vehicle on jack stands that will support the vehicle even when you are putting your own weight into the work you are doing. I would NOT recommend using the factory bottle jack – leaning your weight into it will make the bottle jack unstable.
  2. Remove the wheel. Lug nuts first, of course.
  3. Remove the drum. There is nothing holding the drum on at this point, you simply need to pull it off. You may have to wiggle it back and forth a bit to get it to slowly creep off. Note that some manuals call the drum a “disc”, not to be confused with disc brakes which are completely different.
  4. Remove the hold-down springs. This involves gripping the outside cup on the edges with needle nose pliers, pushing in, and turning it so that the notches align with the pin’s notches. The cup will slide off, after which you can remove the spring, the second cup that is behind it, and the pin. Do this twice – there is a set of cups, pin and hold-down spring for each shoe.
  5. Remove the “small” springs. I had two small springs to remove: the adjusting lever spring and the anchor spring. I was able to use needle nose pliers to take off the adjusting lever spring, but I had to use a flat-head screwdriver to pry off of the anchor spring.
  6. Remove the adjusting lever spring (left image) and the anchor spring (right image). Click to enlarge.
  7. Remove the parking brake cable. This is referring to the cable inside the brake assembly that that is connected to a lever on one of the brake shoes. Press the parking brake lever toward the hub to give the cable more slack, then remove the cable (see picture at right).
  8. Remove the brake shoes. At this point you should be able to simply grab the bottom part of both shoes, pull them apart, and then lift the whole assembly up and over the hub.
  9. Remove the brake shoes by pulling the bottom of the shoes away from the hub and then lifting the shoe assembly up and over the hub. Click to enlarge.
  10. Remove the adjuster set and the return spring from the shoes. This should be super easy now that you’ve removed the brake shoes in the previous step. Note that the adjuster set easily comes apart, so be careful not to lose its various pieces. Additionally, you will want to screw the two halves of the adjuster set closer together to make installation of the new shoes easier.
  11. Remove additional parts from old brake shoes. This includes the parking brake lever and the adjuster lever. The adjuster lever will come right off. You will have to remove the c-washer using a flat head screwdriver to be able to get the parking brake lever off.
  12. Clean out the vacant housing/hub and the drum with brake cleaner. It took about a full can of brake cleaner for each side (i.e., one can per wheel). There was so much gunk in the drums that I had to wipe it out first with a cloth because the spray couldn’t get it all by itself.
  13. The drum before and after cleaning it with brake cleaner. Click to enlarge.

Installing the new brake shoes

Putting the new brakes on and putting everything back together was straightforward – just follow the previous removal steps but in reverse. I’ll reiterate them here anyway to help clarify a few points.

  1. Install the large fulcrum pin into the front shoe. You will have to pound it in with a hammer to get it seated all the way past the teeth. The pins that came with my new set of brake shoes were a tad too large and took more pounding than they should have needed.
  2. Install the parking brake lever. This goes on the fulcrum pin from the previous step. Be sure to put some high-temperature grease on the pin. Then use a new c-washer to keep it on.
  3. Install the adjuster set and return spring. If you want to, you can add some high-temperature grease on the two prong ends of the adjuster set before connecting them with the brake shoes.
  4. Add high-temperature grease to metal-on-metal contact points. Click on the picture at the right to see where to put the grease.
  5. Put the shoe assembly over the hub. Going back into the housing, just the opposite of how you originally removed it.
  6. Install the adjuster lever. The new brakes come with a pin that goes with the adjuster lever. If you have trouble keeping it all together, then it may be easier for you to install the adjuster lever later (e.g., in the step below where the adjuster lever spring gets installed).
  7. Install the hold-down springs, cups, and pins. This will help keep everything in place while you install the rest of the parts. Use needle nose pliers to install these just the opposite of how you removed the old ones – push it in and then twist until the pin flanges rest in the cup grooves.
  8. Install the parking brake cable. Remember, push the parking brake lever toward the hub to give enough slack so that the cable can reach it.
  9. Install the anchor spring. Perhaps you can install it directly, but I couldn’t stretch the spring far enough to reach. I ended up having to do what is shown in the pictures below (click to enlarge), basically following these steps:
    • lift the bottom of the shoes out in front of the metal lip so you can get that part of the shoes closer to each other
    • install the spring on the shoes
    • use a screwdriver to pry the spring behind the metal lip
    • use a screwdriver to pry the bottom of the shoes back behind the metal lip.
  10. Installing the anchor spring.Pull out bottom of shoes, install spring, pry spring and shoes back in place. Click to enlarge.
  11. Install the adjuster lever spring. Pliers work fine for this.
  12. Install the drum and wheel. You can also lower the vehicle from the jack.
  13. Adjust the newly installed brake shoes. See instructions below.

Adjusting the new brake shoes

There are three methods to do this that I’ve read about.

  1. The first method, and the easiest in my opinion, is to use a screwdriver to tighten the adjuster set (after you have installed everything but before you put the drum back on). The idea is to put the screwdriver on the little adjuster teeth down low and then pry them up or down to tighten or loosen the adjuster, respectively. Use the hub or brake cylinder as a fulcrum for the screwdriver (see picture). This is the method that I used for this:
    • Tighten the adjust a little bit, then try to slide the drum on.
    • If the drum slides on OK, then take it back off and keep turning the adjuster teeth (you should hear the little adjuster arm clicking) until the drum no longer will slide on over the shoes.
    • Then press the adjuster arm back a tad so that you can turn the adjuster teeth in the opposite direction about 8 or 9 teeth’s worth of distance so that the drum will slide back on again.
    • Slide the drum on, and pull the emergency brake handle up all the way (without pressing its button), counting how many times the the emergency brake handle clicks on the way up. It should take 7 – 9 clicks before it doesn’t go up any more (per the Toyota 4Runner repair manual).
    • If it took more less than 7 e-brake handle clicks, then the shoes are to tight against the drum – go back and loosen the adjuster teeth 5 or so teeth’s worth of distance. If it took more than 9 e-brake handle clicks, then the shoes are too far from the drum – go back and tighten the adjust teeth 5 or so teeth’s worth of distance.
  2. The second method is to follow the AutoZone method (click here). Follow their “Adjustment” section only, the other sections are not correct for a 3rd gen 4Runner. The hole where they insert the screwdriver is behind the wheel – there is an oval rubber plug that you’ll have to pull out first.
  3. The third method is kind of questionable. Some people say that instead of following either of the adjustment methods above you can simply pull on your emergency brake many times until it tightens up correctly on its own – but then how do you know for sure if it has? Very often the self-adjusting mechanism sticks up and doesn’t actually tighten them. I tried it just to see, and found out that on my 4Runner it tightened one side but not the other. Choose for yourself, but I recommend the first “easiest” option above.

Do I need to bleed the brakes?

Normally you don’t need to bleed the brakes after simply replacing the brake pads or shoes. The exception is if while changing the brakes somehow you let air into the brake lines (like if the brake hose detaches from the brake assembly) – in that case you would need to bleed them. Many people also suggest that you should periodically (once every few years) bleed your brakes to help get new, clean fluid into the system. If you want to learn more about this, then look at my brake bleeding write-up here: mike-thomson.com/blog/?p=927

Let me know if you have any questions!

21 thoughts on “How to change brake shoes / drum brakes”

  1. Have been looking for instructions on this (esp. the adjusting of the shoes) for a clk. Right now at this moment, you sir are a legend. Many many thanks. Great post.
    Dub, Ire.

  2. I got great ideas on changing brake shoes. Instructions were given clearly since there were pictures that shows how it was done. Adjustment depends on the type car make/model… hopefully I can apply this. You may want to check Car Repair for few tips.

  3. I keep hearing that on most drum brake jobs there is a front shoe and a rear shoe, but all the shoes I ordered to replace my 2001 4-runner’s were identical. I also didn’t see anything in my Haynes manual mention a front or rear shoe. I just wanted to confirm if the shoes are interchangeable or there really is supposed to be a front and rear? Thank you.

    1. Daniel,

      Yes and no. For our 4Runners there is not a “front” and a “rear” shoe when you take them out of the box, but it is easier to describe them as “front” and “rear” once they are installed on the vehicle because the same hardware will always be toward the front (or rear) regardless of whether you are installing on the driver’s or passenger’s side. The shoes I purchased were mirror images of each other, just like yours.

      I hope that I described that clearly. Let me know if you have other questions.

  4. Based on the pictures, the drum gunk probably indicates a leaky cylinder. The new shoes you put in will be quickly destroyed by cylinder fluid dripping all over the place.

    You need to put as part of this howto guide is checking for a leaky cylinder and recommended at even the slightest suspicion that cylinder gets replaced.

    Cylinders often have boots over them, and you can pop open the boot and if there is any fluid, replace.

    1. Good point. The gunk in my pictures was due to a bad axle seal, so gear oil had leaked all over in there. I had the seals replaced before changing the brakes (and actually that was the reason why I needed to change the brakes – otherwise they still had plenty of wear left on them). I definitely agree – any time it appears something is leaking near the brakes, then that should always be investigated immediately.

  5. Thank you so much for this write-up. I’m planning on ordering the parts form Amazon based on your recommended parts list above. I just want to confirm if the Raybestos 764PG Brake shoes & the Dorman HW17253 kit are needed to be ordered in two for both rear sides or does one order cover both sides?

    1. No you don’t normally need to order in two. Usually a single kit of the brake shoes contains all the shoes needed for both rear wheels. Same with the spring and accessory kit – usually one kit has everything needed to do both rear wheels.

  6. How do you get a drum stuck on my rear shoes ?
    I’ve tried loosening the adjustment to where I thought something should fall out.
    I get it to move over the shoes to almost to the lip of the center and it dosen’t come any further at this point.
    I’ve pushed back in and tried that.
    I’ve put it in gear just to budge forwards and rear.
    I’ve pried which I hated to do.
    I’ve totally loosen the park brake cable.
    What’s next ?

    I know it’s got to come loose some way.

    1. It’s hard to say without seeing pictures of what’s going on. However, it sounds like you are successfully getting getting the drum to go over the shoes, but that the drum just isn’t sitting flush against the hub. Is that correct? If this is true, then you’ve already loosed everything enough, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get the drum over the shoes even a little bit. It sounds like there is something else that is getting in the way, hitting the drum somewhere in the middle and keeping it from inserting onto the hub the rest of the way. Perhaps look at step #9 from my post again – see if the bottom part of the shoes haven’t been tucked underneath the tab at the bottom of the hub. Or see if some other component in there is sticking out past the edge of the shoes.

  7. Mike, In step 2 and 3, is the “LEVER SUB-ASSY, PARKING BRAKE SHOE” a new part, or did you just clean up the old one?

    Also, is it necessary to order the “Self adjuster repair kit” and the “Parking brake bell crank kit” or can the original ones be cleaned up? I have 97k miles on my 1998 4-Runner. Don’t do much driving, but the winters are harsh with lots of corrosion.

    This is my first rear brake job!

    Thanks a lot for educating us all!

    1. Gene,

      I reused the lever assembly. I’m not sure what the “parking brake shoe” is referring to… unless you’re talking about the rear brake shoes themselves. I hope you’re not referring to the regular brake shoes – you should never reuse those 🙂

      I think it is perfectly reasonable to clean up the original self-adjuster. Just make sure that after you clean it up, put some of the high-temperature grease on the theads of the self-adjust. This will help make sure it can adjust smoothly and not get clogged up.

  8. Couldn’t get the drum case back on!! I’m so frustrated. I think I didn’t put the spring at the top on right. Is there a picture of specifically which holes they go in. Thought I had it in my head but I think I’m wrong. Awesome instructions though. Too bad you don’t have a video. My tech buddy said it looks like the bottom was too wide(from pictures I sent).

  9. This post is awesome. My boys and is just started working on a 58 ford f 100. Going to replace brake lines, drums, shoes, cylinders. This is a great start! Thank you very much Mike!

  10. Just finished replacing the shoes on my 2001 sr5. Would’ve taken me forever without this post. Thank you so much for having the energy and ability to put this together. Just awesome.

  11. I like how there are photos in the step-by-step on how to change brakes on a car. I also like how they point out with red arrows where some things are, that would help me out a lot. Knowing my luck I would not have all the equipment to get the job done, and I should just take it into a shop.

  12. Great description of this job, I was expecting to see tips/info about either getting the drums turned or replaced if they can’t be turned. I have always been instructed to turn drums and rotors any time the shoes (for drums) and pads (for rotors) are replaced.

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