How to Adjust the Parking Brake Shoe or Cable

September 8, 2020Car Care and Revamp
Jane Davis

Apart from being a freelance writer and moving expert, Jane is also an art and museum lover.

Although you would expect that, with time, cars get simplified, they just keep adding more and more buttons and different functions you need to take care of. However, there is one thing that has not changed much – how to adjust the parking brake. Although many like to rely on their mechanic for even the smallest detail, this is something you can do by yourself, but you have to take it seriously and check regularly.

Parking brake adjustment is an essential process because it impacts the safety of the vehicle and its passengers. Sooner or later, at some point during its lifespan, certain adjustments will be required, which is why you should test it occasionally to ensure everything is running smoothly.

A Brief Course on How the Parking Brake Works

The best TV shows about cars can tell you a lot of useful things, but in case you missed the episode on adjusting the parking brake and how exactly this mechanism works, you’re in the right place. This is not something that should give you driving anxiety, even if you’re still taking lessons on how to drive a car for beginners. Don’t stress in advance. It is all easy to understand and learn.

Also known as emergency or e-brake, this mechanical hand lever is used to ensure your vehicle doesn’t move when it is parked. It is typically located between the two front row seats, and this is an entirely different thing from the hydraulic ones, so don’t mix those two. The primary purpose is to keep the vehicle stationary or motionless when parked, so it does not start rolling down on hilly terrain. But the name emergency comes from the fact that this mechanism can stop the car in case hydraulic brakes cancel.

This mechanism is a part of the drum brake system and works with levers and cables, so when you pull a lever, steel cables will transmit the necessary force to stop the car or keep it in place. As they age and get used frequently, these cables tend to stretch, so they require occasional readjusting. The cable system has a “Y” design that enables a cable set to be connected to both rear brakes.

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What are the Main Components and Types of Parking Brakes

Handbrakes come with fewer components than hydraulic ones, and in the majority of cases, they consist of variations of the following elements:

  • A lever located in the cabin
  • Steel cables located in the rear

The three main types you’ll encounter are:

  • Stick bar – located under the instrument table, typical for older models
  • Center bar – located between two front seats, typical for newer models
  • Push-button or electric – located on the console
  • Pedal – located on the floor
Pay close attention to the lessons in your driving school, because driving is only one part of being a car owner.
Learning how to drive a car is a huge step, but you should also be familiar with how different components work.

How to Know When the Right Time for Adjusting the Handbrake Is

There is a variety of handbrake setups, which is why your manufacturers’ instructions should be your main guide. However, a general rule says that this depends on how often you use it. You should perform an emergency brake adjustment test once a year, or once every two years. Find a sloping road or a hill and test your handbrake to see if it stops your car.

If you feel that the handbrake is getting a bit loose, that is the sign that the cables need to be readjusted. This is something you should pay special attention to if you’re looking at some popular import cars and buying a used car, especially if you’re buying a car from a dealer who bought from an auction. Besides these yearly readjustments, it is recommended to change it after 75,000 miles.

Keep in mind that improper adjusting can lead to premature shoe failure and damage the drum and rotor. So if you have never done a repair like this, make sure you’re familiar with what you need to do. Otherwise, it is better to leave the e-brake adjustments to an experienced mechanic.

Don't wait to come home. Contact your mechanic as soon as you notice something is not right.
It is important to pay attention and notice on time when something is wrong.

Parking Brake Shoe Adjustments

Shoes are the central part of every drum system, and they are in charge of stopping the car once you step on a brake pedal or lift a handbrake lever. They expand in the drum creating a strong force that prevents wheels from spinning. Although brake shoes are designed to self-adjust, that is not how it always goes. They are exposed to heat, dust, and tend to wear and tear quickly, so some manual maintenance is recommended when the self-adjusting mechanism fails to perform. Here are some basic steps you should follow:

  • In case it is necessary, take a jack and remove the wheel to get access to the star adjuster. Sometimes there is a hole in the backplate through which you can reach it.
  • Check in the owner’s manual on which side will the star adjuster tighten and turn it with a screwdriver; this will shorten the star adjuster.
  • Now move the brake shoes to center them; you might be able to do this with your hands, but a pair of flathead screwdrivers could come in handy.
  • Install the drum over them and ensure it with two lug nuts to flush the wheel hub mounting. Turn it and pay attention to the sound; it should spin smoothly, and the sound should be consistent.
  • Now remove the drum again, expand the star adjuster as needed, and re-install it again.
  • Center the shoes inside of the drum by stepping on the pedal; it will help them center properly. You can repeat this part of the process until you achieve that proper shoe-to-drum pressure.
If you don't know how to make this adjustment, call your mechanic.
Making small adjustments can significantly improve the performance of your car and prolong its lifespan.

How to Adjust the Parking Brake Cable

After setting up the shoes, it is time to check cables. If you notice your handbrake doesn’t hold as well as it used to, or you hear too many clicks while pulling it up, it might be ready for a bit of adjusting. We will focus on the models that have a lever, but even if your vehicle has a different style brake, the process is pretty much the same. Perhaps some parts will be positioned differently, but all in all, it is very similar, unless the adjuster is located underneath the car. So find your owner’s manual, a screwdriver, pry tool, socket, and ratchet set, and let’s get started.

A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Adjust the Handbrake Cables

The first thing you need to do is to pull the handbrake to feel the engagement point and count the number of clicks you hear. In your owner’s manual, you should be able to find a note on what the recommended number of clicks is for your model, and that will be your guideline for readjusting.

  • Locate the console boot, and with a plastic pry tool, try to lift some parts until you have full access to the adjuster. The looks and access to the adjuster can vary from one car model to another, but you should also be able to open it without the tools.
  • Once the boot is opened, you should easily spot the adjustment bolt, and tighten it up with a few turns of a screwdriver. It will tighten the cables connected to the rear brakes.
  • Before closing it, try lifting the handbrake to see how it feels and count the clicks. You can keep screwing it until you reach proper tightness.
  • Once you are satisfied with the level of tightness, put everything back and close the boot. Try lifting your handbrake and then gently push the car to see if it moves. It should not move at all. That is when it is safe to park it on hilly terrain.
Tighten the cables so you can rest assured your car won't move anywhere without you.
Adjusting cables is pretty straightforward, but don't hesitate to call your mechanic to inspect the handbrake if you don't want to deal with it.

How to Adjust the Emergency Brake on Disc Brakes

Although the brake shoe system has been around for decades, there are two other types today: the rear disc brakes with a drum cast into the rotor and the disc-only system. Depending on the type installed in your vehicle, you can opt for one of the procedures mentioned earlier.

Choose a Video to See How to Adjust Emergency Brake

If you’re more of a visual type of person and like to have everything explained right in front of your eyes, perhaps watching a video will be more helpful. Take a look at this one to help you get a better picture of what this is all about and forget about driving stress.

Will Driving With the Lifted Handbrake Damage the Engine?

This is something that happens to many drivers; they forget that the handbrake is still lifted and go on driving. Although it does not seem like a big mistake, because the car is running, it can actually severely damage brake shoes and cause them to overheat.

It also puts additional pressure on the engine and leads to a lack of power. Many drivers will notice the mistake right away as they feel their car is lacking power. But in case they don’t, they might even smell a specific burning odor, caused by the overheating of the shoes. That should be a distinctive signal that something is wrong.

In case it is a short distance, and you’re not driving fast, you might be lucky to avoid any long-term consequences. But the faster you go, the easier you’ll trigger the overheating of brakes, engine overpowers, and failure of other components that are a part of the braking system.

Have you ever forgotten to put down your handbrake? Make sure you learn from your mistakes.
Driving with a handbrake on is something that happens quite often, so make sure you are always focused. It will help you avoid this costly mistake.

Learn to Adjust Parking Brake Cables Before Booking Car Shipping

Knowing how to make an adjustment to your handbrake should be one of the essential things to know, such as how to change a flat tire, or use a tire repair kit, or disconnect a car alarm. You never know what kind of situations you might end up in with your car, so strive to learn as much as possible about it. In case you’re relocating soon, you’re probably looking for a car shipping company that offers auto transport services.

Many people choose to ship a car cross country, but shipping an inoperable vehicle is not really the cheapest way to ship a car. So try to prepare your car for car shipping to your new home and repair everything on time to avoid any inconvenience. Whether you opt for an open trailer or enclosed auto transport, make sure your car is ready to run as soon as it arrives at your new home. Contact a reliable auto transport company to get a quote and all the information you need about shipping cars with car shipping companies.

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