What is a Brake Shoe?
Drum brakes have fallen out of favor, but are often still found on the rear of small inexpensive cars, and ironically, on large trucks. The closed design of drum brakes makes them prone to heat induced brake fade, but for large trucks, they are easier to scale up for greater braking force than disc brakes; engineers can increase both the diameter of the drum and the width of the friction area.
In drum brakes, the brake shoe is the curved metal backing plate covered with friction material that rubs the drum to provide braking. A small hydraulic cylinder presses the two shoes apart, and into the drum, and a screw adjuster at the bottom gradually extends to make up for worn shoes. A cable operated lever provides parking and emergency brake functions by mechanically forcing the shoes apart the same way the hydraulics do. With time the friction material of the shoe wears thin, so periodically they need to be replaced.
Why Brake Shoes Need to Be Changed
With time the friction material of the shoes wears away, and periodically they need to be replaced. The brake shoe is meant to be the wear item in the braking system. It is softer than the iron drum so that the inner surface of the drum won't wear away. If left too long, the shoes will wear unevenly until the metal backing or the rivets holding the friction material start to contact the drum causing a horrible noise and wear to the drum.
The brake shoes can also become contaminated with grease or oil, from a wheel bearing failure for instance. Accidentally driving with the parking brake on can also glaze or overheat the surface of the shoe, necessitating a change, as can hauling a heavy load or towing.
When to Change Brake Shoes
It’s a good idea to remove the drum and examine your rear brake shoes whenever the rear wheels are off. Replace them when necessary. Inspect the brake shoes at least once a year, but they can be expected to last more than 50,000 miles in normal use, less if towing and hauling.
Always check the rest of the brake system when replacing the shoes - if the drums are in a poor condition consider replacing or resurfacing them. If the drum shows any sign of cracking or warpage, it needs to be replaced.
All cars are slightly different, so if it is time to change your brake shoes, use our before you begin checklist, and find your car for specific instructions.
Every car is different, so find yours and get the full instructions...
How to Change the Rear Brake Shoes
This clip is just a sample of the vehicle specific videos included in our online manuals. Every vehicle is different, but here is a general overview of how you change rear brake shoes:
- Work on only one wheel at a time, so the other side can provide a guide to reassembly.
- Break loose the lug nuts on the rear wheels.
- Block the front wheels, then raise the rear of the car and support on jack stands.
- Remove the rear wheels and the brake drum. If the drum won't slide off easily, manually back off the brake adjuster.
- Remove the rubber plug on the rear of the dust cover and use a screw driver to crank back the adjuster wheel.
- Clean the brakes with aerosol brake cleaner.
- Disconnect the parking brake cable.
- Press and turn the shoe hold down springs and remove.
- Unhook the lower spring between the brake shoes, and in many cases you can remove the shoes, adjuster and other mechanisms as a unit.
- If not, remove the upper spring and adjuster and remove the shoes.
- Swap any springs and hardware being reused onto new shoes.
- Apply a small amount of high temperature grease to any metal on metal rub surfaces, and the adjuster.
- Installation is the reverse of removal.
Before you begin
Tools you will need
Only basic tools are needed for this job, though we assume you have a floor jack (not your car's spare tire jack) and jack stands.
- Floor jack and jack stands
- Lug wrench
- Aerosol brake cleaner
- Vice grips
- Flat-bladed screwdriver
- High temperature grease
Parts you may need
- Brake shoes
- Brake springs/hardware
- Brake fluid
How Much Do Rear Brake Shoes Cost?
- $20-150 (varies by car)
- $100-200 saved in labor costs!